How to Succeed In Freelancing: Say No to Your Clients

Today’s post kicks off a special five-part series on how to really succeed in your freelance career. Each day this week, I’m going to write about how you can get more money, better clients and the work you really love to do – all it takes is the magic words, and you’ll be enjoying a freelance business that really rocks. Enjoy!

It’s Tuesday night, 11pm. You’re tired – so tired your eyes feel like they’re going to melt off your face from staring at the computer so long. Emails bombard you. You’re running against deadlines. You were supposed to deliver this project at 5pm and you’re almost finished but…

A new email comes in. It’s a rush. The client wants to launch tomorrow and could you possibly fix this now? And you reply, “Sure, of course I can. I’m on it.”

Now why did you say that?

I get it. A full plate is supposed to be a good thing. If you have lots of work, it’s supposed to mean that customers love what you do and want what you sell. Being crazy-busy and in demand is supposed to be a good indication of success.

Why don’t you feel successful? All you feel is tired and overwhelmed.

You must be missing something. There has to be something you’re not doing right, because when you look at other successful people you admire, they don’t look tired at all. So you sign up for courses. You buy books. You try to learn the secret, because there’s obviously something you haven’t figured out yet. If you knew what that secret was, you’d be just fine.

There is a secret. It’s two little words: yes and no.

Say No to Your Clients and Yes to You

Have you heard about the story of the shoemaker’s son? It goes something like this:

The shoemaker crafted strong, solid footwear that helped other people walk further and faster with more comfort so they could get to the next town. When they arrived at their destination, they told everyone about the great shoes that helped them get there.

Word of the shoemaker’s talents spread. He got new customers, more work, and became so busy that he didn’t have time to fix his own family’s shoes. This was good! He was a shoemaking success.

Until one day, when someone noticed that the shoemaker’s son had worn right through his own shoes and they’d fallen apart. The boy walked with bare feet – while his father’s customers had solid, comfortable footwear that took them places.

That shoemaker’s son has the same problem that many freelancers do – new and experienced both. A freelancer often spends so much time working for customers that he doesn’t have the time to work on his own business-building. Customers end up with spiffy businesses that rake in clients and money, and the freelancer goes barefoot, with a neglected business that’s falling apart.

If you’re a freelancer, you need to say yes to yourself. You need to take care of your business first. Even if there are customers waving money at you. Even if you have bills to pay. If you never work on improving your business, it’ll never be able to help you reach your goals.

Your business needs continual maintenance and attention, because it needs to be able to withstand the competition and keep abreast of industry trends. It always needs to be better than it was last year. It needs to progress continually towards earning you more money and better assignments. You have to reserve time to work on these goals if you want your business to keep getting bigger, better and more profitable.

Now, making improvements to your business and taking care of yourself doesn’t mean cutting off all your customers just to find time to work on upgrades. Very few freelancers can afford to take a month off just to work on business improvements.

But you do need to reserve a little bit of time each week to help your business be better than it is, so that it can work harder for you.

Treat yourself like a client – your most important one. Hire yourself, and assign yourself a project. Pick a project that will help further your success. For example, you could redesign your website so it appeals to more clients and lessens your advertising costs. You could write new copy to draw readers in closer and get them hiring you more. You could set up a marketing campaign that reaches your ideal customer so you don’t have to keep taking on work that really isn’t your specialty.

Whatever project you choose to work on, treat it with the same level of dedication and attention you give each of your clients. For example, set start dates and create tasks to complete. Make deadlines for each task. You may not be able to devote 20 hours a week to your personal project, but you can certainly schedule in just an hour of business-building time each week to make sure your business isn’t being continually set aside in favor of improving someone else’s.

Consider the deadlines you set for yourself firm ones, too. They’re not ones you can shift around or blow off like they don’t matter. Would you ever tell a client, “Sorry, I had more important things to do”? Of course not. So don’t say it to yourself.

Go further with this concept of hiring yourself. Make it the ultimate customer experience. How well are you treating yourself as a client? Are you meeting your own deadlines? Is the work you’re doing just as good as what you’d do for anyone else? Would you recommend your own business to other people, based on the treatment you received from yourself?

It may be a little hard to say no to a client who needs you, especially when you’re so used to always having been available for your customers before. But remember that you’re not saying no to be mean to anyone – you’re saying no because quite simply, you’re booked.

You’ve already said yes to another customer: yourself.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.