Accepting projects, commissions or jobs and providing them free of cost could be great to gain exposure and multiply your audience in the initial stages of your business. But, it will hold you back in the long run. Saying no can be difficult, but at a certain point you need to choose how and where you spend your time and efforts and make sure it serves your business's growth.
Here are some ways to say no, without completely dismissing the potential client or sounding rude:
"Here is a link where you can find the options to work with me."
This is perfect for the prospective client who snuck into your DMs and thinks they can get free services just because they “discovered you”.
"Thank you for thinking of me. Can I confirm that this is a paid opportunity?"
This is for those clients that seem super excited to work with you but are being vague about details and may not be from your ideal demographic. Make sure if you are accepting the job, you gain value in exposure to a new audience.
“I would be happy to share my rate card / past work portfolio for your reference”.
This works for potential clients who expect all your services to be the same rate even when asking you to do a much larger project than initially indicated.
"Unfortunately, I cannot take on any unpaid projects at this time."
This conveys that you are busy with paid client commitments and that you are in a season of your business that demands your focus toward existing clientele and potential paying clients.
“Thank you for considering me for this opportunity. I cannot take on custom jobs without payment.”
When a prospective client asks you for a sample with a very specific brief (in other words, do this for us and we’ll see if we want to pay you). You can offer to share work samples and a portfolio.
"Let me know the best email address to send an invoice."
This is a bit more direct, but effective when they seem to be evading payment talk. Another option to persist is, "should I send the invoice to your gmail or your business email?"
"Did you have a specific budget in mind?"
If appropriate, ask what their budget is. Try to get them to make an offer for payment first to see where they stand.
“My rates are set. I can help you find other people who might take on the project for less.”
For when someone says you charge too much for something “so easy” to do. Alternatively you could discuss another project that would work for them, but that would be a lesser time and resource commitment for you.
“Thank you for your interest in my products. I am currently not in a position to give away free products at this time, but I would love for you to be able to try them.”
For when an influencer asks for free products in exchange for exposure. You can offer to give them a unique discount that you can share with their followers to earn commissions from sales made. This way you're getting paid and increasing reach.
Decide what “free work” you will say “yes” to (if any) ahead of time.
You get to create your own rules, a structure to work within. It’s okay to give 15-20 minutes of your time to talk to or help someone. But free work that doesn’t meet your basic parameters simply doesn’t get considered. You’re building a business. Businesses need paying clients to make it in the real world.
If you use these strategies, be prepared to confidently communicate your rates if asked. It is important to know your value and the value of the services you offer; saying no can actually feel very empowering.