How to say “No” to clients

By Justine Clay

Do you remember when you first went freelance or opened your creative business? You took every job that came your way, right?  I know I did.  In the beginning, it makes sense. You need to make money, build your client base and get really good at your craft by doing it.  But there comes a tipping point when saying “Yes” to everything starts to hurt your business.  You start to feel resentful, tired and about as creative as a house brick. The worst part is, you don’t have time to position and market yourself the clients you do want.  

If you’re ready to work with high-quality clients who respect your value and pay you what you’re worth, it’s time to start saying “No” to the ones who don’t.

Feel uncomfortable or nervous about the prospect? Here are five strategies that have worked for me:

1) Define your goals and what you offer
As yourself: What do you want your business to do for you?  What do you want it to do for others?  
If you want to bill $100,000 this year, and you serve others by creating brand identities and websites, a couple of basic numbers willl help you reach your goal.  If you average one identity/website per month, you would need to charge around $8,500 per project. Having this information at your fingertips makes it much easier to say “No” to the client with a budget of $2,000.

2) Take your emotions out of the process
It’s much easier to say “No” when there is no emotion attached to it.  This is easier to do if you can identify the emotional response you’re experiencing. Does your client not respect your time? (resentment).  Are they super-nice to you, but constantly ask for “one more change”? (guilt).  Do they railroad or bully you? (disempowerment).  Once you know which emotion is being spiked, you can shine a light on it and…pooof…it dissipates. Now you’re ready to act.

3) Be honest 
It can be tempting to tell a little white lie, but untruths have a habit of tripping you up in the long run.  I’ve always found that tactful honesty is the best policy.  It can be as simple as saying “I appreciate your thinking of me, but I’m not working on those kinds of projects anymore”.

4) Keep it short and sweet
If you plan on saying “No”, be sure to take action quickly and keep it short and sweet.  There’s no need to justify or explain.  Remember, the client just wants to get their project done, so make it easy for them to move on and find someone else.

4) Be gracious
Always thank the client for the opportunity, even if you don’t care if you ever see them again. The world is a small place, your paths will cross again.

OK, so now you’re ready to clear out a few of those clients that don’t serve you.  What’s next? Marketing your services to attract the clients that you do want (those would be the high quality, low-maintenance, well-paying kind).

If you’re ready to work with more of your dream clients, let’s set up a time to chat. I’d love to learn more about your business challenges, and discuss possible solutions.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *