When It’s Appropriate to Say No to Your Clients

When It's Appropriate to Say No to Your Clients

It’s not easy to tell your clients they can’t have something they’ve asked for; nobody wants to be told no. But the reality is, sometimes saying no is actually your best foot forward, especially when the alternative is to deliver sub-par results, or, worse yet, no results at all. 

It’s all about positioning yourself for the best outcome over the long-term, not just in the moment.

When Saying Yes will Over Commit You

Blindly "yessing" your clients to death works great in the moment; they get immediate gratification and you avoid a potentially awkward or uncomfortable situation. But it’s not a permanent solution, and in the long-run, you’re actually doing you and your clients a big disservice.

You’re always better off under-promising and over-delivering than the other way around. By being more selective about what projects you take on and, more importantly, when, you’ll have the ability not only to deliver on your commitments but to exceed expectations.

The best way to do this is by developing a realistic timeline of your projects so that you’ll always know what your work capacity is. Only say yes when you know exactly what it is that you’re committing to and that you’re capable of accomplishing it.

When Their Request is Unreasonable

There are any number of unreasonable requests a client can make (What do you mean you don’t sell braised short ribs smothered in cheddar at this vegan establishment?) So you’ll need to handle them in whatever way works best.

But if a client specifically asks something of you that is immoral, unethical, or against policy, you are completely within your right to deny the request.

The paradox is that clients will actually respect you more for saying no if it shows integrity. It’s also good to get into the habit of being truthful with your clients; that’s not to say you need to share trade secrets, but developing a habit of being upfront about your practices can help build trust over time, leading to more repeat customers.  

When You’re Incapable of Meeting Their Request

Sometimes a client will ask something of you that is simply out of your wheelhouse entirely, and in these situations, you have two options:

  1. Agree to it and then quickly try to figure out how to get it done
  2. Recommend someone else who would be better equipped for handling the task

Both situations have their pros and cons, but what it comes down to is time commitment, cost, and your ability to deliver a satisfactory outcome.  Be realistic with yourself; if it’s going to cost you more to meet their request than what you’ll gain, you’re better off referring them elsewhere. And while you’re certainly not going to want to send them off to your biggest competitor, it can actually be in your benefit to establish a good rapport with another company in your industry that can offer what you can’t (and vice versa). Agreeing to something just because you don't want to say no will cause more damage to your reputation than whatever gains you might have gotten by turning the opportunity away.

For example, if you’re a high-end adult bike shop that is often approached for children’s beginner bikes, why not establish an agreement with the local, child-friendly shop that offers more middle of the road options? The idea is that you refer clients there for beginner bikes, and in turn, they send high-end clients your way. This way, customers are happy, there are no feelings of resentment, and everyone wins.

When You Can Offer a Better Alternative

The best possible scenario when saying no is when you can elaborate with a “No, but…” and open up the floor to new possibilities your client may not have considered. This is an opportunity to not only tout other service offerings, but to potentially upsell the client in the process.

It’s all a matter of shifting the client's mindset from focusing on your deficiencies to recognizing your strengths, and opening the conversation up to providing guidance and recommendations that are better suited to achieving the client's goals. By sticking to your guns and telling a client no when appropriate, you’ll gain respect and build a loyal customer following in the process.


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