How to Say No To Your Clients Without Guilt

Becoming a “yes” man or woman is typical when you’re in the freelance business, especially when you’re starting out. You try so hard to win clients, please them at every turn, and ensure that the likelihood of receiving projects in future sky-high.

However, what about when you face a situation where saying “no” is clearly better than signing up for something you know you can’t manage due to time constraints or some other reason? How do you decline without hurting their feelings, appearing incompetent, or risk losing any chance of receiving projects from them in the future?

This is a sticky situation for many, particularly those of us who find saying “no” difficult. This is why we’ve gathered a few tips that will teach you the trick to saying “no” without doing too much damage.

How to say no to clients: Simple Strategies

First thing first: Set Priorities

Often we try to exchange what should be our top priority with work we shouldn’t have signed up for in the first place. For example, if you always have a specific number of hours set out for quality time with your family, don’t make it a habit to exchange this with work that randomly pops up.

This could be true for other priorities as well, such as time for yourself, time for another high-paying project, or time for another high-value client. Be it a weekend or after-work hours, tell your client upfront that it can’t be done during those hours, and you’d be willing to do them at another time.

Practice Saying “No.”

Prone to being a “yes” man? Don’t worry that can change. How? The same way you try to learn anything—with plenty of practice! You probably face situations where people try to push you to your limits. Even though you feel like you should be saying “no,” you reluctantly choose to say yes. It is during these situations you should learn to say “no.” Understand the fact that saying “no” is not bad at all, especially when you know that saying “yes” would lead to even more unpleasant consequences.


In some cases, an outright “no” as a response is not necessary. For example, if the client isn’t in a hurry for when the project is handed in, tell him that you’ll start on it as soon as you are done with what you are currently working on. Of course, you need to convince them by providing more information about other due dates and where on your calendar their project will “fit in”. If they’re in a hurry, though, postponing may not be an option, and you might have to reject the offer.

Set Your Terms

If you’re reluctant to sign up for an assignment because you feel you’re not being paid enough, can’t offer the required services, or feel that the contract would violate “ethics” in some way, talk it out. Again, you don’t have to give an outright “no” in these situations. Perhaps, you feel you can negotiate the terms. For example, you can tell your client that with time and experience, you have realized that the market value of your work is higher.

Give objective facts and figures and point out why they could be higher in your region. Or perhaps, you could request your client to drop a few tasks and reduce the volume of work. That way, you’re not exactly saying “no”. You’re simply giving them a counter offer and the whether to accept or reject the project is totally up to them.

Replace “No” With Other Variations

This one always works when you’re trying your best to be polite! If you’re worried about offending your potential client’s feelings, you don’t always have to use this seemingly rude two-letter word. Learn the art of saying no without actually saying no!

For example, you can say, “I appreciate that you offered me this job, but unfortunately, I’m swamped with [X project].” Or, “That would be great, but it’s too bad I have to [commitment]. This time, you might have to look for someone else”.

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Perhaps, you can simply state your busy schedule until a certain date and offer work after that date. There are plenty of ways you can “no” without actually saying it!

Just Be Polite

In the end, the best way to say “no” without doing much damage is to say it as politely as possible. Also, try, to be honest about your schedule, commitments, or other preferences it could come in conflict with. First, always try to listen to the request and avoid interrupting until they are finished. Then, tell them you’re tied up and that you simply can’t do it at this time.

Always remember that a project delayed/denied is much better than a project derailed. Not only would that waste time and money (client’s), but also result in even more “sticky” situations and a much less likelihood of the client hiring you again.

Under what situation & how do you say no to a possible or existing client? Have an experience to share? Let us know in the comment section below.

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