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.