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You say “NO” but they come back begging for a “YES”

That’s how you know you’ve *made it* as a freelancer

My schedule is always full. I turn down work often. That’s a luxury I have for being in-demand, and I don’t take it for granted. Long gone are the days when I have to say yes to any freelance opportunity that comes my way.

I’m selective. I’ve spent years building my business to a point where I can afford to be picky. I work with clients I like, on projects I believe in. Design business is swell. Freelancing actually feels free.

Smoothing out the freelance rollercoaster

How to schedule projects, manage an even workload, and make consistent income from freelancing.

But lately, something strange has been happening.

When I’m booked out for the next 3 months I say, “Sorry, I’d love to help but I’ll have to rule myself out for your project. I’m not available to start when you need me. I understand if you have to look at other options available sooner.”

Usually, that’s the end of it. They thank me for my prompt and honest reply, find another designer, stick to their schedule, and I don’t hear from them again.

Now, most of them come back saying “No problem, we can wait. Let us know when you’re available. Let us know how we can work with you.”

I’ve had three like this in the past week. They threw their schedule out the window, just like that. Rather than finding someone else who’s:

  1. Probably cheaper than me, and
  2. Who can start right away…

They’ve delayed their project to wait for me. They care about working with the best people more than they care about hitting an arbitrary deadline.

Are you working for cost-clients or value-clients?

Knowing the difference will mean everything to your freelance business.

This is client gold.

These are value-clients, not cost-clients.

I’m sitting here wondering why they trust me so much. Why would they change their project plans — which felt very urgent when first presented — to wait for one freelance designer, when there are thousands of other freelancers around who advertise similar services.

One of these potential clients has talked with me for 10 minutes. Otherwise, all he knows about me is what he’s gleaned from my website or what he’s heard from others.

Another one has worked with me before and already respects that relationship, but he’s now talking about rearranging his entire project schedule around my feedback before he’s even finished getting back his RFP’s from other agencies and contractors.

The third has never seen or spoken to me before, and upon hearing that I’m too busy AND his budget was too low, he’s now trying to figure out if he can double or triple his budget AND delay his project so he can work with me.

They’re treating me like a valued partner before the project’s even begun. They’re compromising timeframe and budget before they’ve had to. This is nuts.

What have I done to deserve this?

For 18 years I’ve been hustling to delight every single client with exceptional service. I’ve been blowing them away with transparent communication, complete honesty, and reliable delivery. I’ve been making them feel that no matter how much I cost they can’t believe the value they’ve gotten from my time. They love how organised I am and easy to work with. They’re excited by how quickly I turn things around and how often I involve them for feedback. They’re overwhelmed by the attention to detail, quality of problem-solving, and the resulting design. They keep coming back for more.

This isn’t gig work. This is building long-term partnerships. Some of my clients have been with me for 10 or more years.

Word gets around. Reputation grows. Trust gets built passively when you’re not paying attention. And all the sudden you have clients begging to work with you even when it inconveniences them.

It’s not rocket science. There’s no life-hack or secret morning routine that propels you to freelance business success. No, it’s just one thing.

Consistency

Do awesome work, every day. Every client, every project. Don’t settle for less than your best, and don’t allow your best to stagnate. If you’re improving your craft and your processes every month and every year — and you’re passing that growing value on to your clients — then your professionalism will be infectious.

Turn down opportunities you’re not passionate enough about to get fully invested in. Turn down projects who’s budgets or deadlines don’t allow you to perform your best work.

You’ll be saying no as often as you’re saying yes, and half the no’s will stick around anyway for the slight chance of a future yes. You’re rarely competing for projects because those who approach you have already decided you’re the best choice for the job.

You’re not a commodity anymore. You’re a professional. This is what freelancing can and should be.

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Benek Lisefski

Hi, I'm Benek Lisefski. Since 2001 I've run my own independent design business. Join me as I unfold 18 years of freelance business knowledge: honest advice and practical tips to help you take your indie career from good to great.

MediumTop writer in Design, Business, and Entrepreneurship.