When to Say No: 4 Signs Freelancers Should Not Ignore

They say beggars can’t be choosers.

If you’re a new freelancer, you’re likely of the belief or you’re likely being told that you can’t say no to anyone at your stage of the game. And this may be true to a certain extent. You certainly can’t always have your “ideal” clients when you’re just starting out. In the beginning, you’re not likely to have any at all. As one friend and mentor rightly told me several years ago: “You have to pay your dues.” He was absolutely right and it’s important to have the patience and fortitude to pay your dues even when it gets tough.

However, as you grow, you’ll not only get more selective, but you’ll develop a keener sense of when to enter into a deal and when to say no. The truth is some clients or business arrangements are more trouble than they’re worth. Something that may promise short-term gains may end up costing you dearly down the line. Furthermore, if the terms and expectations aren’t communicated clearly from the outset, you leave yourself open to a whole lot of trouble.

So, how do you know whether or not it’s a good idea to go into business with someone? There are often certain signs or phrases to watch out for that should serve as red flags. If you experience any of the following, the “bullshit meter” in your head should alert you to stay away or proceed with caution.

“We’ll have a lot more work for you in the future.”

Don’t get suckered by this line. Many new freelancers get seduced into working for pennies on the dollar with promises that it will lead to more projects later on. Often, these ‘future projects’ never materialize. Freelancers should not hold their breath and rely on these promises. While the other party may indeed deliver on occasion, in my experience and in my discussions with seasoned CEOs of successful client-service based businesses, those who present a modest offer with the promise that there will be more work later on rarely ever come through in the end.

Won’t commit to a price or sign a contract before you start, but needs it right away.

Be very wary of prospects who reach out to you so anxious to get started that they don’t even have time to commit to a price or sign a contract before you start. You may hear them use phrases like: “I need this done right away,” or the obnoxious “I need this done yesterday” (nails on a chalkboard). Either way, don’t start the work until you agree on a price and put it in writing. If it’s truly a rushed job and you agree on a fee, then you don’t have to necessarily sign an agreement before you start, but make sure the person pays you up front. With pay apps, such as Venmo, PayPal, and Square Cash, there is no reason why not. Feel free to charge slightly above your normal rate if a rushed job will take you away from other deadlines and client work or put a significant strain on your schedule.

Patronizing or disrespectful attitude. 

If you’re a new freelancer or even if you’re not so new, and especially, if you are young, you are more likely to deal with leads who might be skeptical of your abilities. Don’t take it personally. From their perspective, it makes perfect sense to doubt you and this is simply a reality of the market. I recommend using your feelings of being underestimated as added motivation to do work that is above and beyond for your clients! However, be wary if the other party seems to think you’re not yet capable of executing on a high level. Reason being, they may see you as someone they can take advantage of. If they provide mentorship, friendly guidance, and constructive criticism, that’s great! But, if they seem to derive pleasure from chastising you, undermining your performance, and reminding you of your inexperience, chances are they are under the impression that they can deal less than fairly with you. Yes, you have to pay your dues. No, you don’t have to put up with bullying or dishonesty.


If someone refuses to give you an offer that you find reasonable, chances are they don’t really value the service you provide. Likely, it has nothing to do with you. You may indeed have convinced them that you’re very good at your craft, but they simply aren’t willing to pay for it. In that case, make a cost-benefit analysis. If you think it’s worth it, then by all means. You may need the money or the potential boost to your portfolio. Perhaps, the person is influential and a good person with whom to connect. However, people who buy you solely on price are usually the biggest pains in the ass. Because they are not buying your “why” and don’t truly appreciate what it is you offer, expect them to fight you tooth and nail about price every step of the way.

Remember, when you’re a freelancer, you have the power to pick your clients. If you look at yourself as desperate and incapable of ever saying no, you will communicate this quality to every prospect you meet and you will be treated accordingly. If you’re new, you’re going to have settle for deals that may not be in your favor, but be careful to avoid setting a precedent that will be hard to escape from later on. Often, it comes down to mindset and how you view yourself. Talent, ability, and experience are very important, but if you don’t view yourself as having something to offer, neither will others. If you think you’re great or you think you’re not, either way, you’re right.



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I'm a writer and digital marketer. Communicating your brand's message and helping you to connect with the right audience is my specialty. If you are interested in: branding, marketing, copywriting, social media, search engine marketing, inspiration, success, and enjoying life, then my blog is the right place for you.

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