Polite Ways to Say “I’m Not Doing That for Free”
Whether it’s a potential client trying to get a freebie or an old acquaintance trying to score free advice, here are professional ways to say no.
I have been working as a writer and a digital marketer for over 15 years. In the span of my career, I’ve had friends, relatives, and even total strangers ask me for help with their personal writing assignments, editing their stories, or driving traffic to their websites.
While I don’t mind spending 10 to 20 minutes proofreading a story someone else wrote, it’s a whole other thing when someone asks me to spend hours of my time to do unpaid work.
What really pisses me off are casual acquaintances or random strangers asking me how much it would cost to write a 1,000-word article then saying so many negative things when they find out how much I charge. Well, feel free to do it yourself, mister!
Social media and instant messaging apps have made it so easy for people to slide into your DM to get free advice or ask you to do something for them for free. Just to be clear about it, this is never okay.
Whether you’re asking a doctor, a lawyer, a graphic artist, or a writer — think about the number of hours and years they’ve spent learning and honing their craft. Photographers and videographers invest in tools and software.
Each person’s job (no matter how menial or easy you think it is) has value and the output comes with a cost.
So if you’re on the receiving end of these requests, it’s totally okay to say no. If you’re unsure how to do it in a professional way, here are some tips to help. Over the years, I’ve come up with different ways to say: “I’m not doing that for free.” for different scenarios. There are two main ways to do it.
- Say yes but asking them to pay;
- Say no (in a professional manner)
Saying no without being rude:
- When a person insists that you help them for free, you can:
Say you’re too busy. To do it without sounding rude, say: “Thanks for thinking of me for this project, but I have too much on my plate right now”.
You can also say upfront that you don’t work for free. Do it with professionalism by saying: “Thank you for considering me for this project. Unfortunately, I’m unable to take on unpaid projects at the moment. If that changes in the future, I will get in touch with you.”
- When a prospective client asks you for a sample with a very specific brief (in other words, write this for us and we’ll see if we want to pay you), you can say:
“Thank you for considering me for this opportunity. I am more than happy to show you my work samples and portfolio. I cannot take on custom writing jobs without payment.”
- When a person tries to get free advice or services over messenger, you can say:
“I’m flattered that you’re seeking my advice. Unfortunately, I’m not taking additional clients right now.”
- When someone says you charge too much for something so easy to do, you can say:
“My rates are set. I can help you find other people who might want to take on that project for less.”
Saying yes but shifting their mindset to pay:
- When a prospective client asks you for advice over a direct message or email, you can say:
“I’d love to help you out with that, but out of respect for our paying clients, we can’t do it over email. If you’d like, I can schedule a consultation to discuss the matter further. Are you available on XX date at XX time?”
- When an existing client asks for more than what you agreed on, you can say:
“Yes, I can help you with that. However, it is out of our original contract’s scope. I can do that for you within X consulting hours at the same hourly rate as our original contract. Let me know if that works for you so I can put together the contract addendum.”
- When you feel like the prospective client is expecting you to do the work for free, you can:
Talk about getting them a quote for the project by saying: “That sounds like a great project! I’d love to discuss your specific needs in detail so I can send you a quote for it.”
Or present your service offering: “That’s an interesting project. We have a list of services that match your needs. I suggest X service. It will take me X hours to finish and the total cost for it would be $X.”
- When a company asks you to partner with them by posting a free press release on your site or mentioning them on your social media, you can say:
“I’d love to partner with your brand. Here’s a copy of my media kit. You’ll find my rate card there, too. Looking forward to working with you soon”
- When an influencer asks for free products in exchange for exposure, you can say:
“Thank you for your interest in my products. I am currently not in a position to give away free products at this time, but I would still love for you to be able to try them. I can give you a discount if you purchase it online by XX (date). This is a unique discount code that you can share with your followers to earn commissions from sales made using your code.”
I don’t always say no to requests for help, but I do know when to draw the line. You should, too. Saying yes to all requests — especially for free work, will burn you out faster than you can say “freebie.”
So, I’ll end this by saying, it’s okay to say no — when said with kindness and tact, it can help you and prospective clients move forward in a positive direction (hopefully towards paid work).