When a freelancer should turn down a job or client

Should you drop that client? Should you not?


Sahail Ashraf

3 years ago | 4 min read

We have all done it, we’ve taken on work that we didn’t want to finish. There are a number of reasons why a job turns sour.

And right at the end of that horrible period of time, when we feel that we’ve wasted our time and efforts and we resent what we do, it’s important to remember that there are always warning signs as regards freelance work. Sometimes, it’s quite clear that you should not take a job on. And you can always ‘let go’ of a client too.

Being asked to work for free is the biggest reason to ditch a client

This is the real killer. If any client or prospective client suggests that you work for free, drop it. Drop the job, drop the client. There is no need to work for free. As a freelancer, you should be completely focused on doing your best work. You should also be proud of your skills and your experience. Not everyone can do what you do.

Bearing that in mind, when someone says to you that they want you to work for free, whether in lieu of paid work or just because they want to see how good you are and what you do, you should always say no.

This kind of problem is strangely common among freelance writers. They are often asked to produce a ‘test’ article to show the client that they can do what they say they can do. However, when you consider that most writers have a portfolio that they can show, just like any other freelancer, it quickly becomes clear that they just want free work.

By all means, keep talking to the prospective client. Tell them that you don’t work for free, and that you’re sure they will be happy with the results. If this goes on for longer than five minutes, and the client is still thinking about not paying you and asking for free work, say goodbye.

The working hours thing is another reason you should let go of a client

Some prospective clients demand that you come into the office and work office hours. They also demand that you don’t work for anyone else. If these kind of things come up in conversation prior to you doing any work, you should be hearing alarm bells.

You are not an employee. You are a freelancer. But if a prospective client asked that you come in to work office hours, as in 9-to-5, they are simply trying to find some cheap employee labour. You should be able to set your own hours and quote accordingly.

If you are going to be tied to a desk in an office all day, you might as will be working full time for an employer. If they’re not offering you a full-time salary with all the benefits that come with that, they simply want cheap work.

Unrealistic expectations as a reason to turn down a client

Sometimes you may be preparing to work with a prospective client who suddenly says that they are not happy with the amount of time you’ve quoted them for the job to be done. This means that expectations are way too high, and they probably don’t understand what you do.

Any freelancer should be able to carefully state the predicted amount of time they will use to get the job completed. And any client should respect that.

These unrealistic expectations do not bode well for any future relationship. And, what’s worse, you may even find that they don’t want to pay you the amount they originally agreed to if they feel that their expectations around time are not being met.

This is all about quality as well as time. If they’re pushing you and pushing you to get a date for completion that is just not realistic, this most likely means that they want a quick and cheap job. This is not you. You’re a professional freelancer. Ditch them.

Scope creep as a reason to turn down a client

When working with a client, if you find that they are asking you to consider extra work here and there for free, you need to get rid of them as quickly as possible. It’s important that you state right at the start of any relationship that any extra work outside your scope is chargeable.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of saying that you may give an extra revision or two for free, especially if you’re trying to find new clients. However, at some point that same client may well say that they want something extra done that requires some considerable work.

That client may also say that they don’t want to pay any more, it’s just a bit of extra work that you can do, right? This is nonsense. Bear in mind that everything you work on should always be charged for. Otherwise, they are simply getting more value without paying for it.

Your freelancer instinct can warn you about a client

Bearing all of the above in mind, it is sometimes the case that you feel, instinctively, that the client is a bad one. This could be in the way they talk to you, it could be in their business and how it works, it could be anything. But if you do feel, instinctively, that the client is not one to be trusted or to work with, then follow your instincts.


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Sahail Ashraf

I am a writer for brands. I create copy that drives revenue and helps businesses grow. I also run an amazing website called







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