If you’ve embarked on the intrepid world of freelancing, chances are you’ve faced a situation where you’ve needed to say “no” to a client. Whether you did, in fact, is a different story.

As a freelancer, you’ll naturally feel an aversion towards the word. You don’t want to let the chance of work slip away, for fear of losing out on a fee or the opportunity to take part in a particular project.

You may also feel that saying no is a sign that you lack the skills for the job, as if saying no means saying ‘I can’t do this’ – even when that’s not the case.

While we all want to go above and beyond to ensure our clients are happy and to keep good client relationships, you can’t always be the one to say yes. So here’s how you say no – and keep your client.

When your remit doesn’t match demand

Whether you’re halfway through a piece of work or you’re just starting out on a project, freelancers may find they can’t meet their client’s demands. In these cases you’ll need to consider your time-skill remit.

You’ll have a certain amount of skills you can offer the client, and a certain amount of time to complete the task in hand, but one thing you can’t do is offer more skills than you currently have.

To counter the need to find extra time, you can make your clients aware of the specialist skills their work requires. If you still want to take on the work you can discuss the possibility of subcontracting, as long as this is written into your contract and you make it clear to the client that you won’t be the only one working on their project. If they’re still unhappy, your client may need to rethink their expectations.

When the client wants those little extras – for no extra money

A lot of clients – whether they realise it or not – are a pretty demanding species. Often you’ll have to rein in their requests or politely make them aware that their demands may not be possible, whether this is due to costs, your time-skill remit or – as can be the case for graphic designers, for example – that technology has not currently progressed sufficiently to realise their idea.

Difficulty rears its stubborn head when the additional work your client requests wasn’t part of the original brief. This could mean that their new requests will cost more than they’ve agreed to pay you.

There’s nothing wrong with throwing in a little extra time for the client if you can absorb that from a cost and a scheduling perspective, however you’re not obliged to work for free.

A way of getting around the ‘just one more thing’ dilemma is to agree in writing what you’re going to produce for the client, and include any necessary disclaimers that will ensure any extra work required will be subject to further charges.

When they want to barter over your day rate

Your time and skills can be an expensive thing and you may get some clients who like to haggle over project prices. Again, this is completely at your discretion. Once you have a thorough idea of what a client wants, you’re free to negotiate your prices where you feel you can offer a discount.

However, if you’re not prepared to offer less than your day rate (which you’re fully entitled to do) then it’s important to have the right response for your client to soften the blow. Let them know that a lower price could essentially mean a lower quality outcome.

You may need to make your client aware that if they’re paying by the hour and they don’t pay enough, they could be compromising the quality of their own project. It’s all about appreciating the time and skill required for a job, and if they’re a good client, they’ll be willing to pay for a good job. However, if you have room to negotiate that’s great, but it’s up to you how much you’re willing to do so.

 When a client disputes the quality of your work

If a client disputes the quality of your work, we’re not just talking a difference of opinion over design. A client could make a direct complaint about your work or a series of complaints that could escalate to a professional indemnity insurance claim.

You can avoid this by proactively asking your client if they’re happy with the way your initial ideas and how you’re currently approaching the task if it’s a long project, as well as getting them to check over a first draft.

A closer relationship with trickier clients is advisable, particularly if they have a tendency to change their minds halfway through a project.

Keeping them in the loop will lead towards a better resolution as they’ll be less surprised by the outcome. It can also help to safeguard you against claims that your work is eithernot good enough or not what the client expected.

Maintaining your clients – whether you can meet their demands or not – depends on communication. Be clear and have all your information about working hours, rate of pay, skills set, and disclaimers ready for them at the start of the project.

Once you’ve started working, maintain an open conversation with them so you can test the temperature of the project and notice the tell-tale signs that a client is going to extend, change or dispute your work. If you’ve laid everything on the table beforehand, clients are already in an agreement with you.