Saying No to Clients: When to Turn Down Freelance Work


Saying No to Clients_ When to Turn Down Freelance Work


You’re going to be tempted to take on every project that comes your way – especially if you’re a newbie. I did this for a long time, mostly when I wrote for content mills.

But, believe me, it’s not worth it.

Now that I know my worth, I don’t hesitate to turn down freelance work that doesn’t align with my terms, among other reasons.

Do you know that established writers say “no” to clients more than they say “yes”? And it has nothing to do with pride or prejudice. In fact, they can turn down freelance work even when they have no other offer on the table, but still make it big in the industry.

Here are the reasons why you should be saying no to clients and how to do it.


Saying No to Clients Who Pay too Little

Yes, you should get into writing as a passion, but you can only sustain that passion by getting paid for it. Therefore, you should turn down low-paying jobs.

How much is low pay?

That depends on your skill and experience. If you’re starting out, your rates will likely be lower than an experienced writer. A useful survey by ClearVoice shows how freelance writers’ rates vary based on their experience.


ClearVoice Freelance Writer Pay Rate Survey


You should have a minimum rate that will sustain you. Remember that you have to pay rent, buy food, pay for your internet connection, cover medical bills, buy clothes and many other expenses.

Even so, you shouldn’t automatically turn down a low-pay job. You can use several negotiation tactics to get clients to raise the pay:

  • Elaborate the amount of work required to deliver quality at your preferred rate
  • Request the client to order fewer articles that will match his budget
  • Request the client to order fewer words per article

However, in some instances, you can take lower pay…

I usually turn down lots of clients who pay way lower than my rate, but I have no problem with clients who pay a little bit below my minimum rate for consistent long-term assignments. In other instances, I can take a lower rate if it has the potential of leading to more work or getting positive reviews and testimonials.


Saying No to Clients Who are Overly Demanding

At one point, I worked with a client who expected me to be online 24 hours.

Whenever he sent a message, and I wasn’t available to reply immediately, he got furious and sent me blocks of texts complaining about my absence. Being a freelancer, I value my freedom, and this was going too far: he was treating me as a full-time employee.

Eventually, I turned down any more work from the client. And I’m glad I did. Since then I’ve found many other wonderful clients who aren’t so overly demanding.

To save you the trouble, you can avoid such a horrendous experience by clarifying your work terms beforehand. Most established writers have found it necessary to have such clear terms to avoid any disagreements after that, like this example from Paul Maplesden’s blog.


example of freelance writer terms of work


Give the client an overview of how you’ll handle the project. Include clear timelines of your project delivery and what exactly you’ll do in every step of the process. This way, the client won’t need to check in on you frequently.

Also, find out from clients what they expect from you and how they want the project to go.

If you do agree on clear terms beforehand, but your client starts making more demands, politely re-state the agreed terms. If the situation becomes unbearable, you’ll have a very legitimate reason to terminate the contract, since the client would be breaking the initially agreed terms.


Saying No to Clients Who Want to Pay You with Exposure

If you could write one or two free articles for a high authority site that gets millions of readers, do it. That will look great on your profile, and the article itself could bring in clients.

However, if a website is only recently starting and has little traffic, publishing a free article on it won’t give you much exposure.

Therefore, first carefully evaluate any proposition to write for exposure. And don’t feel guilty for turning down the offer if you don’t see any beneficial value in it.

Some clients make bold promises to pay you when their websites start making money. That’s an incredibly huge risk to take since the site might never make any money. A 2015 survey by iBlog magazine revealed that 57% of bloggers made less than $2,500 per year.


57 percent of bloggers make less than USD 2,500

Image source

Other clients can ask you to write an article which they’ll submit to another higher-level client. Once that higher-level client approves the article, they’ll pay you. This is a tricky situation since the higher-level client may have different expectations from the client you’re working with. You might end up working for a whole day, week or month and having all your articles rejected.


Saying No to Clients with Short-Term Jobs

Established businesses understand that getting a new client can be 5 to 25 times more costly than maintaining an existing customer.


acquiring a new customer is anywhere from five to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one


Hence, you must aim to get long-term clients and curb the number of short-term projects you take.

If you already have a bunch of short-term projects, don’t take any more. Instead, look for projects that will run for weeks, months or years.

Yes, it might be easier to bid for small, short-term projects which usually don’t have complex requirements. However, the extra effort you put into getting a long-term project will be worth it.

If you ever have the option to choose between a long-term project and a small one (even if the pay is higher), it’s usually far better to take the long-term option. Why would you want to make $50 for a one-time writing job when you could make $5,000 for the next 5 months?


Saying No to Clients with Products You Don’t Believe In

Whether you’re religious or not, there might be certain products/ services you don’t believe in.

Maybe the product is prohibited by your religion. Perhaps, you don’t want to promote a product that harms the environment. Or a particular service negatively affects customers’ finances.

If the project doesn’t suit you, don’t take it, especially if your name will appear on the author bio.

In some instances, you can turn down a project simply because it isn’t within your niche. In such a situation you want to avoid the rookie mistake of wasting time on a project that won’t boost your profile.

