Believe it or not, every up-and-coming entrepreneur will reach a point when they must learn how to turn down a client.

Take a look around the freelancing world, and it’s strikingly clear just how much of our day-to-day lives revolve around finding new clients. While some freelancers spend as little as two hours per week searching for new clients, others (like legal consultants) spend upwards of seven hours.

Yep, practically a whole workday — every week.

Honestly, between sending off proposals and following up with referrals, it’s sometimes hard to believe we find the time to get any actual “work” done.

So, when prospective clients do emerge from the ether, most of us accept the contract, whether it’s in our best interest or not.

Is it because we love our line of work and wouldn’t want to spend our time on anything else? Actually, it’s probably because we don’t know how to say no.

Not All Business Is Good Business

According to a survey of freelancers and agencies, freelancers in the SEO industry averaged 14 clients at one time. Keeping in mind that client workloads can vary across industries, this is still a surprising number.

With that said, when your clients are responsible for putting money in your wallet and food on your table, it’s easy to get into a mentality of “the more, the better.”

After all, why would anyone want to turn down a paying client?

You’re stretched too thin

Taking on too many clients at once can cost you. And we’re not just talking about money.

Even the most motivated professionals have their limits, especially when it comes to accepting too heavy of a workload.

It’s no secret that full-time freelancers experience high rates of burnout. Most of the time, the guilty culprit is a non-existent balance between work and personal life.

It’s one thing to pull an all-nighter to hit a major deadline for a once-in-a-lifetime client. It’s another thing entirely to be skipping meals because there aren’t enough hours in the day to complete your work.

And taking on too many clients is bound to end with the latter.

You’re not a good fit

If you want to make as much money as possible no matter what, then accepting each and every project to come your way might make sense. However, this practice could spell doom for your business in the long run (and headaches for you in the short-term).

For example, say you accept a client whose needs aren’t really suited to your expertise. Still, you have a good portfolio and they’re willing to pay for your services.

Now, you complete the work to the best of your abilities, and the client settles their invoice. All’s well, right?

Not exactly.

By accepting projects you’re not qualified for, you’re letting subpar examples of your work out into the world.

In other words, you’re devaluing your professional reputation when it comes to future prospective clients.

You’re charging enough

Do you feel like you need to keep your calendar bloated with clients if you want to earn a decent income? And, on top of that, do you have zero issues keeping your schedule filled to the brim?

If so, it’s time to take a good, hard look at your rates.

Many freelancers, new and old, think a never-ending line of new clients is a sign of a healthy business. Actually, though, this tends to be a symptom of something more troubling.

Think about it:

How many clients would you lose if you raised your rates by 10 percent? Or, maybe even more?

If you’re good at what you do and handle the rate increase with tact, probably not very many. As for those who do leave, the higher rates paid by your other clients will more than offset the loss.

How to Turn Down a Client With Zero Hard Feelings

Telling a client, “No,” is 100 percent okay, regardless of your reason.

Often, though, the issue isn’t whether to turn down a client. It’s how to go about it the right way.

This isn’t just a matter of sparing hurt feelings on the receiving end. It’s also necessary if you want to maintain a solid relationship for the future.

Remember: Just because you can’t or don’t want to work with a client right now doesn’t mean you won’t in the future.

Fortunately, letting them down easy (and professionally) takes just a few simple steps:

1. Practice good communication

As with any form of client communication, use proper etiquette. Stay professional and polite, but friendly.

If you’re wondering how to turn down a client, then they’ve probably reached out to your first. When this is the case, it’s best to respond to their offer using the same method.

Reply to an email by email, a voicemail by phone call, and so on.

2. Don’t leave them hanging

Regardless of how urgent your client’s project is, there’s no excuse for leaving them without a solid answer.

As soon as you know you won’t be taking on their project, let them know.

Yes, this is the most polite option. But it also ensures they have time to locate and hire another freelancer before it’s too late.

On a related note:

Don’t give a prospective client false hope. In the moment, it can feel more polite to say, “We might be able to take on a project,” even when we know that’s not at all the case.

Be clear, be firm, and be honest. It’s best for both you and the client.

3. Thank them for the offer

Even if you have no intention of ever working with a certain client, don’t check your manners at the door.

In this industry, every connection is valuable — including the ones that don’t turn into paying work.

While you may have no interest in working with Client A, they might closely associate with Client B. But if Client B hears that you turned down Client A with little more than a, “Thanks, but no thanks,” they’ll probably think twice about hiring you.

Of course, if you’re turning down a client because of blatantly abusive behavior, there’s no reason to extend anything more than the bare minimum of professionalism.

4. Focus on yourself

Like firing a client, learning how to turn down a client is much like handling a break-up.

One mantra holds true for all: “It’s not you, it’s me.”

When turning down a prospective client, be courteous and offer a brief explanation of why you’re unable to work with them. Keep it brief and avoid making excuses, but be clear about your choice.

On the flip side, it’s not your place to make comments about the client’s proposed project.

Yes, you might turn down a client because you think their idea will fail or because you disagree with their principles. However, that’s something you just need to keep to yourself.

5. Point them elsewhere

If you want to know the best restaurant in town, who should you ask? Anyone who works in the local restaurant scene will have the true insider scoop.

No one knows the market like those who work within it. Because of this, there’s a very good chance you know exactly who would be a good fit for your turned-down client.

If your decision to turn away a prospective client is a result of your schedule being too full, your skills not offering the right fit, or any other amicable reasoning, why not take it one step further and offer them a lead in the right direction?

Not only can this practice leave you and the client-not-to-be on good terms, but it can also boost your working relationship with other freelancers and professionals in your industry.

Don’t Fall Into the Trap of “Yes”

If you want to get the most from your freelance career, learning how to turn down a client is just as important as learning how to find worthwhile ones. Without this necessary professional skill, you’ll be wasting your (and your clients’) time on projects that just aren’t a good fit.

Of course, picking and choosing the right clients is only a small part of running a smooth business.

If the time spent on invoicing and expense tracking is holding you back from other areas of your freelance career, it’s time to reconsider how you handle bookkeeping.

With invoicely, you can create, send, save, and settle invoices all in one easy-to-use program. Plus, you can ensure you always put your best foot forward with professional-looking invoices and quotes adorned with your business’ logo and branding.

Ready to spend less time filing invoices and more time finding high-quality clients? Learn more about invoicely and everything it can do for you and your most valued clients.