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The Best Way to Say No to Potential Clients

By: SmallBizClub



No: a two-letter word that is easy to spell, hard to say and even more challenging to accept.

No one enjoys being at the receiving end of the word ‘no.’ It might lead to feelings of rejection, inferiority, resentment or self-pity. These are negative emotions that you don’t want people to associate with your brand or company image.

The online world is filled with articles on how to win more clients, how to expand to new markets, how to close business deals… that having to say ‘no’ to a potential client might be a shock to some people.

Clearly, declining clients is a relatively unusual problem but may also be a very smart decision for your business. There are several instances when you might have to just say ‘no’ to a potential client or project:

Lack of time and resources. It‘s a happy problem when your company is all set with projects for the next 6 months. Unless you’re planning to add in more skilled workforce, you would have to turn down potential clients or projects.

It’s not fair to your existing and new clients to stretch your resources too thin in accommodating their requirements. Doing that will affect the quality of your team’s work output. It’s better to lose one project now than to disappoint your partners with substandard work and sacrifice your lifetime business with them. Not to mention the negative impact on your company’s reputation.

It’s a good thing when you know your resources’ limits and you accept projects accordingly.

Wrong fit with client. A trickier factor to consider is your organization’s fit with the client’s style, needs and industry.

Perhaps the client requires strong written content while you specialize in search engine marketing. Or the client wants to reach a specific niche that you have no way of tapping.

There are also clients who belong in an industry that you don’t want to associate with your brand for ethical or personal reasons (possible examples are gambling, alcohol, cigarettes, religious sectors, etc.).

Again, the focus here is the quality of the work that you can provide. If your expertise is not aligned with the client’s primary needs, saying ‘no’ can be the only and wisest answer.

Problem clients. Unreasonable requests, delayed or absent payments, lack of integrity, win-lose relationship, fickle-mindedness, incessant haggling on prices and terms—these are just some of the signs of problem clients.

When it comes to problem clients, it is always best to stay away. Otherwise, they will eat up on your time, productivity and sanity. They are more trouble than they’re worth.

Declining such clients might be a very obvious and sensible decision, but one of the hardest to communicate, given their usually demanding nature.

So now that you’ve made your choice, we go to the next step that a lot of people dread: actually saying ‘no’ to them. Rest assured that when you master the art of turning down clients, this sticky situation doesn’t necessarily have to end badly.

Let me re-phrase that: Actually, you have to make sure that it doesn’t end on a sour note.

Today, we share with you the art of saying no to clients:


Be polite but firm. Be the perfect gentleman or lady. Always decline with gratitude and sincerity. Express regret for the missed opportunity to work with the client.

In case you need to communicate your decision face-to-face, be extra mindful of your body language and facial expressions.

Most of all, maintain your professionalism and own your decision.

Here are some phrases you can start with:

  • “Thank you so much for your interest in our services, but…”
  • “I really appreciate that you offered us this project, but…”
  • “I would love to work with you, but…”


Stating your reason is the most crucial part of your explanation. Make sure that your reasoning is credible and plausible.

Be as honest as possible. Tell the client that your company’s repertoire is already full for the next several months. List some samples of your current projects (you don’t have to be too specific about this).

Explain that your expertise is not a strong match to the client’s expectations. Emphasize how your team’s strengths may not make such a meaningful impact towards the achievement of their vision.

It is important to point out how your negative answer is actually positive for them. After all, it is their loss if they receive work that is subpar to their standards- due to limited time, resources and skills on your part. Everybody loses in that case.

Now, I know you are wondering how to honestly tell the clients that the reason you don’t want to work with them is because they are problematic accounts. Do you tell them this? Obviously not, unless you want the client to leave you alone for good.

In this case, you can actually use the second reason: the ‘fit’ problem. You wouldn’t be lying, as chances are, you wouldn’t be able to satisfy their demands.

Take Action

To make sure that you end your rejection on a positive note, offer a next plan of action. Can you recommend anyone who can do a good job in meeting their needs? Or maybe you can already pencil in a meeting schedule with the client when finish your current line-up?

Express your openness to work with them in the future. After all, things change; you don’t know what the situation will be 1 year, 2 years, 5 years down the road. Yes, even problem clients can evolve into dream clients, you know!

Master the art (approach, reason, take action) of saying no and you’ll realize that turning down a potential client doesn’t have to be a dreadful experience.

Whatever happens, do not burn bridges! Remember that business success relies heavily on the positive relationships you have with various partners.

Author: Gemma Reeves is a seasoned writer who enjoys creating helpful articles and interesting stories. She has worked with several clients across different industries such as advertising, online marketing, technology, healthcare, family matters, and more. She is also an aspiring entrepreneur with FindMyWorkspace, who is engaged in assisting other aspiring entrepreneurs in finding the best office space for their business.

Published: December 1, 2016

Source: Array

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