Repeat after me: No.

Today I want to share a very real scenario that’s plaguing business owners everywhere. It looks something like this…

Your brain: “I should say no to this request.”

Your mouth: “Sure, no problem!”

When you mind says no, but your mouth keeps saying yes, you get yourself into quite the predicament. You can end up in a never-ending avalanche of doing stuff you don’t want to do be doing. Stuff that’s pushing your boundaries. Stuff that doesn’t serve you. Stuff that isn’t helping you achieve your goals.

All because your mouth keeps saying “yes.”

Just Say No

Well today, I want you to practice the word “no.” Repeat after me.

No, No, No. Feels good, right?

Today, I told a long time client “no”. The email went something like this:

Client: How are ya?? I have the concept for a holiday card and want to see if you are interested and have the time. Thoughts? Questions?

Me: I love that you thought of me for this project; however, I’m really only focusing on custom WordPress website projects and no print. So, I’m not the best fit for your holiday card. I’ll be excited to see it!

Client: I totally understand! While we’re chatting, I’ll have a white paper ready for design next month. Shall I line someone else up for it?

Me: You know, that would probably be a good idea. I really like working with you, but it does help my schedule when I stick to the web projects.

Client: Sure! I get it!! And it goes without saying, I really like working with you too!

I said “no” (twice) and everything worked out ok in the end.

How to Say No

I’m on a crusade to empower freelancers and creatives to use the word “no.” Here’s how:

Set boundaries in the first place

It is sooooo much harder to re-establish boundaries (or to break up with a client) than it is to set boundaries when you first work together. Prevent having to say ‘no’ by defining expectations up-front. List the specifics about how you work on your website and in your contract.

  • I will work these hours.
  • I will only work on these types of projects.
  • I take this long to complete a project.

For example, I don’t do rush work anymore. When a client asks for a rush on something, I simply respond with when I can reasonably get the work done and say, “I can’t do my best work when rushed and I can’t let my other clients down. Rushing on this would make me miss other deadlines.”

Sometimes you lose the project and that’s okay. Most of the time the client respects your transparency.

Re-establish boundaries with existing clients

Have things already gotten out of hand? Get the situation back under control with an email like this:


SUBJECT: Working Together Going Forwar

Hey (client first name)!

(Introduction with positive aspects of working together)

So excited to start thinking about (project) coming up soon! And, of course, all the other projects we work on together.

(Segue into main point of email listing actions and benefits of the change)

With all this great activity in our businesses, this is a perfect opportunity to talk about future workflow and project turnaround lead-ins and expectations.

As both our businesses continue to grow, having tighter timeframe expectations in place will help us both stay on track and also enable me to deliver to you my creative best—having enough planned time for design projects really lets my creativity shine!

To keep delivering for you on all the great projects we do together, especially since there are now multiple people involved in project assignments, it will help all of us to have some agreed lead-in timeframes.

(List of specific expectations and boundaries)

Here’s what I propose:

  • (specific project timeframes + expectations)

Please realize that this is a proposed list of turnaround times and I’m very open to discussing alternatives. My intention is for us to have some expectations in place that we comfortably work towards so that we can continue to enjoy—and thrive—as we work together!

(Summary about “how it was” and what that meant)

Whilst I understand that the (recent project experience, example: a few weeks back with 4 of your different projects, all with tight deadlines, coming to me from 4 different people) was a one-off, it meant I worked all over my weekend to handle these projects.

(Statement of “how it will be” going forward)

Going forward, I realize that the occasional emergency design project will arise, so I’m willing to initiate a rush fee for these instances.

As my normal hourly rate (between Monday-Friday 9:00am-5:00pm) is $X/hour, projects deemed “rush projects” will be billed at the below rates and I’ll make sure to quickly let you know in advance what hours I can accommodate to meet any further “rush project” deadlines.

And, of course, I’ll ALWAYS let you know prior to starting any rush projects, exactly what rates you will incur as I know that, as a small business, you manage your budget very carefully.

  • Today = $X/hour
  • Tomorrow = $X/hour
  • 2 business days = $X/hour

(Conclusion: restating benefits of the change)

As a solo-entrepreneur—which is how I enjoy running my business—I want to effectively handle what comes my way for all my clients so that they, and (client), continue to experience my design talents and creativity to their fullest potential. Together, we’ve created such a great (project) for you and I love developing it with you!

(Follow-up)

Let’s have a chat, (client first name), about how we’ll make this work best for us all and I’m so excited to get going on the next (project) with you—my creative juices are already in full flow!

Thanks so much!
(Your signature)


Be firm and stand your ground. You are the boss which means you get to do things the way that makes the most sense for you to do your best work. Saying no is liberating and can make all the difference in a happy and rewarding freelance career.

It takes practice, and repetition—but soon your mouth will start listening to your brain—and your business and life will be much better off because of it. Even if your boundaries have already been breached—it’s not too late to re-establish them and take the reins back.

Is the paperwork and contracting side of your creative business bringing you down? My Client Onboarding Toolkit is a simple, 4-step digital course that walks you through my time-tested process for onboarding clients. Jam-packed with advice, tools, and templates designed for creative professionals, it’ll save you time, stress and frustration while making you look like the creative rockstar you are. You’ll turn prospects into paying clients with more clarity, sanity, and confidence than ever before. Learn more »

About Jill Anderson

Hi, I’m Jill, a WordPress web designer/developer who partners with talented designers, copywriters, and agencies on their websites, and their client’s sites. I’m passionate about crafting beautiful and innovative WordPress websites focused on clear positioning and positive user experiences.

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