Posts Tagged ‘freelance does not mean free’

“No” is not a dirty word

Decision Dice

Photo compliments of Anne-Lise Heinrichs via Flickr

If you’re new to freelancing, or have been doing it a while but are short on cash, it is easy to say “yes” to every client and project that comes your way. Don’t. In fact, there are situations in which you said say “no.”

1)  If your dance card is already full, say “no.” Taking on more work when you are already at capacity is stressful. You’ll have to put in extra hours, shuffle work around, or give up personal time to accommodate someone else’s project and timeline. Unless this is your dream client or a once-in-a-career opportunity, pass on this project.

2)  If you can’t give it your full attention, say “no.” In keeping with the theme above, if you cannot give a project 100% of your time and attention, turn it down. Let’s say you have some extra time, but you’re getting over a cold or you need to start packing for #EIJ13. If you are not focused on the task at hand, you may not give it your best effort. You’re better off saying “no.”

3)  If you are working for low or no pay, you should probably pass. Though there are some exceptions to this rule, freelance does not mean free. Walk away from the assignment if you aren’t getting something in return – whether it is needed exposure, a coveted clip or a reasonable paycheck.

4)  If you interview a prospect by phone and you don’t get a good vibe, trust your instincts. After 10 years of freelancing, I have a pretty good sense when a project is a good fit for me, or when an editor and I are going to connect in a positive way. If you or the client are defensive during that first encounter, however, thank them for the opportunity and run far, far away.

5)  If you’re only doing the project for the money, consider saying “no” before taking it on. If you really need the money to pay your mortgage, you may have to take on the occasional project that you don’t absolutely love, but you should never have to take on something that you can’t believe in.

Here’s a classic example of when and why you should say “no” for all of the reasons mentioned above. I recently had the opportunity to make thousands of dollars doing rewrites of case studies on the effects of herbal remedies for sexual dysfunction. There were a few red flags. First, I don’t know why the case studies were rewrites. Could they have been plagiarized, written in another language and poorly translated? Second, though there was a lot of volume and much money at stake, the amount of work involved per case study didn’t jive with the amount paid for each. My rate of return was low.

The company also wanted to tout me as their expert, but I’m not an expert on this topic. Maybe after writing hundreds of case studies I would have been, but I wasn’t comfortable pretending to be someone I’m not.  And let’s not even talk about the subject matter. I had a lot of misgivings, so I turned it down.

The next time you consider taking on a project or client that you aren’t sure about, run through this checklist mentally to see they fit any of the warnings above. If so, or if they don’t feel right to you on any level, say “no.”

I’ll even help you. Let’s practice. Repeat after me.

— No.

— No, thank you.

— Thank you but I can’t take on anything else right now.

— I appreciate the opportunity but I’m booked.

— Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m not sure I’m the best fit for your project.

— I’m interested in the project, but your budget doesn’t align with my rates.

— Thank you, but my schedule is already full.

— No, I can’t; I have to wash my dog.


However you say it, just say it. It gets easier every time.


Dana NeutsBased in the Seattle area, Dana E. Neuts is a freelance writer and editor and the publisher of, an award-winning community website about Kent, Washington. She is currently serving as SPJ Secretary/Treasurer and is running for SPJ President-Elect in August 2013. You can learn more about her at or email her directly at



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