How to Say No and Not Lose Your Client: Tips for Freelancers 

Whatever your circumstances might be, how you choose to say “No” can affect your relationship with a client. | Photo by  Mimi Thian  on  Unsplash

Whatever your circumstances might be, how you choose to say “No” can affect your relationship with a client. | Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

The freelancing lifestyle is fun. No doubt about it. And I must admit, the convenience plus freedom that comes with it can get pretty addictive. 

Well, for me, what started as a part-time thing developed progressively and ultimately became my main job. Come to think of it, I guess the point of no-return was the time I finally learned how to market my skills to the right clientele base. 

And the rest is history. Projects haven’t stopped flowing from multiple freelancing platforms  since. I’m always on a roll with new client requests after another. And from my experiences over the years, I’ve learnt that a busy schedule comes with a lot of responsibilities.  Top of which, of course, is client relationship management. 

Well, maintaining great relationships with your clients might seem like a pretty easy thing. Because for most people, all it should take is just fulfilling client requests. 

But, if you look at the whole thing holistically, that’s barely one half of client relationship management. The other half entails managing the few unfortunate incidents. And perhaps unsurprisingly, this is the side that arguably requires more finesse. Even the smallest stuff like saying “No” to a client requires some form of skill. 

Ok, I know what you’re probably thinking. Why would a freelancer even turn down a client in the first place? 

Well, the thing about freelancing is this. While we all wish to have the perfect working environment, there comes a time you have to say “No” to a client. 

There are many possible reasons why you’d do that. Considering 70 percent of freelancers juggle about 2 to 4 jobs at once, turning down a client because you’re swamped with work might not be a far-fetched idea. If that’s not the case, lacking the requisite skills for a specific job is also a plausible reason. Or maybe the client just seems to be one of those difficult ones. 

Whatever your circumstances might be, how you choose to say “No” substantially affects your relationship with the said client.

According to some of the best business books recommended by world-class entrepreneurs, people are predominantly judged based on how they manage unfortunate situations. 

So let’s explore how you can say “No” without damaging your rapport…

Don’t Say It Bluntly

“No” is, undeniably, one of the simplest responses ever. But, interestingly, it also happens to be one of the most hurtful and brutal ways to reply to a genuine request. So, responding with a blunt “No” would possibly make you appear inconsiderate. 

Now, ironically, the best way to say “No” is not saying “No”. In other words, avoid the word altogether and instead, use a positive and courteous phrase to turn down your client. Something like, “I’m sorry, but this project might need additional time and funding to complete accordingly.”

Be Responsive

Saying “No” is bad, I admit. But, you know what’s worse? Saying it late. 

If there’s one thing the current generation of smartphone users hate passionately, it’s waiting for replies. Even emails are now considered to be as urgent as text messages. That’s why, in fact, most business emails are answered in less than 90 minutes after they’re sent. 

So, while it’s understandable that a courteous response might take slightly longer to compose, there’s no excuse for replying late. The more you delay, the worse the situation is bound to turn out.  

Be Honest

Admit it. We also love freelancing because remote working comes with minimal micromanagement. There’s almost zero supervision for most projects. And that essentially gives you the peace of mind you need to handle your jobs efficiently. 

But then again, it also means you can conveniently lie to clients and avoid unpleasant situations for the long haul. As a matter of fact, lying might even seem easier than saying “No”. 

Or is it? 

Well, if you choose this option repeatedly, you can bet that your lies will catch up with you at some point. And the subsequent damage it’ll do to your career could possibly turn out to be much worse than what you might have attempted to avoid in the first place. 

The fact is, lying is just not worth it. Be honest in your correspondence, and as long as you’re courteous, saying “No” might not be so bad after all. 

All in all, always keep this in mind while engaging your clients - what matters, in the long run, is not necessarily what you say, but how you say it. Even when you’re replying in the affirmative. 


Guest writer Stewart Dunlop is a full-time content marketer at Foundr and part-time reader, gamer & footballer. You can follow or tweet him @stewydunlop