7 Reasons to Turn Down a Project

Created on: July 20, 2017   |   Last Updated on: July 24, 2017

Black male working on laptop

At this time in the U.S., everyone is pretty stretched for cash, even more so freelance creatives. Many freelancers find themselves eager to find their next client and/or project, and we excite at every possibility of the opportunities that await, but there are times that we need to say "No" to these proposals.

1. Budget (or lack thereof)

One of the first questions I always ask to a future prospect is, "What is your budget for the project"? I ask this for a few reasons. The first, I need to know if the project's worth taking on. Second, it tells me the seriousness of the client, and finally, the size of the budget lets me know if what the client is asking for aligns with their expectations.

2. Outside of Expertise

Since I've been freelancing, I've been proposed with many projects from people who didn't really understand what a developer/software engineer does. Other times, I've been proposed projects that were just beyond my skill-set. At these times, it is the right thing to do, to not string your client along, but admit that their project is outside of your expertise. Unless, you're willing to spend the extra time to learn what needs to be learned in order to do that project.

3. Gut Feeling

We all make decisions that we regret making later in life. In freelance web development, these times are heightened by working with difficult clients. Many times these difficult clients give us signs of how working with them is, but we tend to ignore these signs with the excitement of a new project. I can recall a client I worked with some time ago. Our communication was lacking, the project went on forever (past what was agreed upon), and the pay was awful.

Most of this was my fault, because I should've said no, but I needed the money and the project. In hindsight I know I could've saved a lot of my time, had I just said no and worked toward getting other clients. The early signs were there and I ignored them. Don't ignore your gut.

4. Ethical Alignment

When the project proposed to your goes against the law, your values, and/or your beliefs, it's time to turn down the project. In this area, this totally depends on what you're willing to deal with. If it's against the law, walk away.


5. The Project is Too Small

I know you've heard the popular saying, "There's no project too small for us!", by some business advertisement, but the truth is, that's not true. The project may be too small, if it doesn't even come close to your base price, when projected amount of work hours are calculated.

From my personal experience, I tend not to do websites for photographers because the amount of work needed is usually so low that it's a high percentage away from my base rate. Many photographers only need a small site to display their photos. These types of sites can be done at a less cost to the photographer using sites like Squarespace, so I guide these potential clients to what I believe is a better option for them, with the hopes they send their friends to me, knowing I'm not just trying to line my pockets.

6. Client Won't Pay Deposit

All projects should be secured with a deposit. Deposits show just how serious the client is, and prevents the developer from working until the deposit is made. The deposit is to provide safety for the freelancer, so that we know even if the client disappears or walks away, our work and time is accommodated for. When the client isn't willing to pay the deposit, that is a major red flag. All forward progress should cease until the deposit is paid. No matter how, "good" of a client you think this will be.

7. Unrealistic Expectations

You've heard the quote from It's a Wonderful Life:

What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I'll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey. That's a pretty good idea. I'll give you the moon, Mary.
- George Bailey (It's A Wonderful Life)

Sometimes it seems like this is what clients ask for. While having a budget to build a child's bicycle they ask for the luxuries of a 2017 Tesla Model S. When you run these types of clients, turn them down! These types of clients cause headaches and can never be satisfied. Do yourself a favor, turn slowly, and walk away.


We freelance creatives, developers, designers, etc., love to do what we do. We jump at the opportunities that arise to us. Don't let your eagerness to work cause you undue stress when it can be avoided. We will always run into the "Clients from Hell", but it's up to us to pay attention to the signs, and choose our clients correctly. In the comments below, let me know about your worse client experience. So we can finally answer the question, TURN DOWN FOR WHAT!?! (I had to do it)

Posted In: Advice