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How to Turn Down Low-Pay Work as a Professional Freelancer

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If you are new to professional freelancing, then one of the most important skills you need to hone is knowing how to turn down low-pay work.

The number of professionals embracing contract work arrangements has been steadily rising over the past few years. According to a report by Upwork and the Freelancers Union, 57 million Americans worked as freelancers in 2019. That’s about 35 percent of the U.S. workforce! And, those numbers are likely much higher this year with so many professionals suddenly struggling to find adequate work.

But even if freelancing has become more popular, there’s no guarantee it will come easy to you. Real success as a professional freelancer isn’t just about getting clients; it’s about getting the right clients. These are the people and organizations that recognize the value of the professional service you are providing and will happily pay you for it.

In other words, working as a professional freelancer doesn’t mean taking any job that comes along. It means knowing how to properly evaluate an communicate your time and your expertise and setting limits on the kind of work you are willing to do for a given price. If you don’t know how and when to walk away from low-pay work, it can be a big drain on your time, energy and other resources that can seriously compromise your freelance business.

So, if you are truly committed to making it work as a professional freelancer, then pay attention to the following tips below:

5 Tips to Turn Down Low-Pay Work as a Professional Freelancer


Be clear about how low you can go. In uncertain times, when you’re desperate for work, you may be more willing to accept low-paid jobs. The lack of a steady paycheck can make you desperate, and desperation will lead to poor business decisions.

One way to help keep yourself calm is to understand how much you need to earn monthly to be profitable and how that translates to your work. A few things to consider include:

  • How much do you need to earn to cover your monthly salary?
  • What expenses do you have? (Licensing, website costs, etc.)
  • What is the minimum hourly amount I need to earn to cover these costs?

Asking these questions will give you a minimum hourly wage for your work. From there, you can set income goals and use industry standards to set an hourly wage that you plan to charge for your services.

For example, if you need to earn a minimum of $15 per hour to get by but most professionals in your industry charge $30 per hour, value your skills closer to the $30 mark. Any job below $15 isn’t financially viable for you to accept.

Get in touch with your money-blocks. Too often, new freelancers will accept low-paying work because deep down they don’t believe that their work is worth more.

Value your services based on what other professionals on your level would charge. Don’t accept less because you want to build up your clients or because you think you aren’t experienced enough.

“If you’re good enough to do the work, then you’re good enough to get paid,” Soness Stevens, who has freelanced for more than 20 years, says in a presentation for TEDxYNU. “If people are coming to you and asking you to do something, it has value.”

Determine if all the work you do truly aligns with your expertise. Low-quality work doesn’t just refer to underpaid contracts and tasks. It also refers to grunt work or unspecialized tasks that you normally wouldn’t do. Low-quality and low-pay work is time-consuming and doesn’t let you use the specialized skills you have developed.

Before you accept a contract or assignment outside of your normal scope, evaluate whether or not the work is reasonable. Are you taking the job just to stay in a client’s good graces? Are you hoping that the client will pay you more in the future? If the answer is yes to either of these questions, then it’s time to turn the work down.

Low-pay work can also refer to projects that you don’t know how to do. This is work that you wouldn’t normally do and may need to spend several hours learning or adjusting your processes to complete. The time it takes to learn how to do the work cuts into your overall profitability.

Learn how to turn down Low-pay work with grace. The more you start to value your professional services, the more frequently you will have to turn down low-pay work. This is difficult the first time you do it but will get easier with time. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Be polite. Let your client know that you appreciate the offer but cannot accept the work at its current pay rate.
  • Provide alternative options. If you know of someone who might accept the work (or a website to find reliable contractors) recommend them as an alternative solution.
  • Draft an evergreen version of this rejection letter and save it for future use. This way you can turn down work in a careful, well-written manner each time and keep your reputation in-tact.

Your future as an entrepreneur depends on the work you accept right now. You can show people how you value yourself and how you value the skills of others in your industry by refusing low-paying, low-quality gigs.

Learn how to offer smart discounts. Sometimes there may be seasons or periods where fewer clients are interested in purchasing your services. So, what can you do at these times if you still have bills to pay? One tip is to offer “discounts” by adding value. If you work as a freelance writer, for example, you could offer to do keyword research or write social media post descriptions as part of a big project “package.” If you do web design, then you could offer page design tips to increase conversions.

In this way, you maintain your pay structure, but make your offers more enticing to those who wouldn’t have made currently a purchase.

In short, saying no to low-pay work really comes down to being committed to yourself– to recognizing the value of your expertise and the service you are providing.  Everything else follows from there.

Author Bio:

Amanda Dodge has worked as a freelance marketer since 2016. She recently launched her own brand, Dodge Digital Marketing, and continues to grow her business and experience with each passing year.

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