The Art of Saying "No" for the Creative Freelancer


Andrew here to share my favorite word when it comes to freelancing.


I love to say no. We’re taught that no is a bad word. But as freelancers effectively saying no is essential. And there's ways you can get more business by saying no the right way.

Why Creative Freelancers Need to say "No." 

There will be times when you have to say no to a client about a prospective job.

Maybe you’re too busy, or you’re going to be on vacation, or you’re sick, or you know from experience or the virtual water cooler that it’s a bad project or a bad place to freelance and you just don't want to take it.

It’s hard saying no, because as freelancers we aim to please. We worry that if we say no too often, or even just once, we run the risk of falling down or even off the short list of potential freelance hires and risk not getting the call next time.

And if you’re like Aaron and I, you enjoy what you do, you might be tempted to take on more work than you should. So you might end up saying yes when you know deep down you should be saying no. 

I actually spent a year saying yes as much as possible. I did it for a few reasons...


Why Creative Freelancers Say Yes Too Much


I was getting good projects, and I wanted to take them all on. I was also trying not to travel for work anymore, so I was saying yes to all local as well as work from home work. Not to mention I had my two kids and their potential interest in a college education on my mind. So I just kept saying yes and had multiple clients going at a time for the entire year.

I ended up having a very successful year financially, with a great roster of on-going clients, many of whom I still work with. But I was also spent by year’s end. I worked too hard. And I wasn’t seeing friends and relaxing as much I knew I needed to.

So the next year was the year of saying no. I said yes to good projects, but I said no a lot more than I said yes.



Freelancers: Don't just say NO


But here’s the trick. I never just said no. I said "no, but."

And I always, without fail, suggested AT LEAST two other copywriters or creatives who could potentially do the job instead of me.

"No, but" works two ways.

First, you give your client a path forward instead of a dead end. They will appreciate your suggestions, even if it’s someone they already know or have heard of, or your suggestions are already booked. And because you have offered help instead of a hard pass, they will call you next time because you’ve given them something of value even when you weren’t available.

Second, you just gave two fellow freelancers a job referral. If one of them gets the call and takes the job, they will be super appreciative. Who doesn’t love work that falls into their lap. And even if they get the call and can’t take the job, they will appreciate that you recommended them. And then next time they are busy, they'll be even more likely to recommend you. 

If you already say "no, but", good on you. You are actually in the minority.


What clients think of Freelancers who say "NO but."


Clients tell me time after time how much they appreciate it when I recommend other people for a gig and how infrequent other creatives do the same. It has gotten so some of my clients call me when they don't need a writer like me, but are looking for a designer or a web developer.

I can’t do these things, but they know I’ve got a big network of great people to recommend, and that I’ll help. Which means I’m staying top of mind even when my clients don’t have a project that need my help with. I've even earned a bit of referral money this way. 

So say it with me, "no, but." 

Aaron and I created Mt. Freelance to share everything we know about freelancing with creatives like you.

We have a lesson on "no, but."

We also have a lesson on how to build and extend your network so you can say "no, but" better.

And we have 33+ other lessons designed to help you to get more work, charge more, and do better work so you get more and better work so you are happier.

So come join!

Andrew & Aaron



"Mt. Freelance emails are so good I don't delete them."

— Everyone

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