TIDKT: How to say No (and still leave the door open for future work)

saying no


Last week I looked at why its okay to say No to freelance work. This week I wanted to talk about how to do it. How to say No.

As a side note, before I dive into the topic, I wanted to tell you about a lovely lovely email I received this week from Judith Brand telling me that she loved the TIDKT posts and reading them had given her the information she needed and some courage to submit her first design. It was accepted and published – by Pom Pom Quarterly no less (one of the most competitive magazines in the industry!) The design is utterly beautiful and I am sure this is the first of many designs we will see from Judith. I am so pleased to have helped someone get started.

Anyway, back to the topic of saying No!

To keep things simple I’ve assumed its a making commission for a magazine but it applies to anyone commissioning work; websites, yarn clubs, yarn companies, yarn sellers etc and a variety of types of work; writing, designing, photographing and editing.

General rules for saying No (without losing the option of future work):

  • Keep it nice – although you may want to tell them where to stick their poxy job, this is a small industry so don’t blot your copy book. You also don’t know the background to the offer so there is no point in ranting and raving.
  • Keep it professional – see above!
  • Keep it honest – its best to give a concise factual reason – that way they may be able to change something if they really want to work with you.
  • No need to say sorry – you aren’t doing anything wrong in turning work down.

Lets look at a nice way to say No to each of the reasons we identified last week that we couldn’t take the work:

1/The timing isn’t right for you:

Dear Kathy,

Thanks for your email about submitting to Wonderful Crochet. Unfortunately I am fully booked with work until mid January so would be unable to meet the December deadlines you mentioned.
I hope you’ll bear me in mind for future projects.

Best wishes

This reply lets them know that you are interested in working with them but that you are busy (in demand!), you take deadlines seriously and you are professional enough not to overbook yourself. These are all good traits in a designer and normally when I’ve sent out an email like this the editor has got in touch with work offers that are further out.

2/the terms and conditions aren’t right for you:

Dear Susan,

Thanks for the email about submitting to All About Crochet. I noticed in the submission guidelines that the magazine retains all rights to the pattern and keeps the sample. Unless this is open to negotiation then I feel unable to submit at this time as I need the additional income from republishing my designs for my business to be successful.

Best wishes

It may be that some of the terms are open to negotiation and this reply will allow them to open those talks. Often it is a take it or leave it offer but at least you’ve let them know which terms you have difficulty with and briefly why which may inform their future policy (you never know, we can only hope)

3/the pay isn’t enough:

Dear Sally,

Thank you for your email accepting my design submission. Unfortunately the fee of £130 is not enough for me to carry out this work. Because of the innovative shaping technique I’ve used I estimate that the design time alone will be 6 hours and sample making costs are likely to be around £80. Unless there is flexibility in the fee I need to say No.

Best Wishes

Sometimes there simply won’t be anymore money available, magazines are working to tight budgets too. But sometimes just laying out the facts in this manner will alert the editor that the money is off and more can be found. When commissioning, editors are working through tens of designs at a time and use quick reckoning to price the work, maybe they like it enough to pay what it is really worth. Mention why its different or more expensive to produce the idea.

If you are asked to produce a design for “exposure” please feel free to lay it on the line a little more

Dear Rachel,

Thank you for asking me to create a design for your website. For the type of design you are talking about I would normally charge around £300 for an all rights release, which essentially is what I would be providing. I don’t feel, at this time, that the exposure your website can provide makes this a financially viable project for me to take on.

Best wishes


4/ it doesn’t fit your brand:

Dear Laura,

Thanks for the email about designing novelty tea cosies. I don’t feel that I am best suited to take on this assignment as my design work is primarily garments and accessories with classic shaping with inspiration for nature and the world around me.

Best Wishes

Next time she is thinking of commissioning garments she might just think of you. This reply lets them know what you are about and that you take the aesthetic and artistic side of your career seriously.

5/ you just don’t want to:

This one is a bit tougher to find an honest reply to. Perhaps its time to be a bit more honest with yourself and work out which of the other reasons are actually the one?


I don’t feel its ethical to say no just as a bargaining tool (YMMV) and I only say no if I am actually turning the work down. (That said, I have been persuaded sometimes to take it when the editor has returned with a counter offer.) I always try and make sure that the no I am sending informs the future relationship I’d like to have with them and tells them a little more about me and my business in the hopes that a relationship that works for both parties can come out of it.

Head here for other posts in the Things I Didn’t Know Tuesdays series about getting started in the designing business.

Now we’ve covered the nice ways to say no, I’d love to hear your funniest responses to flat out awful offers!


  1. says

    Great advice as usual Joanne, thanks. It’s so important to ensure appropriate remuneration for creative work, but it can often feel uncomfortable asserting that. You make a good point about why you should keep your responses truthful rather than make polite excuses – that way you can establish the ground rules for future working relationships for mutual benefit.