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Why You Can’t Succeed at Freelancing Unless You Turn Some Projects Down

by Laura Spencer

on June 16, 2014

in Marketing

Learn how to earn $125 or more per hour as a freelancer - Free Test Drive

“Whew. The famine is over. Someone just asked about my services. Thank goodness. Now I’ll have some work.”

Have you ever felt like this?

If you have, slow down. Not every prospect who contacts you should become your client. While some freelancers feel that they must accept all paying work that comes their way, that’s not a good tactic if you really want to succeed as a freelancer.

One of the most important things you can do as a freelancer is learn to say no.

In this post, I’ll list nine ways that bad projects harm your freelancing business. I’ll also provide more advice about saying no and include an email template.

If you liked this post, you may also like How to Keep Fake Clients from Stealing Your Time and Sapping Your Energy.

What Makes a Freelancing Project Bad?

So, what makes a bad project? Could you even recognize a bad freelancing project?

Here are some signs that you should turn a project down:

  • Low pay. The pay being offered for the work is much less than your regular rate and you can’t negotiate a better rate.
  • Bad attitude. The prospect has a really bad attitude (shows a lack of respect or seems overly critical).
  • Wrong type of work. The work is far outside your normal niche and it would take a huge amount of time to research.
  • Overly demanding. The prospect expects you to be available 24/7 or has other unreasonable deadlines.

Of course, every freelancer has their own criteria for deciding when to accept a project. You’ll need to come up with yours. My main point here is that you shouldn’t accept every project that comes your way.

9 Ways Bad Projects Harm Your Freelancing Business

Unfortunately, some see freelancing as a means of getting the cheapest possible labor for their project work. Trust me. You don’t want these folks as your clients.

If you accept every freelancing project that comes your way, you may be slowly driving yourself out of business. Here are nine ways that accepting a bad project can harm your business:

  1. Keeps you from legitimate clients. If you spend all your time working on projects that pay very little or do not fit into your niche, you may find yourself too busy with prior commitments when a good client comes along.
  2. Causes stress. Working on a difficult project can cause undue stress, which can eventually lead to serious health problems. Over time, health problems can limit the amount of freelancing work you can handle.
  3. Lowers your quality of life. A project that regularly requires you to work during non-working hours reduces the amount of time you spend with friends and family and hurts your relationships. Eventually, your family problems will leak over into your business.
  4. Interferes with your marketing time. As I’ve said before, you don’t really have eight hours to spend on projects. If you stop marketing your freelancing business to work on a project, your future prospects will dry up. When the project ends, you’ll have a famine period.
  5. Doesn’t expand your portfolio. Bad projects tend to be projects that we don’t want to include on our portfolio because they don’t give us the opportunity to do our best work. If you mostly accept bad projects, your freelancing portfolio will suffer.
  6. Leads to financial problems. Admit it, many projects barely pay enough to justify the time spent. If you find yourself working on a project for far less than your normal rate, it won’t be long until your finances start to suffer.
  7. Causes collection issues. Somehow, it’s always the clients with the bad projects who pay late or don’t pay at all, causing you to spend even more time trying to collect your fees. If you’re spending more time on collections, that means less time for billable projects.
  8. Stifles freelancing growth. If you take too many projects outside of your niche or too many low quality projects, you won’t grow as a freelancer. Usually, new projects stimulate the growth of new skills. With poor quality projects this doesn’t happen.
  9. Harms your online reputation. Agreeing to do low quality work could eventually ruin your online reputation, especially if that work has your byline on it. If prospects become accustomed to seeing your name with low quality work, they will assume that’s all you can do.

How to Say No

For many of us, it’s hard to say no. After all, as freelancers we’re in the business of solving people’s problems. We want to help.

Here’s a sample email that you can modify and send to prospects whose projects aren’t right for you:

Dear [Prospect],

Thanks for your inquiry about my [Your Specialty] services.

After examining your project requirements carefully, I regret to inform you that my skills are not a good fit for your project. Rather than try to muddle through, I recommend you seek out the services of a freelancer whose experience more closely matches your project needs.

Thanks again for considering me for this project.

Best regards,

[Freelancer Name]

That’s all it takes to say no. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

One final point–you may wonder whether you should offer to refer the work to another freelancer. The answer is… it depends.

If you’re rejecting the project due to extremely low pay or a bad attitude, you certainly don’t want to saddle another freelancer with those problems. On the other hand, if the project is simply out of your specialty you may want to refer the prospect to another freelancer.

Your Turn

How do you turn down bad freelancing projects? Share your experiences and tips in the comments.

Learn how to earn $125 or more per hour as a freelancer - Free Test Drive

About Laura Spencer

Laura Spencer is a freelance writer from North Central Texas with over 20 years of professional business writing experience. If you liked this post, then you may also enjoy LauraĆ¢??s blog about her freelance writing experiences, WritingThoughts. Laura is also on Google+.