Do you have trouble saying “no”?


As freelancers we’re always on the lookout for potential clients. Even those of us with large client bases need to replace clients from time to time (perhaps with better paying ones, perhaps to replace ones who no longer have relevant projects). So when new enquiries come in it’s usually something to get excited about.

However, I feel that there are plenty of traps that beginner translators in particular regularly fall into (and I’d be prepared to hazard a guess that even seasoned translators struggle with some of these situations from time to time). The added pressure of just starting out though and really needing more work means that as beginner freelancers we often don’t think clearly when dealing with potential clients. In this article I want to talk about a few strategies which you can apply from the outset which will hopefully help you avoid making some rookie mistakes and taking on projects which were never meant for you or clients you were never destined to serve.

Stage 1: Funny feelings (implementation level: easy) – when your own existential anxieties interfere with your decision-making

If you have a funny feeling about a job from the outset, walk away. It’s really important to listen to your intuition. It is completely understandable that if you are concerned about meeting your monthly earnings target, you will try to take every opportunity which comes your way. However, if you can already see the pitfalls (you don’t have the subject-field knowledge, it sounds like timely payment could be an issue, etc.) or you and the client just aren’t on the same page, leave it. It will just lead to problems further down the line. If, on the other hand, you can simply see issues which need to be clarified and you are genuinely interested in the job then do, of course, ask the questions you need to ask before sending or agreeing to send a quote. Just make sure you do any clarification work in advance before making a commitment.

Stage 2: (implementation level: intermediate) – when potential clients start to have expectations

Just because you’ve entered into a dialogue about the client’s needs and expectations does not mean that you are then obliged to take the job on. Once you can see that it’s not for you, say so. It is true that once a potential client has the feeling that you are “dealing” with their translation (asking questions, for example, see stage 1) – even before you’ve sent a quote and agreed to do it – you will find it more difficult to say “no, sorry, I’m not interested” later on. It is a fact that it is much easier to say “no” if you haven’t already sent several emails back and forth. So be careful how much advice you give away for free before you’ve agreed to do the job and start to feel like you have tied yourself into something you haven’t actually decided to do (and remember here that feeling like you have tied yourself in is simply that, a feeling. If you have not made a commitment, you are still free to walk away).

Until you have agreed to do a translation it is not your problem and you do not need to justify your decisions. If a job is not for you then it’s not for you and you politely tell the client that the job is not a good fit or that you have decided not to submit a quote this time. Quoting a higher price in the hope that the client will not accept it is a recipe for disaster. Clients accept those higher quotes much more often than you may think – and the extra money will never be enough to compensate for the problems you know you will encounter along the way and the potential damage to your reputation. Be straight with the client to avoid setting yourself up for a fall.

Stage 3: (implementation level: for the advanced) – when existing clients make assumptions

What about existing clients who come along needing a translation in an area of specialisation you don’t cover? Do you take it on anyway because you’re the translator of choice and you’re anxious that you may otherwise lose the client? Be careful because if you don’t provide your usual standard of quality then it’s quite likely that you will lose the client anyway. Instead, try explaining that you do not cover that area or reiterate that you specialise in a particular field. Try to provide the name of a trusted colleague or offer to arrange for a colleague to do the translation. This is a much more professional way of dealing with these situations and will also increase your credibility and strengthen your relationship with the client because you will have an opportunity to reiterate what it is that you do do and are good at while simultaneously demonstrating your integrity.


In this article we have briefly looked at how our decision-making is affected not only by fears and anxieties but also by the mind’s response to expectations and assumptions made by others. Having a set of internal rules/steps for dealing with these kinds of situations can really help us to make more professional, objective and rational decisions at times when our emotions are running high and our brains are on overdrive. These steps can also include the prices we’re not prepared to go below or the number of words/pages we’re prepared to accept as a maximum in a particular time period. When clients or potential clients then assert pressure we can refer to our rules/steps and hopefully coach ourselves to follow through on the decisions we made when we thought about these situations in advance in an objective manner in a relaxed environment.


Photo credit: Mario Kingemann,


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