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I'm a former corporate employee who decided to ditch the 9-5 and start my own business.
Now, with a lukewarm cup of coffee in one hand and a toddler on my hip, I'm sharing all my best business, branding and website tips.
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When you’re starting out in business the idea of turning down a client seems like an impossibility.
But guess what? I guarantee this will happen to you.
Do you know how you’re going to respond?
Inside you’re saying “Um…thanks but no thanks.” but you know that’s not a professional response.
How do you tell a client that you don’t want to work with them?
Don’t worry your pretty little heart. I’m going to share the 9 true and tried ways you can turn down a client (the polite way).
Spoiler alert: The old “It’s not you, it’s me.” is one method I’ll discuss.
I’ve used these techniques for my own business and not only do they work, but you’ll look like a total rockstar for handling yourself so well.
Here we go…
The concept of ignoring inquiries from clients that you do not wish to work with doesn’t sit well with me. Regardless of whether or not you choose to take on the project, you are a business owner and should respond to all inquiries. I respond to all inquiries for work as soon as I can. When someone has taken the time to reach out to you, they deserve a response so that they can move on and find someone else who is a better match.
When turning down a client I keep my explanation brief. Rather than giving a list of excuses as to why I’m turning down their project, I simply state that it’s not the right fit for me. Here’s an email template I use for projects I’m rejecting:
Thank you so very much for reaching out.
While your project sounds like a great opportunity, I do not feel it is the right fit for me at this moment.
Rather than being a dead end, I like to offer a referral to another designer when turning down a client. This gives them a chance to find someone else who might take on their project. It’s also a great opportunity to recommend someone who be a better fit.
Let’s say you were initially interested in a client’s project, but after discussing the details and getting to know this client you’ve decided it’s no longer a good fit for you. The best way to handle turning down a client in this scenario is to be honest and explain (very briefly) that after further thought you’ve decided that you are not the best fit for their project. Even if you believe the client isn’t the right fit, or perhaps they’ve done something to make you believe they won’t be appropriate to work with, put the blame on yourself so there’s no hard feelings.
I had an experience in the past with a potential client who cancelled (actually, they were a no-show) THREE meetings in a row! They apologized and tried to reschedule but I quickly realized this was not going to work out. Here’s the email I sent:
After thinking about it I’ve decided I am going to pass on your project. At the time it is not a good fit for my business. If anything changes I will be sure to let you know. Best of luck with your new website and all of your future endeavors.
I did not refer another designer to them in this case because it would be unfair for me to recommend a client who had been a no-show to three meetings.
In my previous life I worked for a digital agency. On occasion I would help estimate costs for large budget projects and we had what was called a PITA factor (Pain in the A$$). This meant we knew the client was going to be demanding, indecisive or just all around difficult to work with, so we would charge additional for that. The client never knew they were being charged additional and it helped save us from going over budget. Raising your rate is a way to turn away a client that you don’t want to work with, and if they accept your rate, at least you’re being paid additional for taking on a project that isn’t right for you or might give you a lot of headaches. This method doesn’t work for every business so use your best judgement!
If you get an inquiry that seems too good to be true, it probably is. Any potential clients who are unwilling to give any personal information such as a phone number or address, or a client who is eager to pay you upfront should be a red flag. There are online scammers who use incredible techniques to get money from you and they will pose as the perfect client.
Now, I said earlier to never ignore an inquiry. If you get a highly suspicious email and are certain it’s a scam, do no reply. If you aren’t sure whether if a potential client is a scammer (they can be really good at hiding it), ask them for some more information about their business. Generally they won’t respond back and you’ll know it wasn’t a serious inquiry.
If you happen to have a full schedule and receive an inquiry that you wish to pass on, use your schedule as an excuse. Saying you are fully booked and no longer accepting projects is a great way to nicely pass on a project.
A nice way to reject a client is to offer a free bit of advice or a tip. Explain briefly that their project is not a right fit for you and then end the email by linking them to a resource that might help them. An example of this would be a blog post or a directory of professionals that may be able to help them. This puts you in a positive light because you did something to help them even though you chose not to work with them. So polite! ????
Sometimes a client’s project may interest you, but there’s something about the project – perhaps the timeline that doesn’t work for you. Try offering a different option such as postponing the project until you are available. If a client is asking for something you do not provide, explain what you DO offer and make a suggestion for another way you can help.
I know it’s hard to reject a client, I’ve totally been there.
You may worry that you’ve made a mistake or hurt someone’s feelings.
This quote always gives me reassurance:
“Learn to say ‘no’ to the good so you can say ‘yes’ to the best.”
– John C. Maxwell
With my techniques and your rockstar skills, you’ve totally got this!
What do you think of this article? Do you have any questions for me? Ask me in the comments box below!
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