Unpacking Your Fear of Saying NO

When you’re first starting out, it’s easy to get into the mindset that you need your clients more than they need you.

If you approach your marketing with that mindset, you’ll be subservient. And, when you’re subservient, saying no is difficult. You do everything you can to please, even if it means you walk all over yourself to do it.

This mindset is a trap. It degrades your sense of value.

It will lead you to take on projects you find boring … to accept scope creep without saying a word … to undercharge for what you deliver.

It will lead you to become so busy with low-paying or adequately paying projects that you won’t have the time or energy to better your situation.

If you have a fear of saying no to your clients, I guarantee it’s hindering your success.

Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take each day that will help you shift your mindset. Follow the steps I share below and you’ll become more confident. You’ll begin to see yourself as a partner to your clients. And, you’ll start charging based on the value you deliver.

When that happens, you’ll make room in your life to grow and shape your business into something you love every day.

So, let’s get started.

Identifying why you fear saying no …

Most of the time, if you ask a writer why they’re afraid to say no, the answer you’ll get is they need the work.

It’s important to dig deeper than that. A single project isn’t going to make or break you financially. Sure, it may cover a bill or two in the short-term. But long-term, you don’t need the work.

Some of the reasons for feeling like you need the work — for that kind of tight, desperate feeling that balls up in your belly when you imagine saying no — are more common than you might think.

You’re afraid no one will ever hire you — even if you’ve already had clients — and you want to say yes to prove yourself wrong.

You’re worried about what the client will think of you if you say no. You want their approval. You want to be liked.

You’re afraid you’ll regret it later. What if this is going to be your big break, and you turn it down?

These are the big three. The question is, which one resonates with you most? Did more than one strike a chord?

Whichever reason had you wincing because it hit too close to home, I want you to start taking the steps I outline below to begin shifting your mindset.

You’re afraid no one will hire you.

This fear may seem like one reserved for writers who are just starting out or who are going through a dry spell, but it can strike any writer at any time … even those who are flush with clients.

This fear boils down to a lack of confidence. If you’re like most people, you go through bouts of low confidence and high confidence. You could have plenty of clients, but if you just finished a project that didn’t perform as well as you’d hoped, you could find yourself going through a bout of impostor syndrome.

When that happens, you worry people will “realize” you don’t know what you’re doing (even though you do). It doesn’t take long for that to morph into a fear of no one hiring you. And so, you start saying yes to everything.

Here’s what you can do to overcome that fear:

  1. Make a list of all the clients who have hired you, including when they hired you.
  2. Pick the three who have liked your work the best — preferably those who have given you testimonials.
  3. Each morning before you sit down to work, review both lists. If you don’t yet have testimonials, simply think about what it was like to work with those clients you made happy.

If you’re just starting out and you don’t yet have a list of clients or testimonials, ask three people who know you well and like you what your best traits as a worker are, and then review those each morning.

Do this every day, and you’ll build up a belief in your value and hirability. It won’t happen overnight, but eventually you’ll find yourself more confident and less afraid to say no to the projects that don’t interest you.

You want approval.

Making decisions based on a need for approval is a common issue for people of all stripes, not just writers. One way the need for approval manifests itself is when you say yes to everything, because you fear if you don’t, people won’t like you.

To overcome the fears that stem from a need for approval:

  1. Start keeping a journal. At the end of each day, write about the decisions you made that were approval-driven versus those that came from a place of self-acceptance.
  2. During each day, work toward being mindful of why you’re taking the actions that you do. Is it because they’re right for you or because you want approval?
  3. When you notice you’re about to do something for approval, check yourself and do what is more authentic for you.
  4. Practice validating yourself. When you act out of self-acceptance rather than for someone else’s approval, take note and be proud.

Getting over approval-driven fears takes time and practice, but it’s well worth it. When you do, you’ll be more willing to take on challenges that will stretch and improve your skills and less likely to take on projects to make someone else happy.

You’re worried you’ll regret it later.

What if this is my big break, and I miss it? If this fear-driven thought keeps you from saying no to projects you’re not really interested in, you’re not alone. Many of the stories that drive our culture are about a big break — a single moment where your life takes new direction. And you only get one chance at a break like that.

Except that isn’t true. I’ve known too many writers who have had many, many moments that have put them on a new path toward great success.

These writers all have one thing in common. They don’t wait for opportunity. They put themselves in its path. If you start putting yourself in the path of opportunity more often, this fear will begin to subside.

How do you do that? It really comes down to making more connections and then nurturing them …

  1. This advice comes from Michael Katz. Make a list of everyone you know well enough to contact without introducing yourself. Then start keeping in touch with them regularly. Not to sell. Just to chat. Eventually good things will come of those connections.
  2. Start attending more live events and take the time to get to know people. Again, not to sell. Just to start a relationship.
  3. Get into the habit of analyzing opportunities that come up. When you’re presented with a new project, ask yourself if it’s the kind of project you want to be doing, what the best thing that could come out of the project is, and what the worst-case scenario is.

Putting yourself in front of more opportunities will help to dispel your fear of regret. And analyzing the potential of each project will help you gain perspective on how important the project really is, potentially, to your writing career.

Putting your fears to rest …

Whatever the reason you fear saying no to projects, it’s one of the most important things you can get over. When you decide to focus on the projects that interest you most and play to your strengths, you’ll be happier in your work. You’ll perform better, and your business will grow faster.

Working through any fear is uncomfortable at first, but it helps to break the process into steps you can follow with certainty.

So, how about you? What’s the reason you’re afraid to say no, and what do you do to get past that fear? Share your story in the comments below.

This article, Unpacking Your Fear of Saying NO was originally published by Wealthy Web Writer.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »


Click to Rate:
Average: 4.0
Published: March 29, 2017

1 Response to “Unpacking Your Fear of Saying NO”

  1. Hi Heather I,know this artical on,the fear of saying no ,is a study that's is a need to know.

    DarrickApril 3, 2017 at 5:00 pm


Guest, Add a Comment
Please Note: Your comments will be seen by all visitors.

You are commenting as a guest. If you’re an AWAI Member, Login to myAWAI for easier commenting, email alerts, and more!

(If you don’t yet have an AWAI Member account, you can create one for free.)


This name will appear next to your comment.


Your email is required but will not be displayed.


Text only. Your comment may be trimmed if it exceeds 500 characters.

Type the Shadowed Word
Too hard to read? See a new image | Listen to the letters


Hint: The letters above appear as shadows and spell a real word. If you have trouble reading it, you can use the links to view a new image or listen to the letters being spoken.

(*all fields required)