Learn how to say no to freelance writing workWhen you’re starting out as a freelance nurse-writer, you latch on to every gig you can land. Nothing, it seems, drives us writers the way hunger does.

But you’ll reach a stage in your career where you need to start saying ‘no’ to work — by choice.


Why turning down work helps your career

As I said in an earlier post, whenever you begin a new job or career you can expect to get paid less than your more-experienced colleagues. That’s been my experience as a nurse-writer. When I started out, I was most successful landing gigs that paid in the low range (but at least they paid — and that’s key).

If you’re not careful, though, you can wind up stuck on the low-paying rung of the freelance ladder. Instead of progressively working your way up to better-paying gigs, you find yourself mired in the burnout world of dime-a-word writing. That’s not good.

Here’s a secret: in order to move up the ladder, you need to free up a rung. You can’t possibly take on a higher-paying gig if you don’t have room in your schedule. Often the only way to make room for high-paying work is to turn down low-paying work. Sound scary? It is.

Overcome the fear of saying ‘no’

I won’t deny it’s terrifying to turn down work, especially the first few times you do it. Facing a future that’s filled with…well, nothing…when it could have been filled with at least a trickle of cash flow causes serious anxiety. You need to get past this fear if you ever hope to get work that pays well.

Keep reminding yourself you can’t take on meaty assignments if you’re using all your time to gnaw a bone. Positive self-talk can really help you develop the nerves of steel you need initially to confidently turn down work.

When to say ‘no’

It helps to have some guidelines about when to turn down work and when not to turn down work. I say no if:

  • My calendar is fully booked
  • My cash flow looks good for at least three months out
  • I have enough anchor clients to meet my monthly minimum revenue requirement
  • I have several marketing leads in the pipeline (that is: prospective clients who responded favorably to an LOI but we haven’t done work yet)

I do not say ‘no’ if:

  • My cash flow will not cover my minimum monthly requirement
  • I have more open slots than full ones on my calendar
  • I’ve lost one or more anchor clients and have not replaced them
  • I’ve slacked off on marketing

As you can see, I’m not telling you to pick a date and willy-nilly begin turning down work because you feel you’re at a place where you should be moving up the ladder. You need to evaluate a number of factors to make sure you don’t go hungry and the rent stays paid.

How to say ‘no’

Many of my writer friends keep it simple. If they’re turning down work, they email the client a polite, “I’m not taking on new projects at this time.” And that’s a fine way to handle things.

My own method is a bit more complex. First, I feel it’s good business practice to help prospective clients fill a need even if I can’t do it personally. So I maintain relationships with fellow freelancers to whom I can confidently refer clients when I’m at capacity. My network includes freelancers all along the spectrum, from novice to highly experienced. That way, I can probably find a good match for the client no matter their budget.

Second, I like to keep the door open. Whenever I refer a client to someone else, I like to say something along the lines of, “I’m at capacity right now and can’t take on a new project. I’d like to refer you to XX today, but I sure hope we have another opportunity to work together in the future.” I only do this for well-paying opportunities commensurate with my experience level. My messaging makes it clear I’m referring the client on a temporary basis. In my experience, the client appreciates being referred to a trustworthy writer, and it doesn’t deter them from coming back to me with future opportunities.

Being busy creates demand

According to the old saw, if you want something done you should ask the busiest person you know. People really believe that, especially in business, because it’s true. Why is it true? Because busy people have plenty of work. They have plenty of work because they’re very good at what they do. Hence, the ‘busiest person’ must be the best person for the job. And because they’re the best person for the job, busy people can command higher fees.

When you turn down work from time to time, you convey a sense that you’re in demand. You definitely want potential clients to realize that. I’m not suggesting you manufacture fake demand by starving as you turn down work to create an illusion you’re busy. Keep busy, legitimately, and then selectively turn down lower-paying work opportunities in order to enhance your desirability (and pay grade).

Have you ever turned down freelance writing work? How did the experience turn out? Please share in the comments section!

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Wishing you well!




Image via Hobvias Sudoneighm