From client projects, to your kid’s birthday party, to happy hour with your girlfriends…it can feel like you have a never-ending list of commitments. For the sake of your productivity (and sanity!), however, it is sometimes necessary to say ‘no’.  Say what? We get it, saying ‘no’ can be tough – especially if you harbor some people-pleaser tendencies. To start with, it can hurt, anger, or disappoint the person you’re turning down, and who likes to do that? Second, people often think that by saying ‘no’, they are missing out on something big. This is why it is especially challenging for women in freelancing to say ‘no’ – because we worry that we may be jeopardizing a client relationship or missing out on an opportunity. But turning down someone or something shouldn’t have to be difficult! Here are some helpful strategies on how to say ‘no’ gracefully.

Value Your Time

The first step to mastering the art of saying ‘no’ is to realize how valuable your time is. You have 24 hours every day and it should be up to you (not your clients or your partner or your kids!) how you spend those hours. When someone asks you to dedicate some time to a new commitment, realize that your time is simply too valuable for that. And even if you do have some extra time to spare, always consider whether this commitment you are saying ‘yes’ to is really the way you want to spend your precious time. If it’s not a priority, it’s okay to say ‘no’. People will understand.

Separate The Decision From The Relationship

When we are asked to do something, we often confuse the request with our relationship with the person making the request. We forget that to deny the request isn’t the same as denying the person. Separating the decision from your relationship will allow you to make a clear choice.

Don’t Apologize

When we want to say ‘no’, we often start out with “I’m sorry but …” as we think that it sounds more polite. While being courteous is important, apologizing only weakens your ‘no’. When you are ready to turn down a request or person, communicate your decision firmly and clearly. The message should be delivered openly and sincerely but you should not be apologetic about guarding your time.

Get Back To Them Later

A good way to say 'no' is to get back to them later; as a woman in freelancing, you need to know how to manage your own schedule and time.

We are often caught off guard with invitations or requests from people. We feel the pressure to answer those requests immediately. Next time when you are caught off guard, tell them, “I have to look at my calendar, let me get back to you.” Alternatively, you can say that you have to discuss it with your partner or family before you can answer.

Suggest An Alternative

If the person asking you for something is someone whom you want to maintain a positive relationship with, you can lessen the impact of your ‘no’ by offering an alternative that satisfies their want. The alternative should also be something that is more preferable to you.

Here are some examples: 

  • Your co-worker invites you to a party but drinking isn’t something you’re into: suggest meeting up for coffee or attending a workout class together instead
  • A friend wants you to help babysit her kids but you would prefer to spend the evening with your partner: suggest someone else who may be able to help
  • Your client wants you to work on a project but you don’t have the time: introduce them to another freelancer who may be interested in the opportunity

The goal is to offer a compromise so the person doesn’t take offense to you saying ‘no’ and you don’t feel guilty for turning down a request that would add additional stress to your life.

Practice, Practice, Practice

"Practice Makes Perfect" – cannot be more true for women in freelancing

Last but not least, once you’ve learned how to say ‘no’, you can begin practicing what you preach. The old adage, “Practice makes perfect” certainly applies here. The first time you decline an offer from someone by saying ‘no’, it may be hard. But after a week or two of practice, ‘no’ will come naturally.