Freelancer Tip: Learn to Say No

It’s time for me to pass on some wisdom I’ve earned through causing myself unnecessary stress. I’ve talked to you about the pitfalls of self-employment, writers as workaholics, and the love/hate relationship between writers and time management. Today, I want to talk about something which is important for freelancers and in life overall: learning to just say “no.”

It sounds simple, but learning to say “no” is much harder than it seems. There are many reasons to not say “no”: you don’t want to disappoint people, you need the money or favor attached to the agreement, you’re too shy or passive to argue, etc.

No matter your reason for not doing it, telling people “no” is a very important skill for freelancers to master. Whether you’re a freelance writer, editor, graphic designer, voice over artist, or anything else, you have to get the courage and the assertiveness to tell people when you can’t do something.

Unfortunately, it’s very hard for freelancers to do, at least in our work. The most common reason is that we need the money. Freelancing jobs, no matter what the medium, are few and far between. That’s why we take on as much as we can–well, as much as we can get, even if it’s more than we can handle.

Image retrieved from Coffee with Dan

I have very recently stumbled into this conundrum. I have taken on several beta reading and book review jobs (around five right now, one due right after the other and the shortest being 125 pages). I also have a part-time job (three hours a day, five days a week) writing online quizzes which, if I make it past the month-and-a-half probation period, can become a regular gig. All of this on top of grad school, a new puppy, this blog, and my own writing. It’s been pretty…chaotic in my head.

I need the work, I really do, and I’m more than happy to do it. However, for my sanity (and my ability to get some writing done myself), it would be best for me to cut back. If I said “no” every now and then, I would probably be able to handle my workload much better.

Fortunately for me, I have yet to experience the real issue with overbooking: a decline in the quality of the work. Some freelancers can thrive perfectly well under pressure as far as the quality of their work goes. Others…not so much. They’re spread far too thin and can’t keep up with demand. Those freelancers are the ones who have to learn to pick and choose the best projects and reject the rest.

I wish I could give you advice on actually saying “no.” If I knew how to do that, I’d be a lot more relaxed right now. All I can tell you is that you need to remind yourself how much better things will be if you don’t take on every project that comes your way. That way, you’ll see more benefits in regulating your work over doing everything.

Do you have any tips for saying “no” to potential clients? Advice on how to better manage time and projects? Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments below so we can all benefit from your wisdom.


Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011

3 thoughts on “Freelancer Tip: Learn to Say No”

  1. You are charging too little!!!!! that’s what i think.

    I mean, really, other reviewers charge $5-$10 because they NEVER READ THE BOOKS! they are just selling an amazon review and they don’t care if the clients wrote the reviews themselves!

    But you on the other hand are doing it the honest and moral way, for the scammers price!

    And it’s not just the reviews. You’re also under-pricing your other works value, a lot! i remembered you quoting me an offer to “edit” my book for pennies! Which is something no editor at your level will do!

    That’s why you’re getting more work than you can handle, for less than what you deserve 🙁
    On the other hand, charging the real value means getting less commissions :\

    So.. I guess that learning to say “no” + charging what’s fair (+/- 20% of the fair price) is the answer 🙂

    1. Fair enough but my editing rates have since increased to an amount considered more reasonable by pricing guides for freelancers (although currently still on the low end of that range because I’m still establishing myself) and now only books under 100 pages get the $10 review price unless there are special circumstances, and even then only a little above the 100-page limit.

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