Being a freelancer brings many benefits especially the opportunity to control your work/life balance. Success breeds success and eventually you may find yourself unable to take on any more clients without either the work or the life suffering. Here are some tips on saying no to new work without burning a bridge with a potential client:

  1. Don’t give an excuse—As tempting as it is to claim another commitment and make it specific, it could be an opening for negotiation that you don’t want. Just not being able to fit it in is fine.
  2. Say thank you—Even if you can’t or don’t want to take on a particular project, it’s nice to be asked. Don’t let “thank yous” fall through the cracks.
  3. Be firm—Some clients will be extra persistent and if they get a feeling that you are not sure, they will keep asking, especially if they are looking for spec or pro bono work. After all, they really need someone to say yes. Stick to your guns.
  4. Stay on a scheduleDetailed planning is a big help in deciding whether to say yes or no to a project so make sure you have planned out the next month ahead of time. It’s much easier to know whether you have an open 10 hours if you know where the rest of your time will be spent.
  5. Refer a friend—A great referral can get you a lifelong client if it works out. Don’t be afraid to send the project to a talented friend you trust.
  6. Not now, but soon—If you just have too much on your plate right now, a delay might make all the difference. If you really want to do the project, see if you can schedule it for the near future.

At the beginning of your time as a freelancer, it is easy to say yes to too many projects, but the longer you freelance, the easier these questions are to answer. You have a better idea of how many projects you can handle in how short a time and what workload is too much for you to do your very best work. And don’t forget to schedule a day off now and then!

Wendy Stackhouse, Consultant for Artisan Creative