If you're a freelancer or independent contractor, the idea of turning down work can be really scary--especially when you're just starting out and don't necessarily have clients knocking down your door. But sometimes saying no is necessary to ensure you remain efficient, profitable, and sane.

That said, turning down a project doesn't have to burn a bridge or mean that you'll be damaging your reputation. Rather than completely cutting off future work with that job or client, you can parlay your "no" into a future "yes" with the right approach.

As both freelance writer and small business owner myself, I've been on both sides of this equation. I've had to decline taking on new clients and I've had freelancers say no to projects my content marketing company. In my experience, here are some of the most effective ways to turn down an assignment and ensure managers will want to assign you more work in the future.

What do to do if...the rate is too low

If you're within striking distance of a rate that works, don't be afraid to ask for a bit more money! If there's wiggle room in the budget, your client may be willing to come up (especially for a reliable contractor that works efficiently and has a great attitude).

But if the dollars just don't make sense, and you're still not aligned, let the client know you won't be able to accept the assignment. You can also take the opportunity to once again reinforce your value.

You could say something along the lines of "Based on my experience with similar projects and how much research is required, I believe the work will take around X hours, and my hourly rate is Y. In order to take on the work, I'd need to make Z." 

Regardless of the budget, be respectful and professional within your conversation, and take care not to act offended! The amount offered isn't a personal affront to your skill set, and your client's budget may be beyond their control. By taking the right tone, you'll either be able to negotiate for more--or you'll keep your contact informed about your rate for the next time that he or she has more to spend.  

What do to do if...you don't have time

What's more important here is to express that you are interested--but considering your current workload, you're not able to take on something new. You'd gladly accept the assignment if your schedule allowed.

The fact that your plate is so full with other projects could potentially make the client even more interested in working with you (after all, you must be pretty valuable if you're getting so much work!). 

Let the client know when you'll be available again, so they can come to you if they have another offer at that time. If there seems to be flexibility on the current project, consider offering to take it on at a later date: ("My schedule will free up after [X date]; if you have flexibility on timing, I'm happy to discuss taking this project on then.")

What do to do if...if it's not the right fit

In some cases, the client and the work just don't align with your skills or priorities--but that doesn't mean it will never be a fit. The client could shift its strategy in the future, you may shift your own focus, or the person you're communicating with may move to a different company that is a better fit.

If you can, briefly explain why this isn't the right match, while keeping things positive: Rather than saying, "I don't have experience with [X]" or "I'm not interested in [X]" say, "as much as I'd love to work with you, I'm currently focusing on [Y]." Suggest you stay in touch and that the client reaches out to you if their focus changes.

In the meantime, consider recommending another freelancer who can take on the project that you're declining. This will not only help you foster a positive (and hopefully reciprocal) relationship with that freelancer, but it will also help the client -- and they're likely to remember that in the future.

Regardless of the circumstances, it always pays to be gracious. This may be business, but everyone is human -- and all else being equal, your clients will probably be more inclined to work with freelancers who are pleasant (just as you probably prefer clients who are pleasant).

A "thank you for thinking of me" goes a long way!