How To Turn Down A Freelance Writing Project Professionally And Respectably

When starting as a freelance writer, it’s difficult to turn down work.  You’re a rookie in the industry who's trying to make a living writing and the simplest way to do that seems to be to take on as much work as you possibly can.

There comes a point, though, when you physically can't take on anymore work and you need to start turning projects down - something which you probably never thought you would do.

Although it might seem a relatively simple thing to do - saying no - to ensure that you are as professional and respected as possible, maintaining and developing your reputation as a quality freelance, there are 4 points you should always keep in mind when turning down a freelance writing project.

  1. Never, ever be rude – no matter if someone’s come to ask you to write a 300 word blog post that will require a few hours worth of researching for $0.02 per word, it’s imperative that you’re never rude to them.  Ever.

    Apart from the fact manners don't cost a thing and (as old fashioned as it may sound) you should always treat people how you would like to be treat yourself, you never know who exactly the person is, what contacts they have and who they network with.

    They might seem like someone who is simply after some work for next to nothing, but if they are a part of a large online community and you're rude to them, you can bet your life they're going to have a moan to someone about it - most likely their friends and colleagues in their online community.

    Plus, they might just be really misinformed about prices and need advice more than anything.  Simple.

  2. Always explain why you're saying no – whether it’s because the per word / hour rate is too low, you don’t have enough time or the topic isn’t one you know a great deal about, make sure that you always give a reason and don’t just say “sorry, I can’t do this project”.

    The reason behind this is simple – if you give an explanation as to why you can’t take on the project, the client will be aware of, for instance, what topics you do actually cover.  Therefore, they’ll know who to come to in the future should they need someone who can produce work in the niche(s) you cover.

  3. Give an alternative – whenever I turn down work, I always make sure I give an alternative option to the client.

    If they’re wanting someone to produce work in a niche I don’t specialize in, I refer them to a writer I know who covers that topic.

    If they’re looking to have someone write to a per hour / word rate that I can’t  work at – and none of the writers I know could – I’ll generally try and see if we can work together by looking at what it is they need and if we can reduce the number of words so to increase the per hour / word rate.

    And if I simply don't have enough time, I let them know that I'll send the details of the project to a few different writers, who'll then contact them directly should they be able to help.

  4. Thank them – there are two things which can make a discussion instantly more pleasant - whether it's by e-mail, over the telephone or face-to-face - ad they're "please" and "thank you".

    They're both two simple phrases but they can transform, in this instance, an e-mail from one that might sound a little ungrateful or harsh into one that is polite and friendly.

    It doesn't have to be a whole paragraph saying how much you appreciate the person getting in touch, but a short sentence thanking them for considering you for their project will suffice - remember, they've contacted you so they feel that you would be best for their project.  That alone is something to make you smile and say thanks for.

This post might make me come across as particularly old fashioned, as when it get's down to it, it's all about being pleasant and polite.  But like I said above, manners really don't cost a thing and when you get to the point where you can say no to clients, although you’ll feel like you’ve hit a milestone, it's important that you are always professional in your approach to rejecting projects, so to ensure that your reputation as a freelance writer never falters.

Profile image for Dan Smith
Dan is a freelance writer and small business consultant. Dividing his time between writing for both individual clients and national corporations and giving a helping hand to many small startup companies, he has several years experience in both areas, as well as a strong background in Search Engine Optimisation.

7 thoughts on “How To Turn Down A Freelance Writing Project Professionally And Respectably”

  1. Hi Dan, spot on points. I especially agree with leaving an alternative. By doing so you’re do not let the client feel that you simply ignored him but are genuinely interested in helping out, even if not by doing the work yourself.

  2. Great tips! I do my best to refer clients to other writers in the area (if local clients) or tell them there are plenty of freelance writers out there and point them in the right direction. It’s true that you never know who people know because it’s a small world.

  3. This was a refreshing change up and hit at a perfect point because I’ve now found that I have to reject a few jobs – helps clears up the best way to be polite but still firm.

  4. You also always want to be polite because sometimes, that editor gets a new job somewhere that pays better, and they might turn out to be a great contact for you!

    I’ve also had people I turned down on rates turn around and offer me better-paying work for another piece of their marketing.

    And I’ve gotten quite a few who, as you say, are in need of education about professional rates…and some of them are even open to getting it! 😉

  5. @Murlu – I’m glad it helped. It seems like a simple thing to do on paper, but in practice, turning down a project is more complicated than most would believe.

    @Rebecca and Carol – I think the general point here is that you always need to be thinking of the future. Just beause you say no to a project being offered by one person doesn’t mean they won’t come back to you in the future. The truth is they’re more than likely to, as long as you are pleasant and polite in the way you turn down the project.

  6. Great thoughts here, Dan. You sparked a link-back-blog post from me about what happens when you *don’t* do it the right way, Apologizing When You Blow It. No matter how long you’re in the biz or how good you imagine yourself to be at it, some things will still humble you…

    Again, thanks for the reminder.

  7. I am thankfully at a point in my freelancing career after not quite two years that I can easily turn down projects that are not a good fit for me either financially or topic-wise. I turned down one just today; and yes I was quite polite and thanked the prospect for her time, etc. I l literally cannot afford to “give away” my services to people who expect me to work for them for pennies on my usual dollar. I am nice in my rejections, even though I am truly insulted at some of the arguments I am given to *give deep discounts*.

    This particular prospect needs a total strategic business plan written literally from scratch; I think she was thinking it would cost a few hundred dollars. All she had was a few ideas hand-written on a piece of paper. I recommended that she seek out community groups that specifically work with individuals who are trying to start businesses with almost no funds. Usually the people working at those agencies are paid a salary.

    When you buckle down and hold your ground to only take projects that fit your expertise and compensation requirements, you will build a better business for yourself and for your clients.

    it is really true: what you expect is what you receive.


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