Weekend Creative




Today I want to talk about a topic that I think is really important and not discussed enough in the freelance world - saying no and turning down work. At first this idea might seem counterintuitive - it’s easy to think that if you want to make money and grow your business you need to take on as many clients as possible. However, I think that turning down work can actually benefit you and your company more than saying yes to every opportunity.

Louie Giglio says that when you say yes to anything, it means that you say no to other things. I think this is so true. Your time is limited and valuable, especially if you are running a side hustle, and you can only take on so many projects. You don’t know what opportunities you might be missing out on when you say yes to jobs that aren’t really worth your time.

Knowing the type of work that you want to do and being selective with what you take on will help you build a portfolio that attracts more of the clients that you want. It will also give you the time to really focus on the clients that you have and serve them well which can lead to more repeat clients and referrals.

So how do you determine what you should say yes to? When Arabela and I were students at SJSU, we had a photography professor who used three factors to decide if she should accept a job. At least two of these three had to be present in any combination otherwise she felt that it wasn't worth it. Sometimes the stars will align and all three of these will be there, but this is pretty rare. Here are the factors:

1. You love the job

Some jobs will fill you with excitement as soon as you hear about them. Immediately ideas will begin to flow and it seems almost effortless. Maybe it’s a job that you’ve wanted for a long time, or something you can picture fitting perfectly in your portfolio. Maybe it’s a new challenge or it simply inspires you. It’s always ideal when the actual project is something that you really want to do. I mean that’s why you’re freelancing in the first place, right?

2. You love the client

Just like you click with certain people as friends, you will click with certain people as clients. For us, ideal clients provide enough direction for us to have a good grasp of what they want, but trust us enough to let us be creative and put our own spin on things. They communicate well and respond quickly. They see the value of our work and want to pay us what we are worth. If they are on set they jump in when needed, but don’t micromanage. Ideally, we also get along with them as people and form a long term partnership. I think it’s important to write out who your ideal client is, not only so you can better market to them, but so that you can recognize them when deciding to take or pursue a job.

3. It pays well

Obviously you need to get paid for your work in order to keep your business running and cover expenses. Oftentimes clients won’t know how much everything costs so it is important to be clear up front about what you charge for your services and what other costs will be necessary to complete the project. There will be clients that will have large budgets and pay really well, and that’s awesome. However, when that isn’t the case, its important to really evaluate the job and make sure that it is still worth your time. The few jobs that we have taken on for free were for clients that we loved, projects that we really believed in, and resulted in referrals that led to paid work, but this will not always happen. Don’t devalue yourself or your work and never be afraid to stand by your prices.

Ask a lot of questions upfront and get as much information as you can from the potential client and then see if at least two of these factors are in place. If there is only one it’s probably a good idea to turn down the job.


I would add two other reasons that you might want to turn down a job, first, you lack the skills/resources or second, you lack the time.

While you will learn new skills on pretty much every job, it’s important to know yourself well enough to know what is realistic for you to learn and execute well. Accepting a job and then failing to meet the client’s expectations will hurt you more than turning down the job in the first place.

You also want to make sure that you have enough time to be able to serve your clients and take care of yourself as well. There are only so many hours in a day and filling up all of them with client work will only cause exhaustion and burnout. It’s also hard to do quality work when you are constantly rushing or working all hours of the night.

So how do you gracefully turn down work? Here are three responses you could use:

1. Share resources

If you feel like the client doesn’t have the budget to pay someone what the job is worth, you could recommend some free resources that might help them fulfill their needs. This won’t work for all jobs, but depending on the level of skill and equipment needed, it might be useful.

2. Recommend someone else

If the job isn’t a good fit for you, take the opportunity to recommend other people in the industry that you think would be a better match. This is a great way to help both the client and other creatives at the same time. Just make sure that you trust the quality of their work since it will reflect on you as well. It also is a good idea to offer a few different recommendations when possible so that the client has options.

3. Quote a high price

If the job isn’t ideal or doesn’t really fit in your portfolio, but you would be willing to do it to make some extra money, you can quote a price that is on the high side (but not outrageous) and see if the client is willing to pay. You don’t want to cheat or take advantage of anyone, so it’s ok to be upfront about the fact that you are charging more than normal and why. We do this often when we get asked to shoot headshots. In general those aren’t the type of projects that we are pursuing and in order for it to be worth our time to take and edit photos that won’t be a part of our portfolio, we decide to charge a higher rate. If you do this, make sure that you are willing to follow through with the job if the client still wants to move forward.


The more work you do and the more clients you work with, the easier it will be to tell up front if a particular job is something that you should say yes to, but always listen to any potential client that reaches out and don’t immediately rule anyone out. Take the time to hear them out and see if they could be a good fit, some jobs will surprise you.

After each job you take on, debrief with yourself or your team and evaluate if you would take on a similar job or client in the future. Ultimately you have to trust your gut and if something feels off or you don’t see it benefiting your company enough then say no with confidence and grace. It can be scary to turn away work, but practicing the art of saying no and leaving space for the jobs you really want will only benefit you in the long run.

Is it the weekend yet?