How to Decline Freelance Projects When It's Not a Good Fit

I never thought that saying "no" to a project would feel good.

What I've since learned about saying "no," is that it creates focus for you as a freelancer and for your business. I think many freelancers are scared to say "no" for a couple reasons: What if my other projects dry up and I'm left without work for the week/month? What if I never get this type of project again?

In reality, not every project will be a good fit because not everyone is your ideal client. 

Saying "no" has an associated opportunity cost. When you say "no" to a project, you are saying "yes" to another. As you continue to take on more work, you gain more experience, and should, therefore, be more cognizant of where and what you are spending time on. You can afford to be more picky. 

There are numerous reasons why you should decline a freelance project:

  • Your skill set is not a good match for the project. 
  • They needed the work done yesterday.
  • They are not willing or unable to pay you what you charge. 
  • Personally, it might not have been a good match (foreseen communication issues).
  • You don't have time.


Have guidelines for projects you want

If you have a few requirements for what types of projects you take vs. filter out, it will make it a lot easier to say "no." For some freelancers, it could be a minimum project dollar amount, or maybe you only work with startups within a certain industry. Whatever it is, also think about the type of projects you want to showcase in your portfolio and where you want to be as a freelancer 1, 5 or 10 years from now. Do you want to continue working on these types of projects in the future?


Have a set of referrals ready

Having canned referral responses saves me a lot of time. This is not only a great way to hopefully establish a relationship with a potential client, but other freelancers will be grateful for you sending work their way (regardless if it's a good fit for them, either). 

Thank you for thinking of me for your project and taking the time to e-mail me! Unfortunately, I'm booked solid for the next 3 months and won't be able to take this project on until then. Here's a couple designers who I can personally recommend and who are currently accepting freelance work:
  • Link to portfolio of freelancer #1
  • Link to portfolio of freelancer #2
 If your project can wait until then, let's chat! If not, I wish you the best of luck,

Give them something for free

Just because you are declining this project, doesn't mean you can't offer them some advice or free resources. Maybe their budget is way below what you normally work for. Recommend a few Wordpress themes they could purchase until they have a larger budget to work with. Some people respond well to this because you went out of your way to give them something useful. You may be declining the project, but hopefully a new relationship can be built. 

Thank you for thinking of me for your project and taking the time to e-mail me! Unfortunately, I'm not able to take on this type of work right now. I would suggest maybe checking out the following resources that may be helpful for you:
  • Link 1
  • Link 2
Most projects I work on start at ~$X. I really love your brand and would enjoy the opportunity to work with you. Please don't hesitate to reach out again if you have a project in the future that may be a good fit! 


Client communications can sometimes be hard to keep track of, but I always try to respond to everyone who sends me an inquiry. Yes, even the ones where it looks like they copy + pasted their e-mail to a 100 other designers (you don't want that project anyways). Always try to be courteous and polite, even if the person on the other side isn't. 

Lots of people I respond to are appreciative of even a short "Sorry, but..." type e-mail. If you think the client would be great to work with, but that specific project just doesn't work, it can be worth putting a couple extra minutes of effort into your response.