June 14, 2022

When should you say “no” to a project?

One of the most powerful communication skills to gain is the ability to say “No”. As painful as it might sound, saying “No” gives you the freedom to choose something else to say yes. We should say “no” more often to allow ourselves to be intentional about what kind of work we wanna put out there and focus on what really matters to us. The benefits of saying no? This powerful skill can accelerate your life, and career and bring more happiness to your work by simply narrowing down the type of projects you wish to participate in.

Why should you say “no”?

As creatives with a genuine intent to help, there is a tendency for us to want to help everyone with everything that is offered to us. However, in the long run, saying ”yes” all the time becomes an opportunity cost.

Not being able to say no would eventually lead you to be piled up with more than what you can handle. It is hard to turn down a project that comes your way. It’s an opportunity that sounds great and you don’t want to let the potential client down. It can be tough to turn down work, especially when you're a new business owner trying to build up your client base. Feeling guilty about saying no can also be a reason why you might accept an opportunity that ultimately doesn't work out.

You may think that it's a good thing to have jobs lined up and ready to go, but sometimes the reality of running your own business means that you just don't have the bandwidth to do everything you want. That's why it's important to know when not to take on a new project.

So when should you say “no”?

You already have a full workload

It's hard to say no to the chance to work on something that you're passionate about, but when it comes down to it, it's not worth it if there are projects you need to be working on. It can be incredibly tempting to want to take on extra work. You find a project that you're really interested in, maybe one that you've been wanting to tackle for a while, and your heart starts beating faster at the thought of adding it to your plate. And maybe you were thinking of saying no in the first place, but then they sweeten the deal by offering you more money or making more time available for you to do the project - and suddenly, all sorts of things go out the window.

That project is suddenly so much more appealing than any of the others you've got going on right now. But before you say yes - ask yourself this question: "If I don't do this project, what will I end up doing instead?" If the answer is "nothing," or "I don't know," or even "I'll end up putting off other stuff" - then maybe it's better if you just say no to this one thing too.

It is beyond your expertise

It really could be tempting, especially when a long-term client comes to you for something way beyond what you usually do for them. With the will genuinely help, and to continue helping them, you could end up with projects you have little to no knowledge of how to go about.

When it comes to deciding whether or not to say "yes", really think about what kind of project it is—the more outside of your expertise, the more likely that you'll be setting yourself up for failure. Even if it seems like it'll be a fun challenge or an otherwise positive experience overall, if this job involves something that you know nothing about, then there's a good chance that your results won't be what they should be.

The budget is not enough

When a client asks you to take on a project that falls below your minimum threshold, you may feel inclined to say yes, or to maybe try to bargain up the price. However, if a project is underpriced, it could mean that the client does not value the quality of your work, or even worse, that they do not have the money for what they are asking for. Although, it can seem like a good idea at the time, saying yes to an underpriced project will ultimately affect the quality of your work and your reputation in the long run.

While not all clients are working on an unlimited budget, there is a certain benchmark on projects priced at an amount that does not compromise the quality of the work to be delivered. Don't underestimate what you have to offer; charging less than your worth doesn't mean clients see you as less of an expert in your field.

The opportunity does not align with your values

When deciding between projects, ask yourself: Is this project aligned with my values? For example, if the project would contradict your work ethic or ability level, that's probably not a fit for you. If the project doesn't align with what you stand for or what you want your reputation to be, that's not right either. It can also help to think about whether the project would violate an ethical code of conduct or break ethical boundaries in any way.

Consider your core values. What do you stand for? What do you value? What are your boundaries? Is this project in line with your values or would it take you out of your comfort zone? Working on something that goes against what you believe in can be psychologically and emotionally draining long-term.

When saying “no”, keep in mind to be direct and clear but also polite. Be assertive and firm in declining the offer and find out how else you could help, such as by referring them to another agency or freelancer you know.

When you're deciding whether or not to accept a project, bring everything into account: your schedule, experience, and desire. You need to evaluate the budget, the timeline, and the likelihood that the client will be satisfied with your work. These are all important factors when deciding whether you should take on a new project, because they set the stage for how happy the client will be with your work.