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"How to say 'no' to clients"
07 March 2011
\"I've had an enquiry from a potential client but I don't think I'm the right supplier for them. How do I say no to the work?\"
Not every potential client is a good client. But saying 'no' to work can be tricky. In fact I think we often say 'yes' to work because in the short term it's a lot easier to say 'yes' than it is to say 'no'!
Because of this I think it's good to have a plan of action for dealing with work that you are going to reject. When you have a plan, saying 'no' becomes a process rather than a drama.
In most cases the potential clients that you don't want to work with are those that don't value your offering. They tend to be the ones who pressurize you to lower your price or add in extras at no cost.
The first part of the plan for dealing with 'no's then is to understand whether or not you are in a situation to negotiate with a client who is pressurizing you to lower your prices.
I suggest that before anyone even asks you for a lower price you do some preparation work and calculate whether it is actually feasible for you to skinny down your offering and strip enough costs out to make it profitable for you. I urge you to do this when you haven't got a potential client breathing down your neck because calculations made when you are not under pressure are much more objective than those performed in the heat of negotiation.
The second part of the plan kicks in if you can't profitably provide a lower price service, and the answer is to find a competitor who can. The beauty of this is that you leave your potential client with a solution - even though it's not yours - and they then regard the interaction with you as useful.
The final part of the plan is that you practice the 'no' conversation. Something along the lines of \"We work best with clients with x sort of problem and our pricing reflects that, if that doesn't suit you, you may want to try Company B....\" often works well. Such a conversation neatly explains what you are best at (or famous for) and your potential client will remember that. I know of many businesses that have received quality referrals via rejected potential clients because those potential clients finished up with a very good understanding of the business's expertise.
Saying no to work is never easy, but if you know that the work isn't the right fit for you and you are armed with a plan to say 'no' gracefully, rejecting work will start to feel like a more natural process.