How To Turn Down Freelance Work Politely [With Email Templates]

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Whether you’re too busy, the project sucks (it happens), or the client isn’t a good fit, taking on additional freelance work isn’t always the best idea. But it’s critical to turn down freelance work politely. If you don’t, you risk harming your reputation and future earning potential.

Wondering how to turn down freelance work politely? Here are five tips and strategies to try out. 

Why would you want to turn down freelance work?

More work means more money, but it also means more time and effort. You may not want to take on additional work for a variety of reasons:

Too busy: You already have a full plate. 

Not profitable enough: Sure, it makes money. But you also have to spend a lot of time on the project – so your hourly rate is actually quite low. 

Not in your wheelhouse: It could be a type of work you don’t do (or aren’t that good at). 

Bad fit client: Sometimes the work isn’t the problem. 

You have other goals: The work in question might stop you from doing something else that’s a bigger goal for you. 

1 – Focus on the circumstances

Let’s say you have a perfectly innocent reason for turning down the work: you’re just too busy. You like the client and you like the work, but you don’t have capacity and can’t outsource it. These cases call for honesty and optionality. Don’t just flat turn it down, but instead see if you can move the project back a bit so you can take it on. 

Template response: 

Hi [client’s name],

Thank you for the project context. I want to be up front: I’d love to do it, but I don’t have capacity for this project right now. Is there any chance we can push back the start date, or is it urgent? If we can kickstart on [date you’re available], I’d love to do this project with you. 

Let me know if that works or if you have any questions. 

[Your name]

2 – Never blame anyone

Freelancing is a relationship business. Even in very transactional projects, a person is hiring you to do work for them. So turning down work has the potential to appear like you’re blaming someone for making the project fail. Not that you’d say this, just that people might misread an email. To ensure this doesn’t happen, never blame anyone (or even mention names). If you don’t want to do the work at any point, focus on the end result that unfortunately you can’t take on the work. Oh, and never lie either. 


Template response: 

Hi [client’s name],

Thank you for the project context. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to take on this project. Whenever I take a project on, I want to be sure I can deliver. In this case, I’m not 100% confident I produce the results you need, and I wouldn’t want to set up a contract if I couldn’t deliver. 

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. 

[Your name]

3 – Be specific

If there is a specific reason why you can’t – or don’t want to – take on freelance work, say so! A key part of turning down freelance work politely is being up front and honest with the person. You may find out that the client is willing to be flexible with you and change the element you don’t like. Or, if they won’t change it, then at least you can part professionally.

Template response: 

Hi [client’s name],

Thank you for the project context. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to take on the work because of [specific thing]. I’m concerned that it isn’t a fit for me based on [reason why specific thing is a problem]. As a result, I wouldn’t want to enter a contract with you knowing I couldn’t deliver. 

If you’re open to changing [specific thing] to [thing that’s easier for you] or removing it from the project scope, I’d be happy to take this on. If you’re not able to make that change, I understand completely. 

Let me know if that works for you, or if you have any questions. 

[Your name]

4 – Facts only, no emotion

Of all the potential freelance client red flags to watch for, emotion is a key one. If you’ve got a potential client that’s insulting, mean, or otherwise rude, you’re completely validated in not wanting to work with them. However, this is no time to hurl insults of your own. Never meet someone’s level of emotion when turning down freelance work. If they decide to get emotional, that’s on them. You should always maintain professionalism. 

One trick to remember: rephrase their emotion toward you as a demand on the project. That way you can focus on turning down the project, not making it personal.

Template response: 

Hi [client’s name],

Thank you for the project context. While I understand your demands for this project, unfortunately I cannot take it on at this time. I wouldn’t want to take on a project where I’m not sure I could deliver to your standards. I apologize we won’t have the chance to work together on this project.

 [Your name]

5 – Wish them well

If you’re wondering how to turn down freelance work politely, know that it’s not about telling someone off. If you turn down work and someone acknowledges the response, keep it friendly and light by wishing them well. After all, freelancing is about business – there shouldn’t be anything personal. Even if you have a client who treated you poorly, you can wish them well on the project (if not them as an individual). 

Note: This should be truly genuine. People can see through fake well wishes, so anchor on something you genuinely mean. 

Template response: 

Hi [client’s name],

Thank you for the response. I really liked [thing you genuinely liked about the project or client], and I wish you good luck on it going forward. 

[Your name]

It’s just (freelance) business

Never feel bad about turning down work that’s not right for you. Whether the project or the person, you have the independence to choose the work you want to take on. Unfortunately that can mean a short-term loss of revenue, but there are a lot of ways to find new freelance clients. The key is to preserve your energy and productivity so you can do great work and get paid. 

Read Next: A Dull, Simple, Easy System For Freelancers To Stay Focused Each Day

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