Above all, if you’ve built your personal brand around the specific niche, your followers and clients might not take it so kindly when they see you working on a seemingly contrary topic. Remember this if your future plan is to build a well-known blog like Gary Vaynerchuk (, Rand Fishkin (, Pat Flynn (, and Brian Clark (

For example, if you’ve built your name as a writer on vegan topics, your clients and followers would be surprised if you started writing on beef recipes. Your clients can even stop hiring you, and your followers may leave you. Just like what happened to the founders of Cafe Gratitude, a celebrity-endorsed vegan restaurant group. Their customers launched a boycott after realizing that the famous California vegan restaurateurs were raising, slaughtering and eating animals.


famous California vegan restaurateurs under fire over revelation they eat meat


Saying No to Clients Stuck on Strategies that won’t Work

At times, you run into clients who won’t listen to reason.

They are focused on doing things a certain way, yet you know that method won’t work. For instance, some clients may want to apply outdated SEO tactics. They may ask you to create spin tag articles, which will be easily recognized by the updated Google algorithm.

You should do your best to educate those clients on the reasons why their methods won’t work. Provide all the necessary proof to show what won’t work and why, plus what will work and how.

Sometimes, you’ll have to instruct the client to opt for a different type of content, based on the client’s objectives.

For instance, if the client aims to increase conversion, the best type of content includes case studies, testimonials and email campaigns. However, many clients only know of blog posts, which won’t help much in increasing conversion rates.

Here’s a helpful guide showing several types of content to recommend based on the client’s objectives.


Client objective Suitable types of content
Awareness – informing and engaging audiences blog posts, research studies, social posts, analyst reports, eGuides, eBooks, white papers, email newsletter, checklist, tip sheet, educational webinar
Consideration – helping potential buyers evaluate the client’s products product reviews, expert guides, case studies, how-to video, data sheet, demo video, product sample, product webinar
Decision – helping buyers make a buying decision podcasts, videos, vendor and product comparisons, product demonstrations, testimonials, product literature, FAQ, free trial, live demo, consultation, estimate, coupon, testimonial
Loyalty – retaining existing customers insider how-to’s, user community, user-generated content, customer support documentation, special offers, user guides, product-focused articles, product updates, customer newsletters, promotions and loyalty programs, news and event details, surveys, contests


If you cannot get through to your client, you’ll have to turn down the job.

Going ahead with the project will inevitably lead to failure, and the client might blame you for it. Above all, you don’t want a portfolio full of past failed projects.


Saying No to Clients Who Don’t Give Clear Instructions

Once, I was approached by a client concerning a writing job that was a bit complex.

When I asked the client to give me examples of how he needed his work done, he ended up telling me that I’m a freelance writer and I should not ask for samples. I was stuck since I didn’t know how to do his work. Or where to start my research.

I’m not one to deliver sub-standard work, so I had to turn down the assignment.

I recommend that you do exactly what I did.

When you get a job offer like this ‘research on cultural aspects of China’, you won’t even know how much to bid:


insufficient instructions


If you work on a project with insufficient or unclear instructions, you’ll inevitably deliver poor content. That will not only disappoint the client, but you’ll also end up with low ratings from the client, which will reduce your chances of getting other writing jobs.

However, never be in a rush to decline such a job offercloient.

Seek further instructions first and give the client time to reply. If necessary, guide the client on the essential aspects to include in her brief, including (not every detail may be required for every project):

  • the client’s company
  • summary of the project
  • project objectives
  • target audience
  • the deliverables needed
  • competitors
  • tone, message, and style
  • timeliness
  • communication channels
  • details of past projects related to the current project
  • budget
  • project team

Only decline the job when you’re sure that you’ll not get sufficient instructions.


Saying No to Clients Who Think, “I’m Doing You a Favor”

Some clients believe writing is “easy.” Such clients will make your life a living hell.

Their perception is, “I’m doing you a favor by paying you for something that anyone else can do.”

These are the clients who will send back countless rewrites while paying the lowest rates. They will also communicate rudely to the point of using cuss words.

Never fall into their psychological trap. They want to make you feel worthless, so you can settle for the slave-wages they give you. If you do, you’ll be working longer and harder for peanuts, without ever building your profile.

And it’s not just your pocket that will suffer – such a working relationship will directly affect your health.

Studies show that your likelihood of having a heart attack increases by as much as 50% when you work for a lousy boss.


bad bosses lead to heart attacks


One of the signs of a bad client is someone who asks for a discount on your rates, saying that other writers can produce just the same content as yours while charging low rates. Trust me, those charging low rates are definitely producing poor quality content; otherwise, that client could have hired them instead.



When you say “no” to the wrong clients, you’ll have more time to say “yes” to the right clients, since you won’t be tied up doing low-paying, energy-sapping work.

Therefore, saying no to clients can be a valuable strategy to advance in your freelance writing career.


How many writing jobs have you turned down and why? Share in the comments.
  1. Reply

    It is so hard for me to say no! Such a great article!

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