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Michelle Nickolaisen

Rejection is something that freelancers have to deal with, day in and day out. But dealing with rejection is difficult — it doesn't come naturally to most people, so how do you keep it from getting you down?



Think of every person you know. Think of your next door neighbor with the terrible music taste, your childhood best friend, every member of your family, your high school nemesis, your close circle of friends now, your significant other, that person who always posts conspiracy theories on Facebook — you name it. It might also be helpful to think of all the people whose career you admire, and no, we won’t judge who makes that list.

Got a long list in your head now? Great. They all have something in common.

They’ve all experienced rejection at some point in their lives.

Beyoncé lost on “Star Search.” Anna Wintour was fired from one of her first jobs in fashion. Steve Jobs was booted out of the company he started. The list of rejection sob stories goes on and on.

Still, getting told ‘no’ is likely going to sting a bit. Hearing ‘thanks, but no thanks’ just as you’re getting your career off the ground? Of course that’ll feel like a punch to the gut! So how do you deal with these inevitable hiccups in your new career? Here are a few things to keep in mind:


Step One: Realize that a rejection is (rarely) personal.

More often than not, it’s just a business decision. This potential client could be out of funds for freelance work, or they’ve decided to keep work in-house. It can be something totally arbitrary too, maybe your style doesn’t “fit” their brand, or perhaps now isn’t the right time. It could even be because there’s a lunar eclipse and the Devil is nigh. It’s probably not because they thought that you suck.


Step Two: Start thinking about it as a numbers game.

Look: You’re never going to get every single client you reach out to, right? In fact, your success rate will probably start off really low . So think of it this way: what’s it going to take to get your first 10 clients? If you get rejected 90% of the time, you’d need to contact at least 100 potential clients to land them. Sure, that’s not an ideal number, but we all have to start somewhere. And that brings us to the next point…


Step Three: Remember that the only remedy is getting back out there.

Regardless of the reasons why you might have been rejected, focus instead on how it can make you better at what you do. From helping you develop a thicker skin, to improving the way you sell your services, to reaching out to more people, rejection is an excellent teacher, whether you’re an established freelancer or you’re just getting started.


Step Four: If things aren’t going your way, like really really not going your way, answer the question “Where am I going wrong?”

Grab a pen, or open your Notes app and answer the following:


  • What services are you selling? Can you sum it up in a single short sentence? If not, focus!
  • How many potential clients did you contact today? Probably not enough. Get typing. And make sure you beat that number tomorrow.
  • Where are you finding them? Generally, you’ll find better clients, faster, through referrals from your friends, family and old coworkers.
  • How did you communicate your value to them? Sell your services from their perspective, not yours.



Back to Anna Wintour for a moment. In case you aren’t familiar, she runs the American edition of a pretty well-known magazine you might have heard of called Vogue. When asked for advice on how to be successful, her response was:

“Everyone should get sacked at least once. It forces you to look at yourself . . . It is important to have setbacks, because that is the reality of life. Perfection doesn’t exist.”

So what are you waiting for? Get back out there!


Written by Mattie Quinn, a freelance writer based in Washington D.C.