By the end of 2020, I was completely burned out and exhausted. I am a freelance writer and editor. I love my job. But when I started having poor sleep and having trouble getting up in the morning and getting started, it was a warning sign. I did the math and found that I worked more than 60 hours a week – including at least twice a week late into the night. That was because I was afraid to say “no” to customers.
As a freelancer, you are always worried that your work could dry up at any moment. The pandemic has made this worse for many of us. This can lead to the mistake of saying “yes” to every request we come across, even if we are already overloaded. That was definitely the case with me.
I decided that my leitmotif for 2021 would be “borders”. Since the beginning of the year, I have said “no” to around six customers to additional work or defended myself against unrealistic deadlines. Have my fears come true? No. None of them let me down. My income in January was about 10 percent lower than in December. That was far less than I feared.
Now it’s back on track to go up in February. Doing less overall meant I was able to prioritize the best-paying work. In addition, a small drop in income is absolutely worth it to protect my health and maintain my work-life balance. I’ve learned to say “no” without damaging customer relationships. These are my strategies for that.
Explain yourself, but not in too much detail
It’s a good idea to give your customers some context as to why you’re saying “no”. But keep it short and get to the point. A simple explanation that you don’t have time for anything else is often enough, especially with long-term customers. “I’m busy and can’t do anything else this month” is a phrase I used recently.
It worked well. My customers are also very busy people. They understand when someone is fully booked. If you explain too much, you will not appear very confident in your decision. Even if you feel this way inside, it is best not to let customers know. It invites them to enter into a discussion with you and find ways to overcome your “no” instead of accepting it.
Your tone is important. If you treat a “no” as a disaster or something to apologize for, your client will orientate themselves towards you. It is better to treat everything objectively.
“Thank you very much for thinking of me, but I have no leeway at the moment to take on additional work,” is my preferred phrase.
Offers alternative schedules – or even alternative freelancers
Your customers get involved because you make their lives easier in some way. Keep this in mind when you say “no”. Offering alternative solutions can help keep the relationship going. For example, I recently offered a client two options: I could do the job for the next month if they were willing to wait, or I could refer them to another freelancer. The customer chose the first option, but both would have been a win-win situation: I protected my borders and the customer got the work they needed.
Seeks flexibility and offers something
The option works well for clients who you have ongoing or long-term projects with. If they ask you to do something extra, let them know how that affects the overall schedule. You can say, “I can do X, but that means I have to re-prioritize. Then I have to postpone the appointment for Y. Let me know how to proceed. ”
You can also offer your customers a variant of what they want. A customer recently asked me if I could write twelve articles for him in a month. I said I can’t, but I could do six. That worked for both of us.
Assure your customers that your “no” is also in their interest
As with many freelancers, my fear of saying “no” stems from the fear that clients will drop me if I don’t do everything they want. However, my best clients hire me for the quality of my work. Hence, a loss of quality is far more risky for my business than a loss of work.
I recently said to a customer, “I am not doing my best job when I have to exert myself and rush. So I have to say ‘no’ to everything else so that I can continue to do high quality work for you. ”They appreciated my openness and passed the superfluous work on to someone else.
Emphasizes how much you appreciate the cooperation
Everyone likes to feel valued. Remind them how much you appreciate your collaboration. Just as you say thank you when you hand in a finished work or send an invoice, you can also say thank you if you have to reject a request.
Be your greatest advocates yourself
If you are self-employed, there is no boss and no HR department that stands up for you. This means that you have to stand up for yourself even if it is uncomfortable. Your limits are important and good customers will not cross them.
Jess Amy Dixon is a freelance journalist, fiction writer, and PhD student at the University of Winchester.
This article was translated from English and edited by Julia Knopf. You can read the original here.