One magical word that will earn you more money in less time

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Do you always go along with client requests even if you’re not comfortable with what’s being asked of you?

Are you struggling to make ends meet even though you have plenty of work?

If you answered yes, you’re not alone.

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When I was a new freelancer, I promised amazing transformations in a client’s bottom line. I entered a meeting as a freelance designer and left as “the world’s greatest marketing strategist” (even though I had less than a year of industry experience).

Then I had to go back and tell the client I’d misrepresented myself and was unable to provide what I promised.

Not fun.

Fast forward several years:

I wasn’t making outrageous claims anymore and my clients were happy with my work, but I was drastically undercharging.

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I based pricing on how much time a project would take, without including time spent on non-designing tasks like meetings and research.

My clients loved me because I was cheap. I had plenty of business, but still needed a 9-to-5 to make ends meet.

Then I did it. I uttered one little word that changed my life, and my bottom line, forever:

I told my client no. And I’ve never felt better.

I know what you’re thinking. You think saying “no” will scare your clients away.

Though it may run some of them off, you’ll find that standing up for yourself will:

  • attract more lucrative clients,
  • get you more recurring work, and
  • make you less likely to burn out.

Still on the fence? Let’s explore how saying no to clients can actually boost your income.

#1: Saying no to clients attracts higher-paying clientele.

Low-budget clients can be difficult to work with. They often:

  • haggle over prices,
  • waste countless hours in useless meetings because they don’t know what they want, and
  • constantly change their mind.

In the end, it’s costing you money to work with them! All that non-billable time you waste could be going into paying work.

Sound familiar?

When I switched to value-based pricing, I started requiring all clients to sign contracts that included an hourly charge for consultation, and a cap to the amount of time I would spend in meetings.

Some of them hit the road. I couldn’t be happier.

Now I can take on projects that are actually worth my time, and keep scope creep from ruining my profits.

In contrast, marketing managers at medium to large businesses:

  • have a better understanding of what they want,
  • don’t waste time or argue over prices (most of the time),
  • are not afraid of contracts, and
  • pay you what you’re worth because they’re not as emotionally invested.

These are better prospects to target (with better budgets, too).

Check these posts out for more about pricing and finding clients:

#2: Saying no to clients earns client confidence and respect.

Clients are more likely to work with someone with confidence.

Makes sense, right? If you don’t believe in what you’re saying, why should they?

My clients know I’ll be honest about their ideas and therefore they have come to respect my professional opinion. If they want to do something that isn’t a good fit for what I do, I politely refuse the job and tell them why.

When your clients have a clear understanding of your professional boundaries, they will respect you for it and give you more work.

But, don’t forget! Learn to say no to your client without burning bridges for future opportunities.

Keep a rolodex of freelancers who have different specialties and price points than you, and refer them to clients who need help with projects outside of your comfort zone.

Check out these posts about professional boundaries:

#3: Saying no to clients makes burnout less likely.

I am, by nature, a “yes” girl. I love to help people. But I’m also an introvert who needs her quiet time.

When I start saying “yes” to everything, I turn into a walking time bomb.

You cannot work 24 hours a day.

Everyone has their comfort level when it comes to how much work they can handle. Find yours and be fiercely protective of it, or you won’t make it very long as a freelancer.

Your bottom line will plummet if you burn yourself out. Your stress level will be too high to complete quality work, and you’ll be too frazzled to get anything done anyway.

When you provide shoddy work, your clients will definitely take notice—and take their business elsewhere.

These posts will help you learn more about avoiding burnout:

Final thoughts

No matter what season of your freelance career you’re in, trust your gut.

When it comes to working with clients, sometimes the low-hanging fruit is actually filled with worms.

If something doesn’t feel right about a particular project or client, run the other way.

You’ll be glad you did.

Do you have a time you said no to clients and things turned out better because of it? Share it with us in the comments; we’d love to hear from you!

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  1. Saying “no” is a skill; that skill comes with confidence and experience. On the new road for the beginner it is very hard to say “no” and we all learn our lessons.
    Even you, Sharon, in your article, mention it.

  2. A great piece that touched on a lot of raw nerves! After 25 years of freelancing my ‘NO’ is getting stronger, but after reading this it will be greatly reinforced! Many thanks.

  3. Hi. I saw you on boostblogtraffic. You are doing a good job, seriously. 🙂 Keep it up

  4. This is the best post I have read on Millo in an age. I have been through this cycle of cutting loose clients which drain you and your income. Keep faith – those better clients do come along. The approach I took was every time I got a new gold client onboard, I would sack my worst client at that time. So over time you are replacing bad clients with good ones.

    1. Thanks, Paul. Replacing more difficult clients with “gold” ones is a great strategy.

  5. When I read this article, It left me with the impression that if I say “No” to lesser-quality clients, the higher paying clients will naturally come flocking to my door. Exactly how, and when, does that happen?

    1. It doesn’t mean that higher paying clients will magically materialize. It is important that you tailor your marketing to the appropriate audience. If you’re always getting these types of clients, you may want to do a marketing audit. Thanks for your questions!

  6. Great advice Sharon! I think saying ‘no’ can be frightening if someone is just starting but it’s an important lesson for all the reasons you’ve stated and it’s been my experience in the times I have had to say ‘no’ I’ve found that it left me able to accept other much more enjoyable projects.

    Also a very valuable point about feeling constantly busy but yet having a hard time making ends meet being a sure sign you;re undercharging.

    1. I still fight that urge to cut prices when I’m dealing with people I know will be good customers but can’t afford my rates.

  7. That was one of the most timely things I have read–It really helps to distinguish the type of clients you want to work with–but it establishes you credibility and professionalism–great piece.

  8. Fantastic article, I can’t wait to read some of the links you posted to other articles as well. I’m definitely a “yes” girl as well and had a client I had to completely cut out. It was one of the toughest things I’ve done, but I learned my lesson. I was tired of being mistreated and underpaid. It just wasn’t worth the hassle and headaches. She wasn’t happy with me at first, but I think in the end she understood. And no bridges were burned, we live in a small community, so when I bump into her once in awhile, things are still pleasant. One of the best things I’ve done for myself is to say no once in awhile (although I’m still learning 🙂

    1. Thanks, I really worked hard to find some awesome resources to supplement this article.

  9. Fantastic post! But it doesn’t just apply to low paying clients. I walked off a better paying job because I was feeling stressed and undervalued, and felt so much better afterwards.

    Still working on narrowing down my ideal client, but I have a better idea now of who I don’t want to work with.

    1. I think our ideal client changes as we grow in our careers, but I have found that finding a mentor or mastermind group is a good place to get help with that. Millo has a great Facebook group!

    1. It definitely doesn’t come naturally for me, Arianna, but has really helped me focus on the kind of work I want.

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