Saying No to Freelance Work

Freelance clients and salary negotiationIt seems counter-intuitive to turn down any kind of freelance money, especially in this economy, but there are definitely times when freelancers need to use the n-word.  As in, “NO”.

Or perhaps, “Not only no, but HELL NO”.

Freelance Folder has a very good post about this idea called 21 Times for a Freelancer to Say No. I won’t reinvent the wheel–their post is excellent and covers 99% of the bases. But there’s one thing that should be added to your mental checklist when sizing up a potential client.

Are they showing early warning signs that the relationship is something less than professional?

By this I don’t mean people who flirt with you, or act overly familiar, or display some of the warning signs listed in the “21 Times” piece. Instead, I’m talking about something I personally call “clingy client syndrome”, where you suddenly find yourself dealing with someone calling and messaging you excessively about the project, asking for things outside normal business hours when it’s not appropriate, or simply demanding too much of your time when it isn’t warranted.

I once found myself in negotiations with a potential client who seemed, based on a combination of behaviors I observed in the short time I spent at the company’s offices, more interested in creating an entourage than getting any real work done.

The symptoms included a large up-front payment, combined with randomly shifting priorities and goals. The work letter I drafted was ignored in favor of “idea of the moment” planning, actual deliverables seemed unimportant to the client, and there were lots of detailed emails at very odd hours.

In the end, I had to walk away. I’m a professional writer and editor, not an on-call monkey boy.

If you work in the freelance business long enough, regardless of your specialty, you’ll encounter the same type of person–a socially awkward, semi-isolated person who decides that what they really need is some kind of paid companionship in the guise of a legit business agreement. It’s sad, it’s strange, but it’s common enough. There are plenty of famous people who have done just that–I won’t mention any names, but I will say this–freelancers should pay attention to the sorts of warning signs they think they’re seeing in these cases.

When should you say no to freelance work? Sometimes those alarm bells going off in your head for no specific reason are enough. You can definitely read and heed the 21 scenarios listed in the Freelance Folder blog post, but don’t forget to trust your instincts about the intangible things making you uncomfortable. They might not solidify into solid hunches until later, but they’re worth your attention.

Joe Wallace Vinyl Collector and authorJoe Wallace is a writer, editor, social media manager and collector of bizarre record albums. He loves weird vinyl records so much he wrote a book called WTF Records: The Guide To Weird and Wonderful Vinyl. Now he’s shopping for an agent. Contact him at jwallace(at)

Wallace is available for freelance work and consulting on a selective basis. His social media clients include, Bank Administration Institute, and He writes web content for, and more; previous clients for his web content and editing work include, Artisan Talent, Verizon Wireless, and the official site for Jason Donnelly, AKA DJ Puzzle.

5 thoughts on “Saying No to Freelance Work”

  1. Strangely enough, with the kind of hours I work and the fact that most of my clients are outside of my area, thus having to reach me only by email for the most part, I don’t find that particular issue to be my problem.

    Where my problem comes is when people don’t seem to understand the value of a professional writer, research time, and the ability to then write something that’s actually original and readable. I used to compromise on my rate but I’m now learning that, though it can be a struggle sometimes, I need to stick to my rate and find the people willing to pay it.

  2. “In the end, I had to walk away. I’m a professional writer and editor, not an on-call monkey boy.”

    ACK! So well said, Joe.

    A few years ago, I was “working” with a fairly well-known name; initially, a mutual friend of ours put us in touch because the friend thought I’d be interested in writing a piece about a project the client was launching.

    It wasn’t long before that simple piece turned into talk about helping her with a memoir, which I was interested in; then, THAT was put on the back burner for other, quicker projects (such as press releases and one pagers related to her more present goings-on).

    Soon, I was getting multiple e-mails and texts a day and all-hours-of-the-day-and-night phone calls just to chat about stuff. All kinds of stuff, from projects (that never materialized) to just random things that had nothing to do with any kind of writing service I could provide her.

    Eventually, I had to cut ties. Some people were surprised I did; because of her position, they believed it was an amazing opportunity for me, professionally and financially. However, like you, I finally had to draw the line. I’m for hire as a writer, not an entourage member.

  3. Don’t you hate that sinking feeling when it dawns on you that it’s time to cut those ties? For me that’s one of the toughest parts about freelancing–it’s bad to get fired, but it’s just as bad to have to fire one of your clients…

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