When to Say Yes to a Client, and When to Say No

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Getting leads can be tricky as a freelancer; so when they land in your lap, it’s easy to simply say yes to every one.

The truth is, there are times when a polite but firm ‘no’ is actually the best option, both for you and for the client. Here’s a few tips on when to turn down a client’s request.

So no to biting off more than you can chew

So a client comes to you with an exciting, ambitious new project. It’s pretty much your dream job, and you’re eager to show your client what you’re made of and create something that matches their vision perfectly.

Cut to a few months later. You’ve missed your deadlines because you’re struggling to implement a key piece of software, or your tools won’t let you do what you thought they could do.

The client is on the phone, and they announce they’re going with another freelancer instead. You’ve just wasted months, and a big chunk of storage space on your hard drive, on work that you’ll never be paid for. You might even pick up a reputation of being incompetent (even if you’ve completed many other projects in the past with no hassle).

Before you take on a job, make sure you have the technical expertise and the tools to deliver what you’ve promised to deliver. It’s fine if you don’t have all the knowledge at first – but will you have the time and resources to learn, and the ability to implement what you’ve learnt at a professional level?

Don’t feel pressured into signing on the dotted line immediately. Mull it over. Take a day or two to explore what resources and skills you’ll need. Most clients will understand – and those who don’t probably won’t be much fun to work with.

If you feel you can’t complete the project singlehandedly, offer to complete the parts which you can do and point your client in the direction of another freelancer who can complete the rest. (This is where networking with competitors and similar freelancers comes in handy.)

Say no to working for free

This goes without saying – but rarely will a client explicitly ask you to work for free. They’ll wrap it up in fancy language that makes breaking your back for no monetary gain still seem like a rewarding experience.

If a client promises you wider exposure, or claims the work you do for them will be ‘great for your portfolio’, decline immediately. Working for exposure is a myth – any company which won’t pay you for your work will be unable to give you the exposure you deserve.

Of course, not every client that tries this ‘trick’ is trying to pull the wool over your eyes – some genuinely don’t have the money to pay for freelance services, and don’t fully understand the effort that goes into your work (and the value it can bring to their company). Some of these ‘clients’ might be family, or friends, or friends of the family – how can you say no to them?

The bottom line is, your efforts deserve to be rewarded properly. In addition, working without pay sets a precedent. If other companies catch wind of your antics, they’ll probably expect you to work for free for them, too. They’ll also go to you instead of other freelancers who rely on paid work to feed themselves and their families; so you’ll be dragging down the rest of the industry with you.

Say no to clients piling extra work on top

This one is particularly important if you charge your client for a certain number of hours each week. It can be easy to go over your allotted hours if your client is constantly coming to you with new tasks all the time.

Make it clear to your client that if they want a new task completed immediately, you’ll have to delay the task you’re currently working on for them. Sometimes it may be in your best interest (and theirs) to refuse to take on the new work outright – otherwise you could find yourself building up a list of unfinished tasks.

If you have the time and resources to take on the new task alongside the current task, go for it – but make sure you get paid for the extra hours you spend on the new task.

If you’re working to a project contract and your client wants something done that hasn’t been outlined in the contract terms, make it clear that you’ll be charging the task as an additional job outside the agreed contract.

Make sure you check the contract thoroughly and discuss what the client is asking for before you do this – they might just be asking for something you’ve already agreed to, but describing it in unfamiliar terminology.

So no to violating your own values

What do you do when a client wants you to do something which seems unethical to you? Some might say, just go with it – you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, right?

The reality is, taking on work which you don’t agree with is at best, bad for your morale (and therefore bad for the quality of the work you produce), and at worst, incredibly harmful to your own reputation. If the client gets caught out, they’ll likely try to blame the whole thing on you – and no client has the right to make you look like the bad guy when you’re not!

Talk through the work with your client, help them understand that what they’re asking for is unethical (it’s possible they’re just misguided, not crooked), and if they don’t get the message, respectfully decline their request.

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7 years ago

[…] horror story about your prospective client, that’s a definite red flag. You also have to learn when to say no to a […]

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