Recently I got the opportunity to spend an afternoon with some amazing young marketing students. They were bright and intelligent and so keen to learn about the world of marketing that lay outside of their lectures and guided reading lists. One of the questions they asked me, out of many, was ‘what do you do if you can’t take on any more work?’. At the time, I was able to give them a short answer – just say no. But here, in this long form piece, I want to explore a much more detailed response to the question. I want to look into what exactly can cause your freelancer to say no to taking on new projects.
So you’ve got a new project or a new piece of work for your freelancer. That sounds great, right? More work for them, more income, more hours on their invoice, what’s not to like? But in reality, there are several reasons a freelancer might not want to take on more work and trust me, they are all completely valid. No one wants to turn down work, so if your freelancer is doing so – there’s usually a pretty good reason.
They’ve reached full capacity
If a freelancer tells you that they’ve reached their full capacity, it’s usually in your best interest to believe them. Even if you know that you haven’t set them a huge amount of work, it’s important to understand that they could be working with several clients at once. They could have multiple deadlines approaching with more urgent work than yours taking priority, and simply cannot dedicate the time to your project.
They could also be doing you a favour by saying no. If they’ve looked at their schedule and have worked out that your project would most likely be done in a rush, working up until the deadline date, without time for checking over and polishing – most freelancers would rather not do it at all. That perfectionist instinct can typically kick in when new work is sent their way, and they will want to do the best job possible for their clients. So if they refuse to deliver poor, shoddy or slack work, take it as a compliment and a sign of respect for the work.
They need a break for their mental/personal health
Something to remember about your freelance workers is that, despite their ability to create amazing and beautiful pieces of work at the drop of a hat, they also have limits too. They’re as human as you are and need the same amount of breaks as you. The trouble with freelancing is that there’s no limit to the work or the hours you spend working, with every hour of the day being a potential earning hour. It can often feel like there’s no end to the work and can result in some intense guilt if they spend a day away from their laptops.
Allow them to take breaks and come back better for it. If you know they’ve been pushing it recently to get this work finished, allow them this ‘no’ without argument. They’ll respect you so much more for it and will return to work feeling far more energised and ready to create.
They don’t feel capable of doing the work
When someone becomes a freelancer, it’s generally accepted that they’re good at what they do. However, this doesn’t automatically mean that they know everything about what they do. They won’t be able to complete every single task without help or without question, but they might be reluctant to admit this to their expectant clients. They could feel as if the project is too big, too in depth or too technical for their skills, and would rather not do it all than do it wrong.
It might also be a practical dilemma, in that they don’t have the right equipment or software to take on the project. Lack of high quality cameras, design software, editing programmes or even a fast enough laptop can prevent freelancers from taking on certain elements of work. It’s a frustrating ‘no’, don’t get me wrong, that can usually be more disappointing for them than you but it’s valid all the same.
They don’t agree with the work
Depending on the industry you work in, there are certain limits freelancers will have on the work they accept. For ethical reasons, religious boundaries or even personal feelings, a freelancer might be turning down work if it violates any of their moral beliefs. Perhaps the topic or project is in an area they don’t feel comfortable supporting, or on behalf of a company with ethical policies they disagree with. Although work is work, it’s important to remember and respect the limitations your freelancer sets on themselves, understanding that they must remain loyal to their own beliefs over anything else.
With this in mind, it could also be a good opportunity to explore your own beliefs and personal feelings about the work you’re offering. Would you feel comfortable carrying out this particular project? Do you agree with the policies of the company or is it that monthly retainer that’s keeping you sweet? A business that makes a stand and is true to their own beliefs is often much more respectable than one that bends for money.
They’re happy with the amount of work they have
For some freelancers, their routine is vital to keeping them afloat. Knowing which work is coming in and when can help to balance out their calendars and diaries, allowing them space to fit in personal activities around their work. For those with busy lives, being able to control the amount of work they can take on is crucial to maintaining that work/life balance.
‘They understand their own limitations better than anyone and perhaps it’s time to respect that.’
They might also be enjoying the work they do currently, being able to spend time dedicating their creative abilities to projects they believe in and care about. This is a respectable factor in understanding your freelancers response, and one that should be answered with a simple ‘ok, thanks for letting me know!’.
It’s so important to remember that your freelancer is more than just a working machine. They need as much holiday time, mental breaks and independent control over their work as you do and saying ‘no’ to more work shouldn’t be treated as a crime. Allow them to work on the projects they care about, providing you with high quality work without pressuring them to do more.