When I Can’t Say “No” and the Virtue of Logging Hours

No, a one syllable, two-alphabet word, appears simple and direct, but is in fact one of the most difficult words to utter or type out. When it comes to potential projects that come our way, there are times when we want to or know that we should say no, but just have a hard time doing it. We end up taking on the project and regretting it once we dive into it, knowing that the instincts to reject the project was correct after all.

Knowing the reason(s) why we want to say no is the first step to mastering this difficult task. A few reasons that come to mind are:
1. The pay is too low for the time you would spend on it.
2. The client has a bad history of not paying on time, or paying at all.
3. You’re already over-committed and won’t be able to give the project the focus and care it deserves.
4. You’ve had bad experiences working with this client.

After figuring out the reason(s) why you want to say no, think about why you’re hesitant to cross off this project immediately. Examples may be:
1. Money is money, you can use any amount that you can get.
2. You’re  just starting out and think that taking on this project would get you more experience.
3. This job might lead to future jobs.

These are all logical reasons for saying yes, but ultimately, you’ll have to decide if the cons outweigh the pros. In the end, the main reason you should say no is because: It is not worth your time, energy, or headache! If the pay is too low, then you shouldn’t waste your time on it. If you know that the client has a difficult time paying, and waiting is not an option for you, don’t do it. If you’ve been tormented before with a client, don’t waste your valuable time haggling with the client again.

Know Your Worth
As a freelancer, especially one who is just starting off, any opportunity seems appealing, even if the pay is low. We tell ourselves, 「I’ll do this for a while until I get more experience, then I’ll charge more,」 but I can speak from experience that it does not go this way. Once you agree to low-ball your rate, you’ll be stuck with it, which is why it’s important to know your worth and to try your best to stick to it.

It’s important to know the worth of your time and expertise. One way to calculate this is by calculating your hourly rate by breaking down the salary you would receive as a full-time employee. For example, if your goal is to make a gross income of $50,000, divide that by 52 weeks in a year and 8 hours a day, you’ll find that your hourly rate should be around $24. If you’re able to edit 4 pages per hour, then your rate-per-page would be around $6/page. Use these numbers to guide your rate, and stick to it, as much as you can.

But Where Do We Draw the Line?
But what if you really can’t say no? What if you can’t resist passing on a project? If you feel that you have to take on a project even though it is under budgeted, managing your time by logging your hours is the best way to help you use your time efficiently. For example, if you are asked to edit a 150-page textbook at $2/page, use your hourly rate calculated earlier to figure out how much time you should spend on this project. This project will bring in $300 for you. If your hourly rate is $24, then you should make sure that you only spend around 12 hours on it. This will help you control your schedule and will also minimize wasted time. For tracking hours, I like to use Toggl.com, a free time-management service that helps you to track multiple projects. It’s easy to use and it also has pro service for $5/month that can help you generate bills, estimates, and reports.

How do you decide whether to say no to a client?


4 thoughts on “When I Can’t Say “No” and the Virtue of Logging Hours

  1. flacklist says:

    Totally Agree … Cheating can’t justify the delay / no payment / Uninteresting work. If you accept you should by all means stick to the basic rule “Follow the Ethics” Deliver Value.

  2. Sarai Pahla says:

    Hi – thanks for another great post. I usually work purely on the basis of time and interest – if I have the time to take the work and I find it interesting, I will do it. If I know i won’t have the time, I have learned to simply say no and move on. The hardest thing to do is to let go of the idea of money as a marker of achievement – that has taken me a very long time.

    • Shenyun Wu says:

      Thanks for your comment, Sarai! Letting go of the idea of more income is always the hardest time. It’s great you’ve mastered “no” though. I still struggle with it sometimes 🙂

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