When to Say ‘No’ to a Potential Client

You’ve worked hard to build your business. You’ve promoted yourself and networked. You’ve shown you can handle the demands and pressure of jobs big and small. You’ve done everything you can to grow your client list.

It may sound weird to hear us say this, but sometimes you’re going to have to turn down some of that business.

What? How could that possibly make sense? Well, the truth is, being a good business owner isn’t just about expanding and making the most money. It’s actually about making the best choices for yourself, your mental health and your financial well-being. Occasionally, this will mean saying “no” to a potential client.

When should you do this? Perhaps more concerning, how should you do this to avoid doing permanent damage to your brand? Here’s what you need to know about turning business down and listening to your gut to keep your sanity intact.

Let’s Start With Why Say ‘Yes’

Before we tell you why, when and how to say “no,” you should first understand why to say “yes” to a client. This will apply to the vast majority of your business pursuits. You should accept business when:

  • It’s a good fit for your talents.
  • It’s a task you are capable of doing.
  • It’s a person or business you know you can trust.
  • It’s a person or business with a good reputation.
  • It’s an opportunity to make new contacts to further your business.

Will these outcomes be clear every time you make a decision on a job? No. So you have to navigate on instinct. Early on in your business career, you may feel you have to take any work available. Sometimes, the experience will be worth accepting work that doesn’t fall within those parameters. However, as your resume plumps out and your appointment book fills up, you can afford to become choosier.

Why Say ‘No’ to a Potential Client

You may still be wondering, as you look at the pile of bills in front of you, what would possibly make you say “no” to a client’s business.

It might help to think of it as a matter of preserving your own reputation. A little short-term contemplation can save you a long-term impact on your reputation. Here are three cases where you should turn down a job:

  1. You aren’t capable of doing the task. You may want to believe you can do something slightly outside your wheelhouse, but the truth is this can lead to problems. What if you don’t do a good job? What if the client is unhappy with the results and tells other people? Your reputation could suffer and you may lose out on other possible work.
  2. You have too much work on your plate. If you can’t possibly meet a tight deadline, you should always turn a project down. You never want to miss a deadline — this is the fastest way to damage your reputation. Refer the client to someone you trust and hope they will return the favor one day to you when you’re going through a slower season.
  3. You can’t get along with the potential client. Sometimes you just don’t click with someone. This isn’t always a reason not to work with them. You don’t have to be their best friend. But if you can tell on instinct that nothing you do will be good enough for this person, then it’s not worth pursuing the collaboration. You only have so much mental energy and you need to save a lot of it to do everyday business tasks.

When to Say ‘No’ to a Potential Client

The general rule for timing is: the sooner, the better. As soon as you know things are not going to work out, you should inform your client. You don’t want them thinking they will receive something they’re not going to get. You also want to give them a chance to replace your services as fast as possible.

Just because you’re turning down work doesn’t mean you shouldn’t act professionally. This will help protect your reputation and, more than anything, it’s the right thing to do. Always treat people well — even when you turn down their business. That’s something that will never come back against you.

How to Say ‘No’ to a Potential Client

Do it gently but firmly. You don’t need to make up excuses, but you do need to be clear about your intentions. Don’t leave any room for misinterpretation. You don’t want to have to turn someone down twice because you were not direct enough when you said “no” the first time.

Often, offering an alternative can go a long way toward smoothing over the situation. Mention a friend who can provide similar services or offer advice on a way to change the project to suit someone else. Be helpful, but remember you should not feel bad. Don’t let guilt enter the equation.

How to Keep Moving After Turning Down a Potential Client

Sooner or later in every business owner’s run, they have to turn down a client. Consider it a rite of passage. Just make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons and then don’t look back. Having confidence in your decisions is something you need to do as a businessperson.

Trust us — this won’t impact the lead or client management for your photography, videography, florist or other business. It will only help you grow more confident in your business skills. And if you want to get a little more organized so you know what business you can and can’t accept, try a free 30-day trial of our software. Getting a better idea of your time capabilities is also always a good thing.