3 simple ways to gracefully turn down freelance work this Christmas

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This Christmas is set to be one of the biggest ever, as the world returns from a couple of years in lockdown looking to really enjoy the holidays this time around. Some freelancers have been struggling to find work in the last few months of this 2021, while others will have plenty to do until Christmas and beyond.

If you are one of the ‘lucky ones’ with still some work to do before you sign off for the holidays, there are several reasons why you may want to turn down some extra freelance work this Christmas – and you shouldn’t feel guilty if you’re thinking about doing so. Surely some more free time with your family or yourself is a strong plus, but maybe you’re not that concerned about making that extra money right now. Whatever the reason, it’s solid and I’m sure you’ve been thinking this through.

That said, if you are an established freelancer, you may still receive some proposals in the lead-up to Christmas. Say you accept just one more project and then realise you can’t do it, or the client is being absolutely unhelpful. How do you gracefully turn down a project or a client to enjoy a quieter holiday season?

How to turn down work politely

Saying no is an art, and like most arts, it requires delicacy, tact and care.

Even if the client is showing you some clear red flags that will prevent you from working peacefully and professionally throughout the project, you don’t want your general reputation to be affected by a rude email or an aggressive phone call. You should be incredibly professional even when turning down work.

As Christmas draws near and you do your best to enjoy the holidays as a freelancer, you fill find the tips below extremely useful. Here’s three ways to help you turn down work, a project or a client gracefully and politely.


Image credit: Derek Bacon

Don’t let your feelings take over

Is the client being rude or unprofessional? Are they continuously changing the scope of the project and making you frustrated? It does not matter. You should not lose your temper and let your emotions take over, ever. Is is a business relationship and it will always be that – it’s not personal.

Yet, if you’re hot tempered or you feel like you should really assert your views, it can be too easy to let emotions take over. Take a step back, let it go for the moment, then go back to the client when you’ve let off some steam. It’s always best to end a business relationship in the best terms possible. You cannot do this in the heat of the moment, and you should not expect yourself to be able to.

Taking a step back helps in a number of ways. First of all, you’re able to take a look at the matter and assess it under a new light. What led to this inconvenience in the first place? Was it lack of communication, was it really the client, or was it genuinely your fault for not managing to set up some expectations the right way? Whatever the reason, you can only learn something positive from the experience – but you don’t want to turn it into a negative.

Keep it neutral

Whether you’re letting go of a client via email or with a video/phone call, it’s always best to keep things as neutral and professional as they can be. Avoid using phrases which contain ‘you’ (‘according to you’, ‘you said’), as they can sound accusatory and can let the person raise their defences. You’ll be thrown into an argument in no time.

Keep the tone professional, explain clearly why you’ve made the business decision of letting them go, and don’t go overboard with the apologies. One ‘sorry’ will be enough, but often times you don’t even need that. It simply didn’t work out. It’s nobody’s fault, and you certainly don’t want to put the blame on yourself.

On that note, there really is no one to blame. Sometimes things simply don’t go as expected. Maybe you’re genuinely too busy to take on a new client at Christmas, while a few days ago perhaps you even thought it would be fine. It is a lesson learned for next time.


Image credit: Scott Balmer

Show confidence and assertiveness

Whilst you should most definitely avoid aggressive tones in your communications, you can still be confident and assertive when letting your former client know that you simply cannot do it. This means explaining briefly and clearly why you came to your decision, without over-writing or showing uncertainty. Is it because of a lack of free time? Is it because of the rate proposed? Is it because you simply won’t compromise on your usual terms, especially during the holidays? Any of these will be a perfectly sound reason. Clients will respect your confidence and assertiveness.

Make sure to thank them for their time, perhaps say how honoured you were to be considered for the project, then move on. If you feel like you’ll need to, find a way to imply that your decision is final. Whether they come back to you with a counter-offer or not, there will be little room to discuss a new deal – and you will probably have time to postpone these talks until the New Year by now.

And don’t worry about work. If it didn’t work out now, maybe it wasn’t meant to be. You will find better deals and projects for you to tackle – and I’m sure you’ll find them as soon as next year.

Bonus: “No, but…”

If you are like me, you love being helpful even when you have absolutely nothing to gain. If that’s your cup of tea, try to help your former client by referring them to another freelancer in your network. If you know someone here on Creativepool, send them to that colleague of yours and make sure to state clearly why they would be an equally great (if not a better) fit for the project at hand.

It’s the old trick of the ‘No, but…’ A chance for you to say no, but still be helpful in some ways, rather than simply sending away a former business partner with no clue for them as to where to go next. You don’t owe it to anybody of course; but if you’ve been in the freelance community long enough, you know how great it is to receive referrals. Maybe someone will return the favour for you someday.


Image credit: Iris

Why you should always end things in good terms

Whatever you do, remember to end things always in good terms. Maybe further down the line that client will need another project, they will have learned something more about freelance business relationships, and they will get back to you with some more work – and this time, you’ll have the capacity to take it on. Or perhaps they simply will remember about how professional you were when a friend of theirs needs some freelance work done.

You should never treat people with kindness expecting something in return – but rest assured that you will always reap what you sow. If you let down clients peacefully, politely and with professionalism, you will see the results of that further down the line, be it in new business or reputation.

Even if it means a bit less money in your bank account for the time being.

Header image: Natalie Sofinskyj


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