• Advice

Say “no” in a way that gets you more gigs

When I first started freelancing, I said “yes” to almost every gig that was offered to me – because I was desperate, because I was trying to gain experience, and because I didn’t know any better.

Nowadays, I find myself saying “no” far more often. My schedule is pretty packed – and thankfully, I’m now in a position where I can only take jobs that fulfill 2/3rds of my “soul, career, wallet” criteria.

I’ve found, however, that there’s a real art to saying “no” to reasonable offers. After all, you don’t want to burn bridges. Today’s meh client may turn into tomorrow’s dream-maker. The perfect “no” is constructed in a way that leaves the door open to future collaboration and makes you look good – while still turning down the gig. As such, it should do three simple things:

1. Express Regret

Your apologies! You’re so sorry, but your schedule is too full to take on any assignments – although you’re sure it would be great! They are awesome, and you think that they do sterling work! It is killing you not to do this, but alas, them’s the breaks!

2. Create Demand

And whyyyyy can you not take on their no-doubt-thrilling assignment? Because you are very, very busy with other work that you have committed to.

Saying “no” to a gig because you’re committed to other clients signals several important things to your would-be employer; that you’re valuable, that you’re in-demand, and that you take your commitments seriously. That puts you in a prime position to negotiate down the line. Everybody wants what they can’t have; let them know that if they want you in the future, they probably have to make an extra effort.

3. Keep the Line Open

Hustling for new clients is a lot harder than returning to old ones, and freelance work can be unpredictable.

Even when I’m (pretty) sure that I’ll still be busy, I often encourage would-be clients to check in with me again in three or six months – or say that I’ll get in touch if my availability opens up. This frees them up to find another freelancer, but ensures that I’m not kicking myself if a gig ends. I don’t like closing those doors entirely.

These three principles are very basic, and it’s easy to combine them in a short, sweet note of regret:

Ms. X, my apologies – that sounds great! Unfortunately, I’m all booked up with commitments to clients until January first, at least, and can’t take on any more work at this time. If that changes, I will of course let you know immediately.

It is an optional classy gesture to recommend another freelancer at this time (especially if its someone who could really use the work, or one who would do the same for you)*:

If you’re looking for recommendations, I strongly recommend my colleague Anita Job, who can be reached at; she may be just up your alley.

*Be sure to drop your freelancer friend a note, letting them know you recommended them. Give them the low-down on the client, too!

In one fell swoop, you’ve indicated that you’re a catch for any organization, done an act of good karma, and said “no” to the gig in an inoffensive way. They’ll be itching to hire you the next go-round – and who knows what your answer will be then?

Kate Hamill is a freelance writer and actress living in NYC. You can find her at @katerone.

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