How to Succeed in Freelancing: Say No to Fast Work

This is the fourth post in a special five-part series on using the magic of yes and no to earn more money, better clients and work you really love to do. Click here to read more on how to say no to clients, click here to how to work less and earn more, or click here to discover how you can get the rates you deserve.

Then sit back and enjoy today’s post on how to turn down clients and still be successful. You’ll be relaxing your way to a freelance business that lets you breathe and still pay the bills.

Ah, the rush job. A client emails you in a panic and the tone is so urgent that you feel the need like it’s your own. You drop everything. Stop the presses! There’s a fire to put out – you can’t just let it burn!

Well, actually, yes. Yes, you can. There is no job on this earth so important that you have to drop everything right now to resolve it.

In 95% of all rush cases, people sound urgent but almost all of them won’t blow at you when you say you can’t get to it right away. They want reassurance someone can help. They want to know they’re not alone to deal with this problem. They just want to be heard.

Typically, people don’t really expect you to drop everything anyways – they’re just flustered and grabbing at any quick solution that comes to mind, or they’re not thinking about all the possible options they have at hand, or maybe they’re just trying their luck to see what you’ll say.

So here’s how you handle that urgent rush request: “Sure, I’m happy to do that for you. I can have it done by X day. Thanks!”

No one can be upset at you about that. You’re happy to help! And you’ve told them exactly when you can get to it, which is the next available spot on your schedule, a day where you had nothing else planned. They can wait, or they can go elsewhere, but they sure can’t be mad at you for being helpful and willing.

Now, this brings us to an important point – how comfortable you are with telling people no. There are a lot of freelancers who have trouble saying no (which you haven’t, you’ll note), and they tend to be people-pleasers that want others to like them and think they’re helpful. They’re worried that if they’re not helpful, their clients will think they’re not nice people.

Now, being seen as helpful is great, but it can quickly spiral into a situation where all those rush-request clients walk all over you. You’re letting them take advantage of your good nature – and you’re eventually feel overwhelmed and overworked, with too little time to get it all done. You’ll also often wish you could say no, but…

But nothing. Go ahead and say no. This isn’t healthy or good for you. And people will still like you. They won’t think you’re a mean person (promise). Not only will they like still you, but they’ll respect you more for setting boundaries. You’ve just demonstrated that you value yourself, your time and your work – and they should too.

Most importantly, keep in mind that you’re not saying no – you’re saying yes, just not now.

Here’s a tip: make a 48-hour waiting period the standard policy in your business for all incoming requests. If a client can’t wait 48 hours, you gently reply, “I understand you need this fast. I can refer you to Joe Whoever. He might be able to help you out with this. Thanks!” This is a great alternative that leaves you still looking helpful without disrupting your workday.

Your client has a solution, and Joe thinks you’re awesome for sending work his way.

The bonus of a 48-hour policy is that your schedule is smoothly planned out in a way that lets you pay attention to all your clients so that each person gets the best of you. No more dropping work to put out fires. No more broken concentration that encourages mistakes. You reinforce to clients that you’re a professional with deadlines to respect and that everyone who works with you is equally important.

Everyone wins. Joe was right to think you’re awesome.

Oh, and while we’re discussing rush requests, be wary of the lure to accept them for a fee. It may sound great to get a fast dump of cash if you drop everything, but rush fees send a silent message to people: “If you have money, you are more important.”

Now, that message may be all right with you. Honestly, none of your current clients will know you and that rush guy struck a deal. But let’s say that someone who’s never worked with you contacts you in a panic, and you say, “Sure. I can move you to the head of the line today, and my rate is $100 plus a rush fee of $50.”

That person might not have that extra $50. He might feel resentful that you wouldn’t help him unless he had a big bank account. And he might remember you as the freelancer who only cares about money. Is that the impression you want to create? Is that what you want this person to go tell his friends, his associates, his social media buddies?

Remember that every person is a potential goldmine of referrals – even those who don’t work with you. Decide what kind of image you want to have, and then consider whether that image helps your business earn more clients – or turns them off.

There, that was easy! You have a nice, new policy that helps you say no to rush requests, you have a good approach to helping you set boundaries that let you maintain a steady schedule and earn more respect, and you’ve shown you’re willing and able to help as soon as you can (which isn’t right now).

