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The Polite Way to Turn Down Work

The Polite Way to Decline Freelance WorkIt may seem counterintuitive to have a plan to turn down work – but as many experienced freelancers and consultants can attest, not all clients are good fits for your services.

An associate recently discovered this after spending a considerable amount of time going back and forth with a prospect on the terms of their work agreement.

The longer the negotiations, the more wiry my associate felt about the entire relationship. Who can blame her, is this how the entire process would be with this client?


In my experience, when a client is unreasonably difficult or demanding even before signing a contract, they are telegraphing their post-contract behavior.

As a professional, and expert in your field, you owe it to yourself to set and maintain standards. There is rarely — if ever — a time to allow the client to have such control over your process.

[bctt tweet “As an expert, you deserve to be valued for your skill set. Sometimes that means walking away.”]

How to Politely Decline Work

When you recognize that the project or prospect is one you truly do not want to continue discussions with, you can respond with:

After consideration of this new information, I’ve decided we are not a good fit at this time.

This approach is firm and definitive, yet polite.

There is no need to exasperate the problem or drag it out longer than necessary. As an expert, and a professional, you deserve to be valued for your skill set. Sometimes that means walking away.

In the end, my associate declined the project and went the extra mile for the prospect. She responded with:

After careful consideration of the information you presented, I must respectfully rescind my proposal. I provide a specialized service of [her services] and feel that our methodologies are not aligned to achieve your goals.


Thank you for taking the time to consider my proposal, I would be happy to refer you to another provider whom I trust.

Remember, the client approached you because of your reputation or approach; to demand that you change your product / service / methodology / style because of their preference totally undermines the very reason they came to you.

UPDATE: Some readers have expressed concern about a prospect being “difficult”, saying that they may be working for their own best interest. What I am discussing here is more than just a firm negotiator trying to get the best deal or extra options added. I am referring to the prospect whose demands seem to either change your solutions to fit their idea of an answer or those who continually “move the goal posts”.

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