How to Turn Down a Client

If your potential client is a car wreck
waiting to happen, JUST SAY NO!
So you don't want to work with 'em.


You don't have to work with anyone you don't want to work with.  Some freelance writers will work with someone just because they don't know how to say, "No, thank you.  I can't give your project the attention it deserves right now, but I appreciate the fact that you thought of me."

(Umm... that's precisely how you say it.)

When a client approaches you, evaluate the whole situation.  If everything seems fine, then high five - you've scored a client!

If you've got a gut feeling that something's not right, though, think it through: taking the wrong clients can hurt your business more than foregoing the project in the first place.

See a Red Flag?  Tell Your Potential Client No!

There aren't always big red flags to tell you to run for the hills, but some pretty serious (and kind-of common) warning signs include:

Drop 'em like a hot potato.  Seriously.
1.  The client is reluctant to sign your contract.

2.  The client wants a lot of work in exchange for little pay.

3.  The client makes you uncomfortable over the phone or by email (in any way at all).

4.  The client balks at your prices.

5.  The client needs constant hand-holding, care and feeding.

Just to cover all the bases on red flags,  here we go: 

  • Contracts: Clients who do not want to sign a contract do not want to be held accountable for paying your invoice.  It's as simple as that.  Professionals use contracts.  End of story.

  • Pay: Clients who do not value the work it takes for you to craft flawless documents will not value the finished product, and you can expect them to argue and try to weasel out of paying.

  • Discomfort: Clients who make you uncomfortable in any way won't suddenly change their ways once they're working with you.  They will continue to make you uncomfortable until (and sometimes after) the project is done.  Save yourself the headache.

  • Prices: If they don't want to pay your prices, they can go pay someone else's.  You set your freelance writing fees according to what you need to earn - and if you lower the price because you feel you need this sale really really really bad, you're telling the client you were trying to rip him off in the first place and that your services aren't worth full price anyway.

  • Hand-holding: If your potential client is constantly blowing up your phone, littering your email inbox and insisting you check in - and you haven't even signed a contract yet - start walkin'.  You think they're bugging you now?  Wait until their money is on the line.  This can suck time away from your marketing efforts and take energy away that should be dedicated to other clients... so be careful.

How to Turn Down a Client (for Any Reason)

It's easier than you might think.  All you have to say (just like I wrote above) is, "No, thank you. I can't give your project the attention it deserves right now, but I appreciate the fact that you thought of me."  Then say goodbye.

That's all there is to it.

(You can read my client red flag runaway story here.)

What red flags send you running?  If you're an established freelancer, what would you steer the new guys away from?

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© Angie Papple Johnston, 2010; if you are reading this anywhere but on, it's stolen.

Creative Commons License

Freelance Writing Tips by Angie Papple Johnston is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at

"Swim" image courtesy of fishmonk and "Crash Car" image courtesy of Jaz1111 at