Oh, and you’ve made a friend in Joe. Excellent.

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.

Join the Discussion. Click Here to Leave a Comment.

  1. Saying no takes confidence… but the act of saying no also builds confidence. It makes you feel more confident and it makes you look more professional.

    Sometimes, by saying no, you make the right kind of client want to work with you even more… Saying “yes” to everything won’t make you look helpful, it’ll make you look desperate for work.

    Then you have a new set of problems because 1 of 2 things will always happen… the client will get turned off and not want to work with you, or they’ll recognize the smell of desperation and take advantage of you, beating you down on price and soaking up as much of your time as they can.

    Good post, James. Important message to freelancers.
    .-= Henry Bingaman´s last blog ..Direct Email Marketing Tips =-.

  2. Michael Martine says:

    James, very smart stuff regarding a 48-hour waiting period vs. a “rush fee.” Makes a hella lotta sense. I don’t do much freelancing (mostly consulting and info product sales) and I never would have thought of that. If it ever comes up, I will be prepared!
    .-= Michael Martine´s last blog ..Is Your Business Blogging Attracting the Wrong Crowd? =-.

  3. Good advices. I’m applying 200% fees when in rush.
    Problem is, some really want it done even at this huge fee! But at least it pays well 😉

  4. I strongly agree with this. Nothing excellent is produced if it was done in a hurry.

  5. Saying no has definitely been an issue over the years I’ve been running my business. I always want to “please” and “help” everyone and, for the longest time, thought that meant that I could only say “yes”. I just recently began turning projects down (and oh my – the stress relief!). One of my new years resolutions is to change my default answer to “No” instead of “Yes”.

    Freelancers need to remember that the number one person that they need to take care of is themselves. If you’re taking on a lot of rush work and work that you don’t like to do (or clients you don’t like to work with) then you’re just going to get stressed out and burnt out, and ultimately not succeed.

  6. When I feel the pressure to drop everything for someone in a rush, I remind myself I am neither a plumber nor an obstetrician. ‘Nuff said.
    .-= Stacey Cornelius´s last blog ..Get the answers to your most burning questions =-.

  7. I was taught early on to ALWAYS add a fee and accept the “rush” jobs when asked. That way you make more money or they walk away. Let me tell you, every time I did that, either the person took advantage of the rush job and got more out of me then outlined, or they never came back again for anything.

    Instead of a 48 hour period I have a 7 day period. If you contact me about some work, we pick up the discussion in 7 days. This is due to the nature of my work, but I feel it’s the same principle.

    Great series. Really great.


    That had to be the funniest comment I’ve read in a long time!
    .-= Adam King´s last blog ..What Happens When You Tell it All Yourself? =-.

  8. Wendy Sullivan says:

    Ah, the bliss of being your own boss. Who doesn’t remember the days as a corporate whore when the boss would come rushing out to foist some “URGENT!!!” task on us, throwing us completely off schedule and ruining our entire workweek? We don’t have to do that anymore. No WE are the ones in charge. We can say “Sure, but it’ll cost ya” or we can say “No”. I swear, that power to control our own destinies is why we chose this line of work in the first place.

    .-= Wendy Sullivan´s last blog ..Holy Taco! Break Studios is Hiring! =-.

  9. Michael Martine says:

    What’s that old saying? “A lack of preparedness on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”
    .-= Michael Martine´s last blog ..Is Your Business Blogging Attracting the Wrong Crowd? =-.

  10. @Wendy, so true, but it’s sometimes hard to change the perception and think differently when you’ve been an employee for a long time.

  11. @Henry – You’re very right that saying no builds confidence. We become clearer on what works for us and what doesn’t, and when we see the world doesn’t end with a little “no”, then we say no more often. And yes, and no, and yes. And we ultimately create an environment and process we enjoy and that works well all around.

    @Michael – I use it all the time now, not even in freelancing. “If you want to have a play date, I’m all up for it. Give me a call 48 hours before and I’ll schedule that in.” HA!

    @Thibaut – I once gave a client a rush fee of $500. Oddly, it wasn’t such a rush anymore… 😉

    @Poch – I can only think of one case where fast is good, and that’s the Olympics.

