The art of Saying No

There is such a thing as too much success. Meaning you go through periods where there is simply too many things on your plate and you have trouble keeping up. You have to take care of yourself and avoid burnout. Your energy is the most valuable resource of your company. Don’t squander it.

If you ever had a goldfish, you’ll know you have to take care not to overfeed them. The stupid things will keep eating until it kills them. Freelancers are basically like goldfish. We say yes to way too many incoming jobs because we’re afraid of starvation. You never know when you’ll be fed again, right?

While the overwhelm and stress it brings to take on more than you can handle probably won’t kill you, it could seriously damage your health both mentally and physically. If you crash and burn and need months to recover, it will also hurt your business. As a creative, you can’t just hire someone to do your job. Better to divert some of the incoming work before you’re unable to live up to your obligations.

When you say yes to one thing, you’re saying no to something else. While it’s tempting to take on every client, because we never know when they’ll stop calling, it’s a short term strategy that isn’t sustainable. You know how your computer slows down if you have too many open windows and programs running? Your brain is the same way. You don’t want it to crash on you taking you out of rotation for moths, unable to work on bring in any income. Better to say no up front.

Here’s a template you can use to get out of work:

Dear (name),

Thanks for reaching out! I’m sorry to say I can’t currently take on any more work as it would hurt obligations I already have.

I’d like to refer you to (name of colleague/other freelancer) who is both (reliable/insanely talented/great to work with) and (has a similar style to what you’re looking for/not too pricey/smells nice). You can find examples of (his/her) work at (website/Instagram page).

I’m sorry I’m unable to help out this time. Don’t hesitate to reach out again if the opportunity to work together should arise some time in the future.



Giving a respectful no is a tricky thing. Now I just saved you the trouble of figuring out how. You’re welcome. Please note that the above template is also applicable to any type of pro-bono work. 

This post is an excerpt from my book SOLO – Survival Guide for Creative Freelancers – Get in now on Amazon.

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2 Responses to “The art of Saying No”

  1. stolemyface August 9, 2019 at 6:54 pm #

    This made me laugh out loud. Six years as a freelancer and I still have to keep a post it on my desk, “JUST SAY NO. You’re one person.” Love the template.

    • Palle Schmidt August 15, 2019 at 8:59 am #

      I LOVE that post-it . note. Making one for my desk RIGHT NOW! Thanks!

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