Help center
Getting started
A Freelancer’s Guide to Saying No and Setting Boundaries

A Freelancer’s Guide to Saying No and Setting Boundaries

May 12, 2023

When you find your first freelance gig, it can be tempting to take on another one…and another one…and another one. That’s the beauty of remote work: you can work from anywhere at any time and adjust your workload however you please. The downside to always taking on “just one more project” is that you are slowly eating into your free time and limiting how often you can do the things you really love.

This may seem counterintuitive, but freelancers can take vacations too. They can have weekends off, or be “closed” on a Tuesday just because they feel like it. Being a worker in the gig economy means you have flexibility, and learning how to take advantage of it is an art. Here’s how you can establish boundaries with clients and learn how to say no with grace.

How to Become a Freelancer: The Ultimate Guide | FlexJobs

Determine – and communicate – your ideal work schedule.

Are you a morning person who’s up with the sun? Or do you do your best work after typical business hours? Maybe you need Fridays off for a standing appointment. Whatever it may be, be clear and upfront with clients about your working hours so that they know when to expect to hear from you. One great tip is to include your hours in your email signature: “I am available via email from Monday-Thursday 8 AM-5 PM.” You can also set an out-of-office message for non-business hours so clients and prospects know you aren’t ignoring their message. Same goes for vacations or time off: let clients know it’s happening well in advance so there are no surprises.


Plus, being proactive about sharing your working hours can help alleviate that “I should really answer this 11 PM email” guilt.


Plan for emergencies or sudden curveballs.

Obviously, emergencies happen where you might need to work outside of your normal business hours. This is something else to establish with your client beforehand: what’s the best way to contact you “after hours?” What constitutes a crisis? This varies by industry, but it might look like needing to suddenly get an email out or share some unplanned posts on social media.


Things happen and plans change. Meetings get rescheduled and phone calls are spontaneous. However, if it becomes a pattern and it often disrupts your day, it might be time to have a chat with your client. As an example, if you have a weekly scheduled meeting that the client keeps missing without advance notice, let them know that if the pattern continues they will be billed for the time.


Stick to your scope of work.

This might be something you outline in your contract or in early conversations with your client, but one of the first steps you’ll take when working with a new client is determining what exactly you’re going to be doing for them. More importantly, however, is determining what you will not be doing.


For example, say you’re a social media manager handling a business’ Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You’ve agreed to write and schedule posts, and create graphics to go with them. Your scope of work might not include photography, video, motion graphics, paid advertising, community management, or a host of other things. Though it’s tempting to tell your client “I can try!” when asked about something outside your scope of work, your client will appreciate it way more if you’re honest about your strengths and what you bring to the table.


Here are some talking points if you find yourself in that situation, using paid social media advertising as an example:


Keep in mind: sometimes the client doesn’t know what they want. Asking them pointed questions about why they want paid social media advertising – or whatever it may be – can help you provide some alternative options. If they insist on adjusting the scope of work and you agree, make sure you adjust your contract too!


Learn how to say no with grace.

Every freelancer’s favorite word should be “no.” No, I can’t take on another client right now. No, I don’t work for free. Here are some ways to stick to your guns without being mean about it.


If the disagreement is budget-related, feel free to get creative. For example, if you’re building a website for your hair stylist: ask to trade services or get paid with a gift card. Always consult your tax professional before accepting alternate forms or in-kind payment.


The moral of the story: Have pride in your work.

Your work schedule might not be standard and your office might always look different, but you are a professional bringing years of experience and specific skills to the table. You deserve to have a life outside of work and say no to projects you aren’t interested in or simply don’t have time for. Establishing boundaries early in the client relationship is one of the keys to a successful partnership and project and though it may feel awkward to stick up for yourself, it makes everything a lot easier moving forward.