Politely Decline Working for Free as a Freelance Creative in 4 Easy Steps

10 mins

Being asked to work on a project as a freelancer is super exciting. After all, it means that...


Being asked to work on a project as a freelancer is super exciting. After all, it means that you can put food on the table, right…?

One of the trickiest parts of freelancing is identifying what work is paid and what work isn’t. But it’s also the most crucial part for two reasons:

  1. Payment is required for you to be able to continue doing what you love
  2. Giving one client free work undermines your paying customers

You must ensure the conversation is positive, however, as everyone who reaches out is a potential client. If they don’t have the budget now, that doesn’t mean they never will and you certainly don’t want to be blacklisted. Freelancing is all about client relationships.

So, what do you do to ensure that the enquiry ends on a positive note for all? Read on to find out how to politely decline to work for free as a freelancer in 4 easy steps!

Step 1 – Ask for More Information

The first thing you need to do is find out whether the role is unpaid.

Nobody wants to turn down a paid opportunity. Plus, declining the role without finding out more about it can make you seem disinterested and rude. Ask any questions that you might have, including details around payment.

In response to a vague enquiry, begin with:

 Thank you for considering me for this role. This sounds like a great opportunity and I would love to learn more about it. Can you confirm that this is a paid role and what your budget is? 

 Step 2 – Supply Your Rates

Following up with your rates is a great idea as it’s a vital piece of information that the prospective client might not know.

By adding these in they know how much you charge for future projects and, you never know, they might be able to extend their budget to meet you. Again, don’t simply presume the role is unpaid if the initial enquiry was vague.

Offer specific services/packages? Great!

Make a recommendation as to which service/package would best support the client’s needs. Another great conversation starter that would look something like this:

 Attached are the services I offer and my current rates. From the information that you have given me about this particular project, I would recommend… 

Step 3 – Offer Alternatives

Let’s say you know the role is unpaid. What do you do now?

Building that relationship is key for future work, so we recommend offering alternative solutions that might help them out.

Think of where you would go to for this type of support or of any resources that you could send. You’d have to make sure that these resources are within their budget for them to be useful, however.

Helping the best that you can without losing money is a strong start to a relationship. Plus, it will hopefully place you at the top of the list when their budget does allow them to hire freelancers.

For example:

 Unfortunately, I’m unable to take on unpaid projects at the moment, as I must prioritise my paid work. To help you get started on this project, I have attached some free resources that I find useful in my best efforts to help. I hope that they hold some relevance to your project. 

Step 4 – Ask to Connect

Finally, asking to connect with the prospective client is an easy way to stay in touch and could lead to work with the company when their budget allows.

Connecting on LinkedIn and building on your relationship outside of this initial interaction, will ensure that you’re not forgotten as the company grows.

End the conversation with something like this:

 Although I’m unable to work with you right now, I would love to stay in contact as your company grows. I hope that you’ll connect with me on LinkedIn, in the hopes that we can work together in the future and offer my support where I can.


Need help with finding your next role?

Submit your CV and portfolio to 3Search. Our Temp & Contract consultants, Lucy Dudley and Lilly McGann, will be more than happy to assist you with your search.


If you're an employer looking to hire freelance or interim work, check out our previous blog 'You Should Hire Freelancers and Here's Why'!


3Search is an award-winning UK recruitment consultancy, specialising in recruiting marketing experts for the digital age.

Whether you’re seeking new talent or looking for your next career move, we can help.

Learn more at www.3search.co.uk

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