    @Sarah – It’s a tough one to get used to, actually, especially when you always want to “be there” for clients. When you realize you already ARE there for them, just not at their beck and call, then it’s all good. And on those days you CAN fit in something fast? Well, they love you double for it.

    @Stacey – Taylor says I need to remind myself more often that I’m not God, but somehow, I think she has it all wrong 😉

    @Adam – That’s actually a very interesting strategy – how do you work that? “Call me back in seven days?” or, “I’ll contact you in seven days…?”

    @Wendi – I don’t know about power of control or destiny, but hey, that works for me!

    @Michael – Hehe, I once read in a book… “There seems to have been a misunderstanding. You see, this isn’t a negotiation. This is me telling you how it works.”

    @Heike – That’s very true. Start with small things, baby steps, little “no”s that aren’t really freakout material. Like Henry said, you build on it and it’s golden from there!

  12. Michael Martine says:

    “There seems to have been a misunderstanding. You see, this isn’t a negotiation. This is me telling you how it works.”

    THAT’S AWESOME. Thanks for sharing that!
    .-= Michael Martine´s last blog ..Is Your Business Blogging Attracting the Wrong Crowd? =-.

  13. Wendy Sullivan says:

    @Heike – tell me about it! It took me two years to get past that attitude.
    .-= Wendy Sullivan´s last blog ..Holy Taco! Break Studios is Hiring! =-.

  14. I’m pretty good at deflecting clients whose default setting is “crisis.” But when a good client genuinely needs help fast, I will do what I can to help out – and yes, it will involve a rush fee, as I’m giving them an evening or weekend that’s normally “me time.” The decision basically comes down to my schedule and our relationship.

    I’m really enjoying this series.
    .-= Valerie Alexander´s last blog ..Fiction Rules =-.

  15. @James depends on what you are billing $500. One hour? I did 1000EUR/hour one time, but it was only one hour ;-). I was at the ohter end of the world on vacations, warned every client I wasn’t available AT ALL. But, one of them decided to hire a junior to take over my job. Of course he messed the whole thing up. The friend I was with told me “hey, look, Marc is looking for a developer, it’s a mega-rush”. They didn’t asked me to do it but they were looking for someone who could fix it at any (well, nearly) price. “OK tell me I’m taking the job”. It took me only one hour to do it, because I knew how to fix it. So, rush hours aren’t always bad!

  16. Personally… I don’t mind doing rush jobs. Although I learned long ago NOT to drop everything and do it. I don’t generally wait 48 hours, maybe 36 or so… I like to clear the decks and not have those things hanging around. But something I learned long ago too was to charge for those rush jobs. I like to call it a bitch tax, although not to my client. You’re bitching at me because you didn’t do something and now you need it in a hurry? Well then, a bitch tax will be applied.

  17. Wendy Sullivan says:

    @Joe R Bitch Tax? Man, I’d love to see THAT line item on your invoices!

    .-= Wendy Sullivan´s last blog ..Holy Taco! Break Studios is Hiring! =-.

  18. The “rush job” is absolutely one of those components of freelancing that can become problematic if you don’t find an appropriate way to handle it. I’ve found that (a) 99% of client deadlines are arbitrary, and can be adjusted, and (b) 99% of clients who tell you they need the work done yesterday will find a way (e.g. repeatedly reschedule meetings, fail to send promised information) to bring the project to a grinding halt once you drop everything for them. For these reasons, I have gravitated toward a “no rush jobs” policy. I make exceptions for existing clients who normally give me reasonable deadlines, because I know that when they say “rush,” they really mean it, and that they are going to give me the support I need to quickly complete their projects.
    .-= Karen Marcus´s last blog ..How to Write a Fantastic First Draft =-.

    • @Karen, I know exactly what that is like. I had a client who needed a website content update that was going to take 3 weeks. It has now been around 3 or more months, because I am waiting on info from the client.

  19. Pretend it’ll take three days, then write it in an hour and a half. Delay sending it, to make it look like it took ages. Charge accordingly.
    .-= Simon Townley´s last blog ..Scribe – the SEO tool for writers =-.


  1. […] How to feel relaxed with your schedule […]

  2. […] an opportunity to impress a client. James Chartrand of Men With Pens makes a good point when he says “In 95% of all rush cases, people sound urgent but almost […]

Leave a Comment