#112: How and When to Say No

I am really good at saying no. Today, I’m going to walk you through nine common scenarios freelance business owners experience and tell you how I say no to these questions and situations. Even if the language I use doesn’t resonate with you, I hope it will get you thinking, encourage you to say no more often and help you figure out how to say no in your own words.

“No” is a complete sentence. You’ve heard that, right? But in business there usually needs to be a bit more finesse than that. And there are a lot of different ways to say no depending on the situation.

Whenever you are considering anything—whenever you are trying to decide whether to do something, always keep in mind: You are a business owner. You are in charge of your business, your life and your career. YOU choose who you work with, just as much as they are choosing you. YOU choose what you are worth. YOU set the parameters. Everything can be negotiated. You are a business owner.

Words to stop using:



I’m sorry (except in rare cases, like when you actually make a mistake).

Don’t qualify your answer. Don’t apologize for how you run your business. And stop over-explaining things when you say no.

Scenario #1:

You don’t want to do the project.

My answer:

Thanks for reaching out, but this project is not the right fit for me.

Scenario #2:

You don’t have time.

My answers (here’s where it might be OK to say “I’m sorry” if that makes you feel better):

I’m sorry, I am fully booked for the next month.

I’m sorry, I am fully booked for the three weeks. Is there any flexibility with the deadline?

Scenario #3:

You are asked to sign an onerous contract (non-compete, insurance requirement, indemnity clause).

My answers (first, try to negotiate):

Can we strike the indemnity clause from the contract? Indemnity clauses put all legal risk on my solo business and I cannot sign contracts with them.

or, offer to replace the clause:

I cannot sign a contract with an indemnity clause. Indemnity clauses put all legal risk on my solo business. I will guarantee my work, though. Can we replace the indemnity clause with the following guarantee:

The writer guarantees that the articles she writes will not contain material that is consciously libelous or defamatory, to the best of her ability.

If I’m asked to sign a non-compete, the answer is always no. That’s non-negotiable as a freelancer, so I’ll say:

As a freelance business owner with multiple clients, I cannot sign a non-compete.

The end. They can take that or leave it. The same goes for insurance (for me, personally).

Scenario #4:

The pay is too low.

My answer:

This is much lower than what I charge. I charge XX per XX. Is that within your budget?

If they say no, or if they can’t negotiate to an acceptable rate, I usually respond with something like:

I’m unable to do the project at this rate. Thanks for thinking of me and I wish you luck.

Scenario #5:

Vague requests or “can we get on the phone?” or “what are your rates?”

My answer:

Could you email me a bit more about what you’re looking for and what your budget is so I can determine if I might be a good fit?

Scenario #6.

Can you lower your price?

My answer:

In an email, I might say: No, I can’t lower my price.

Scenario #7:

The client asks for something beyond the scope of work.

My answer:

I’m happy to to do this work. However, the original proposal included XYZ and was based on a maximum of XXX words/pages/parameters, which is what I provided. I can do this extra work at an additional rate of $XXX/hour. I would estimate approximately 2-3 more hours would be needed.

Scenario #8:

Can I pick your brain?

My answer—I may not answer an email at all if I don’t know them. You don’t have to respond to people. It’s not the law.

I will also point people to relevant podcast episodes instead—you can do that with a blog or other articles too. Or I say:

I’d be happy to talk with you. My consulting fee is XX per hour.


I offer a 30-minute coaching call for XX dollars.

Scenario #9:

Someone asks you to volunteer or speak at an event and you cannot.

My answer:

I’m sorry, I don’t have the capacity to add anything else to my plate right now.


I would love to, but I’m completely booked right now and can’t commit to any more volunteering opportunities.


What is the payment for speaking? (or What is the compensation?)


I don’t do unpaid speaking. Do you have a budget in mind?

Biz Bite: Save a script of how to say no.

The Bookshelf: “The Nothing Man” and ALL the books by Irish crime writer Catherine Ryan Howard


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Episode #45 of Deliberate Freelancer: You Need to Set Boundaries

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