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How to Politely Decline a Project in Email

Jun 2, 2023
(updated: May 24, 2023)
Max 5 min read

There are going to be times when you might need to politely decline requests to work with you. There are numerous reasons for this—perhaps their offer of pay was too low, perhaps the work wasn't a right fit, or perhaps you don't agree with the ethical position of the brand. Whatever the reason, you should learn how to politely decline requests.

Communication is vital. You never know if there might be a person currently at the brand who might offer you suitable projects in the future, perhaps at another brand. You don't want to come across as unprofessional by not communicating or being rude in any correspondence. In this article, we will discuss the process for politely declining requests and how Indy can help you with that process.

Understand the Project

Any project deserves you to understand the work that is involved. When you receive a new customer request, it is important to take a moment to assess and understand the project. This can be broken down into three steps.

Assess the project requirements and scope

You need to assess the project requirements and the scope of work. What work is required to complete the new project, what resources are required from you and the customer, and is there a timeline you need to follow?

Look for any red flags that the project is not for you. For example, they might have very tight deadlines, or the company might have worked with several other service providers before.

You may also want to check the local press and learn about the reputation of the brand that is requesting help. Sometimes when working with a client with a bad reputation, it can lead to a bad experience for you.

You may need to have another conversation with the prospective client. If they are interested in working with you, they should be able to sit down with you and talk through more specifics. If they don't want to talk more to you, then you need to consider whether they really want to work with you.

Evaluate your capacity and resources

Now you need to conduct a careful review of what you have available to complete the project. Have you completed similar projects in the past? Have other projects done well? What have you learned from those projects?

You also need to assess what time you have available, what resources you have that you can apply to the new project, and other information that can be directly related to the success of the customer request.

You can only service a set number of contracts. You might think that expanding is a great option, but having an expansion for just one client can be more costly. Not to mention that it can take between 6 and 12 months before a new hire can sometimes become effective.

Consider the potential impact on your existing commitments

Also consider what the potential impact on your other commitments is. If you've got clients who are already assigned a set number of hours per week, and you don't have much time to spare, then taking on a new client might ruin a current relationship.

You might end up ruining both contracts and therefore be worse off with less future work than you would have expected. And if you do let down another client, then you could lose your strong reputation. Your reputation is what got you the request in the first place, so be sure you protect it.

Choose the Right Email Format

So if you want to politely decline requests to work with you, then you need a consistent, reliable way to do this. Using a series of email templates can be a great way to turn down a project. Here are some of the steps that are required.

Start with a professional and polite salutation

First, start with a professional and polite address to the client. An address like 'Dear Mr. Joe Bloggs' or 'Dear Ms. Harris' is a great option to start the email.

You probably have the name of the person who contacted you. However, that doesn't always work. You may have been contacted by someone who works in the office, but the final decision-maker might be someone else. You need to address the email to the final decision-maker.

Use a clear and concise subject line

Next, create a clear and concise subject line that establishes a relationship between the email and the project proposal. There are a few names that you can use, but don't include in the title that you're going to decline the project as this automatically sets a negative tone for the email.

Something along the lines of 'Project Proposal Between A Company and B Company' could be effective. You could also include the subject line again after 'Dear X' in the email. This confirms the tone of the message and makes it more formal.

Craft a well-structured email body

Now you need to create a well-structured email body for the message. There are several ways you can do this, with about three main points to the email templates that you can use. These areas are for the following:

Express gratitude

The first section should always be about expressing appreciation for the opportunity to work with them. You should say how much you appreciate their offer for work. In addition, you can look at acknowledging the vital importance of the project for the client.

You might want to start with the phrase "Thank you so much" as that is often appreciated.

Provide a reason for declining

Now you need to move on to telling the individual that you're not going to work on the project. Provide a good reason why you are not going to work on the project. There are several reasons you could provide to gently let down the company.

  • There is not enough time in your work schedule that would be required to fully commit to the project goals.
  • You do not believe you are a good fit for the work and you can't take on the work.
  • The project deserves someone who has skills that better match their requirements.
  • You have decided you are no longer working in a certain business niche.

Clearly explain your reasons for declining the project

Be sure you clearly explain the reasons, putting their project at the forefront. For example, mention you don't have the right skills to match their requirements, you don't have the time that the project deserves, or you think the project would be better suited for someone else.

Use diplomatic language to avoid offense or misunderstanding

Remember to use diplomatic language. You don't want to offend the individuals at the business or cause a misunderstanding.

Focus on factors such as workload, resource limitations, or conflicting priorities

You need to focus on elements that aren't going to offend and might be used by anyone. Saying that you find the project boring or the pay they're offering is too small can be very offensive. There are several standard factors you can use like workload, resource limitations, and conflicting priorities.

