How to Say NO to Unpaid Work

How to Say no to unpaid work

How to Say NO to Unpaid Work

I’ve been working as a graphic designer for over 10 years. In the span of my career, I have had friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers on the Internet reach out to me asking for help with their graphic design, Web design and even their branding.

And while I don’t mind answering some questions, in taking a little bit of time to help somebody out, it’s a whole other story when somebody asks me to do hours of work for little to no compensation.

Now, this doesn’t just happen from one group of people, but the group of people that bothers me the most, are the people who I have no prior relationship with who are asking for my services and then get offended at my rate.

As I work primarily in the online space and from home, I’ve noticed that these online requests have started increasing.

Whether somebody thinks that asking for a logo is a simple task, or they are looking for support on their website, it has become very accessible for new people to reach out.

Which isn’t always a terrible thing, I’ve had plenty of fantastic clients slide into my DM’s.

But what I have learned, is that I don’t want to work with assholes who don’t understand a working dynamic.

While you may not be a designer like me, but if you are a service based business this probably sounds familiar.

I primarily work with fitness experts, transformation coaches, and nutritionists.

And I know they get the same type of requests.

It’s so important to understand the working dynamic and to respect those who know more than you in a certain area, and unfortunately, when people discredit you and ask for free services or heavily discounted services, they do not respect your expertise and that working environment.

So, if you, the health and wellness expert, and find yourself in a comparable situation where somebody is asking for a free workout, or what their macros should be, here are a few ways that you can navigate those requests, how to say no to them, and hopefully transition them into paying clients

First let me say that if it is an incredible opportunity and you can see this becoming a long-term partnership, you can always say yes. 

Just because somebody asks for something to be free or discounted, that doesn’t mean you have to turn it down. But be careful with who you select and have a plan at the beginning of every quarter, or year that outlines how much time you’re willing to allocate to pro bono aka free projects.

Now, if somebody is asking for something free or discounted, and you do not want to take on that project for free here’s how to say no to unpaid, or underpaid work.

First, it is important to start the conversation in a polite and creative way, and you want to leave the door open for this person to become a paying client.

Also, it’s important to note that not everybody who does this is doing it to be malicious, they may honestly just not know how much time and effort goes into your work and the question they are asking.

Let’s start with the clearest direction. These responses are for when somebody just straight up makes a request for free work or asks you a question that they may think is an easy question but it’s actually a very loaded question.


Out of respect for my paying clients I cannot give you a detailed response or advice for that question. But, if you would like to book a consultation with me, I’d be more than happy to explore solutions for you.

With this answer, without saying I don’t do work for free, you let them know that what they are asking you for is often a paid service. Provide them with a link for a consultation phone call with you, or if you have free downloadable, lead generating content, you can also send them that link.


I typically charge for this type of advice, if you’d like, we can book a consultation.

 Similar to the last option, but it’s just a little bit more straightforward.

how to say no to new clients

I’m flattered that you’re seeking my advice, but unfortunately I’m not taking additional clients right now

This is a little bit of a final straw response, in my opinion, as sometimes you will find that people just are not understanding that you’re not going to take time out of your day to work for free when it is something you traditionally get paid for.

Simply thank them for their question, thank them for reaching out, and just reiterate that what they are requesting is a paid service, and right now you are not able to meet their request.

Now sometimes, the requests aren’t so straightforward. If somebody isn’t sliding in your DMS straight up asking for your free advice and work, they may word it in a way where they ask for a collaboration. Collaboration can be a wonderful thing, and for the right people you can do an exchange of services.

In the past I have collaborated with different coaches both for fitness and nutrition or even business in exchange for my services. We both get something beneficial out of it without transferring any funds. This is definitely something you can do, but just make sure that it is a fair trade.

If you feel that it is not a fair trade, here are a few ways that you can tackle that.

how to say no to collaborations

Thanks for the invite, are you able to confirm this is a paid opportunity?

Once you get all the details for the collaboration, you can ask if it is a paid opportunity. This lets the other party know that that is your preference, and if it is not a paid opportunity you can then go back and review their proposal.

how to say no to collaborations

Thanks for the invite, unfortunately I am unable to take on unpaid projects at this moment, but I will let you know if that changes.

Again, this lets the other party know that your intent is to be paid for most, if not all, projects. This is a great line to use for sponsored content on social media if somebody wants you to promote their product or service without paying you.

Stating that you are not taking an unpaid opportunity at this time not only give them the opportunity to come back with a number, but it also demonstrates that you are a professional and you know your worth.

Up until this point, most examples given are assuming that you don’t really know the person, or that you have never collaborated with them in the past.

But, if you have any experience with running a business, you know that sometimes the people with the most requests are people that are already paying you.

Again, this is totally up to your discretion if you feel that it won’t take away from your paying clients or your valuable time, you can absolutely feel free to provide free services, but if somebody is taking advantage of you and your services here are a few options that you can use to redirect the conversation.

how to say no to current clients

I can absolutely do that; however, it is outside of our original scope. I can do that for you at our original rate, and I expect it to take X hours, I can put together a revised agreement if you’d like

This is a fantastic way to navigate a conversation with an existing client who has started to push their boundaries. It’s not uncommon for paying clients to try and get the most out of their services, so when somebody makes a request that is well outside the initial scope, respond with a message similar to the one above to let them know one, that it’s out of the scope and two, how you can move forward.

It puts the ball in their court and they can decide if their request is that important to them.

In my experience, most of the time when people make these requests it’s not out of malice, it is because they just genuinely don’t understand the commitment needed to execute these additional tasks

And if all else fails, and somebody is not understanding where you are coming from and that what they are requesting is not a free service, the easiest thing you can do is let them know:

I would be happy to prepare a quote for this project.

Give them some sort of intake form to complete so you get a better idea of what they are after, and provide them with a free quote

If they refuse saying it’s just a small ask, let them know that you understand, but you just want to make sure that you have the full understanding of the request before you take on any additional work.

And if they decide not to fill out that form or continue to fight it, you probably don’t want to work with them anyway.

I don’t always say no to request for help, but I do know when to draw the line, and you should too!

Accepting all request (both free and paid) will leave you completely burnt out, which just isn’t productive at all!

It’s ok to say no, and if you do it right, you may even turn the request into a paid project.

how to say no to unpaid work

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