Freelancing: when and how to turn good work away

It goes like this: / Subject:Potential project / Message: “Hi, I have a project I think you’d be perfect for...”and so on. After this, either you’re so excited to be asked to work on this project that you almost finish crafting your “Absolutely!” response before you finish reading the email, or you get to the end and think, “Hmmm, not sure about this one...”

It seems odd at first to turn down any work in this economy, but the reality is that a smart designer knows when, why, and how to do so. There are myriad reasons for turning work away. One of the most common is that you simply have too much going on already. If that’s the case, you’re doing not only yourself but also the client a favour in saying so. The more honest you are about your time, the better off you will be. Learning to know what your threshold is and when you’re spread too thin will lead to some of the most liberating “no’s” you’ll ever utter in your life. Now, granted there are projects that come up that are so good you can’t pass up no matter how busy you are, but that’s a topic for another article.

So what about when you have the time? Honestly, after a very busy 2011, the first few months of 2012 were some of the slowest I’ve had since starting NoPattern. I was working on a handful of projects, none as big or fulfilling as I’d like, but certainly I had the time to take more on. During that time I received several emails like the one above, but I had to turn them down. The reason? I simply wasn’t that into them. They didn’t sound exciting to me and saying yes would have felt like a burden. Just go with your gut in these situations. There’s a catch here, of course – maybe you need the money, and if that’s the case, don’t feel too bad, we’ve all done those projects (aka C:\Hard Drive\Top Secret Portfolio).

Whatever your reason is, you’ll have to say no to the client somehow. Keep this simple – there’s no need to explain why you arrived at your conclusion. Just tell them you’re sorry and unfortunately you’re unable to take on their project right now but would love to be considered for potential future projects. They’ll understand and will respect your honest response.