Offer alternatives (if possible)

Now you have the option where you can offer effective alternative solutions for the potential customer. This allows you to explore alternatives that your company might want to work with. For example, you might not have the time to manage their social media, but you may be able to offer them a few names of people who could help them, or offer them help recruiting a good person who can help them.

Recommending other individuals or teams might also help you with revenue. Sometimes when you recommend another business, the other brand might offer you a finding fee. Though, you must recommend people who you know have the expertise for the prospective client.

Maintain professionalism

Remember, it is always really important for you to remain professional at all times when you turn down a project. Politely declining requests can help you build a relationship with a customer, and in the future, they might return to you to see if you have any availability then.

Here are some elements to consider in this part of the email template.

Avoid negative or derogatory language

The first thing to remember is to remain positive and avoid negative and derogatory language. These elements can harm your reputation in the wider community. Sometimes you might not work with one company, but if you're tactful in your approach of rejecting the proposal to work, you can get referrals from them.

Some words don't sound negative or derogatory on first hearing them, but they can be very upsetting to a prospective new client. For example, you don't want to call projects small. What might be small for you could be a large project for the individual.

Bear in mind that if you're working in international communities, then there might be some words that don't translate well. Therefore, you need to consider culturally appropriate responses when you politely decline requests.

Keep the tone respectful and courteous

All trusted freelancers know they should always keep the tone respectful and courteous when they're communicating with clients. It is an important skill that can keep the door open for future collaborations and perhaps a new job in the future.

You might want to create a company policy for how you talk and what language you use. This policy can sometimes help with ensuring you don't take too long to create an email where you're rejecting projects.

Emphasize your willingness to collaborate on future projects

It is always important to keep your options open for the future. You might reject a client today, but in the future, they might be the perfect fit for you and your brand. What you need to do is emphasize that you believe they're a good brand with a worthwhile cause.

Also, think about setting boundaries for what you might want from future collaborations with the business.

Close the email

Now you need to close the email so you can end on a positive note, while at the same time leaving no room for interpretation that you might work for them in the future. There are several parts to closing the email template to consider when writing to the contact.

Summarize your gratitude once again

Summarize your gratitude for their interest in working with you. You might want to use the term 'thank you so much' again as it does put a positive foot forward for you and your brand. You also want to say that the projects they offer are interesting and have potentially lots of value, but because of your skills/expertise/workload, you can't work with them at this moment.

Offer assistance with any other matters related to the project

However, you need to offer them something to make them feel they've come away with something. One way you can do this is to assist them in other matters related to the project. For example, you could offer to introduce them to someone who might be able to complete the work with them. Or you could offer to take on some other work that you think might be a better fit for them.

End with a professional closing and your name

At the end of the email, you need to have a professional closing. There are numerous ways that you can end the message, such as 'Kind regards', but one of the best is 'We wish you the best for the future'. You might also want to include a line where you hope they can find the right solution for their project.

You should include your name, business title, business name, and contact details. It is so important that you could include social media. You can sometimes use a digital signature that allows you to build a more professional and official look to your emails.

How Indy Can Help You

When you are getting requests from prospective clients to work with you, it can be a very exciting time. However, that doesn't mean every project on offer is a suitable job for you. Therefore, you need to learn how to choose the projects best for you. And then you need to write a kind note when you want to turn down a project. Indy can help you here. Indy has a suite of tools to help decline interested prospective clients and improve your workflow. Their suite of tools includes:

  • The task management suite allows you to manage your workflow. All tasks and subtasks can be aligned to a Google Calendar that can be seen by all those that are involved in a project.
  • Invoice creation tools help create the invoices you need within minutes and then send them directly to your clients. You can also get paid quicker with the integrated payment options.
  • Indy's CRM capabilities make managing contacts and associated documents straightforward.
  • Indy University provides multiple useful courses, articles and templates to make your freelancing life easier.

You can try Indy for free, with access to all the documents and tools for up to three contracts per month. And there is also the option to upgrade to the Pro plan where you can get unlimited access to these tools with additional customer support, AI creation tools and integrations with external tools via Zapier.


Not every project proposal which lands in your email inbox will be suitable for your business. Therefore, you may need to reject some of them. However, you should let the prospective new client know that you're not going to work with them. It is just the best practice. Writing a good email that allows you to gently let them down and refer them to other services/teams who can help is the best option.

To help you manage your business and ensure you are handling project declines with grace and respect, we suggest using Indy. It has all the tools that can make managing these contacts much easier.

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