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How to Politely Refuse a Job or Client

written by: KateG•edited by: Daniel P. McGoldrick•updated: 12/31/2009

When a client comes to you with work, and you need to turn it down, the tips in this article can help you to do so professionally.

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    Anybody who works for himself is used to the process of acquiring clients. After all, it is an integral part of either working freelance or owning your own business. What many of us are less experienced at is turning down a client. Opportunities don’t come around every day so the majority of them are accepted. Turning down work gracefully can be an important business skill. Just because this project isn’t right for you does not mean that this client might not have work for you in the future. Keeping good relations is paramount.

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    Why Would I Want to Turn Down a Job?

    There are number of reasons why you might want to turn down work. Maybe right now you are simply too busy to complete the work, and you don’t want your standards to drop. Maybe the client is not looking to pay what you deem acceptable rates. Maybe the client needs a type of work you don’t feel comfortable doing. No matter what the reason, if you are going to have to turn it down, you want to do so in a way that defines you as a professional.

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    Reasons to Turn It Down

    Turning down work for any reason but rates

    The majority of your reasons for turning down work will not be about the rate of pay. If the offer is not insulting here’s what you need to do. First, thank the client for thinking of you. Let them know that you appreciate being considered for the project. Once that is done give a brief explanation of why you cannot accept their offer. Explain this in terms that appeal to their interest. Your client doesn’t care if you’re buried in work. Explaining that you would not have enough time to give the project your full attention both explains your needs and appeals to their interests. Now you’re going to offer a recommendation. You can either name a specific competitor in your message or simply make them aware that a recommendation is available if they need help finding a candidate. Then thank them once again and express your interest in being considered for future projects. There you have it, a graceful way to turn down individual projects without closing the door for the future.

    Turning down work with acceptable rates

    Freelancers know that there are some people who will try to lowball you on a project, and leech quality work for a bargain basement price. We all hate them, but they do exist. Sadly, sometimes they even thrive, especially when competition increases and talented desktop publishers accept lower rates simply to stay afloat. When turning these clients down your job is simple. Thank the client once for considering you and then explain that their rates are not in line with industry standards and that this is why you cannot accept their offer. Do not offer them recommendation. If you do, you are just perpetuating the discount wars. This includes referring to that talented college student you happen to know about. Just be sure to be polite, but firm in your message. A client who truly has no idea what market value is may come back to the better offer. The slimeball may send you a long ranting email in return. Either way you’ll know what you’re dealing with and how to respond appropriately.

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    Now you can turn down clients with grace and ease. Some freelancers even choose to have a stock rejection letter they customize for individual clients. It saves time, limits your possible emotional responses, and makes life simpler.