I recently received an offer for a long-term project. Normally, I would be excited, but a few things stuck out in my mind:
The scope of his projects go outside of my area of specialty. Technically, I could help him, and he believes that my background proves this, but I’m not comfortable with certain tasks that fall outside of my core proficiencies.
He may ask for too much of me. A lot of the things he said and asked about reminded me of ‘problem clients’ that I’ve had in the past. Through those difficult experiences, I’ve learned to trust my intuition and steer clear of anyone that unsettles me in the least.
He may try to monopolize my time. I have several clients that need attention on daily bases, and I cannot afford to have one client clobber my productivity.
These items are discouraging me from proceeding with this prospect, and I believe that there may be other people who are better suited for the position. My question is: How do I decline, politely?
I’ve been thinking about either declining flat-out, declining to work on the portion that goes outside of my expertise, or referring this person to another professional. My goal is to leave this person with a positive impression, so that future work may come my way.
Have you ever had this experience? What did you do? How did it work out in the long term? Was it a decision that you came to regret, later on?
Sounds like you already have a polite answer ready.
I don’t have the time with my existing client base to take on a project with a learning curve like this one. May I suggest that you contact XXX as I feel that he would be in a better position to assist you at this time.
I had to decline something today in fact. I just have too much on my plate currently and can’t take on anymore. The client had a deadline of 1 August so I just explained the current situation and offered to recommend him to someone else. He was fine with that and indicated if I wasn’t available, he would in fact like a recommendation.
Now, I would have loved to have taken on this client…just don’t have the time. You stated you think this client could monopolize your time. you could be in the same situation.
Edit: another thing to consider would be for you to accept the contract and outsource the areas outside of your expertise. I’ve done that before.
Like everyone has mentioned, I usually decline the offer by informing the client that my client load is full right now but would be willing to recommend a person to complete the job. This allows you to turn down a project you want without insulting the client, at the same time it maintains a good business image that you are willing to help them out by recommending another business they can contact (instead of saying “Sorry, not interested. Good luck finding another person to do it”).
You could take on the project and outsource most of it, but if you are getting the feeling that the client may take up a lot of your time, it may actually “cost” you money in the end (spending time relaying information and changes to your contacts cuts out of your productivity time). Usually, if I get this feeling from a client I will either decline the project or raise my rates to accommodate. Whether you think it’s worth it to take on is up to you.
I think I’m probably the king of turning down work. I typically decline two or three projects for every one I take on.
Some of it is economics; when it’s clear that I’m talking to someone on a shoestring budget who’s considering spending his $200 food budget on a hundred words of web copy, I know it’s not going to lead to anything. It’s also going to be a lot of trouble. I can usually afford to hang back and wait for someone with a healthy budget. I turn them away quickly and apologetically.
Most of the time, though, I either just don’t have any interest in their project, or their situation is such that it would be far too difficult to leave them a happy client. If I look at the situation and see a high potential of an unhappy client - no matter what I do - I turn down the project. This could be because of their attitude on the phone, or because they’ve painted themselves into an SEO corner and they want me to magically get them out of it, or because they seem to expect me to craft perfect copy on no input. In the end, it’s a vibe thing. If there’s no real rapport in that first call, I almost always turn down the work.
I used to take on every project that came my way, and then I wised up. Since then I’ve worked quite a bit less, but have made a lot more money. Never hire a client you wouldn’t go fishing with.
In any case, I usually just email them back (don’t do it on the phone), thanking them for their time and interest, but politely turning down their project on the grounds that I don’t believe that they would get full value from the relationship; I’m simply not the right writer for them. I assure them that there are plenty of good writers out there, point them to my website article on hiring copywriters, and wish them well and good luck.
Another option on the low budget prospect is to simply state that their project isn’t economically feasible for you to take on (i.e., “I’d lose money”). That’s what an attorney would do if you hired one to file a lawsuit with slim success chances and little collection odds.
One point: the only reason to recommend another professional is that you’re too busy to take work that you’d really like to take on. Never refer troublemakers to your competitors; it’s unprofessional and will destroy potential for valuable industry alliances later on. The problem child will find them on his own.
At any rate, never hire a client simply because you don’t know how to turn down work. Trust me, it won’t follow you, especially if you’re professional about it. An annoyed, rejected prospect is far, far better than an angry, disappointed client.
Ya, I think it is normally to just say the truth. Something like this:
I would like to thank you for contacting me for your job of (insert job). Although I am flattered that you considered me for this, I am going to have to respectfully decline your offer. I am afraid that I do not have the ability to complete the job up to your standards, and would not want to deliver you subpar material. I recommend that you contact (insert another coder’s name and email) for this current job, as he is a great coder with a good reputation. I am very sorry that I can not complete this for you, but I hope you understand. If you ever need any future work done, or scripts written, plese send me an email, and I will get on it. Thank you,
I have a form letter that I use. Since most of the people I reject do not have an appropriate budget, it’s specific to that…
[size=1]Dear «Title» «Last name» :
Thank you for taking the time to explain your online plans for «Company». It sounds as though you have spent a good deal of time setting goals and deciding on just the plan to get you where you want to go.
But frankly I’m disappointed. In putting the numbers together, I can’t figure a way that I can provide you the quality design and service you require at the price your budget allows. I wish I had a more positive answer. But I would never consider contracting to provide any work that I could not fully guarantee. To offer quality design and workmanship, I feel that I could not stay within your price expectations. I do appreciate your considering my firm for the work.
I am very impressed with the operations of your company and wish you the best for future growth.
I agree with Robert and it looks like you already know what to do so most of the mental battle is over. I had to go through several high maintenance clients and a short income/hour exercise before I figured it out. I also agree that referring problem clients to someone else doesn’t help your credibility.
I’d recommend telling them why you can’t help them at this time and give them some direction like a job site or other resource they can go to and get some education. When I ask for help from someone and they decline I always appreciate a piece of information that will keep me moving forward. I’m sure your potential clients will appreciate it. Good luck!
Well, after spending some time going over this in my head, I decided to write this fellow a short, simple email:
I’ve spent some time going over your requirements, and I regret to inform you that I wish to decline your offer. I feel that your needs extend beyond my area of expertise, and that someone else may be a better fit for the position that you are looking to fill.
Thank you very much for your interest, and for your time. I also wish you luck in your search.
It fell a little short of what I wanted to say, but it was the best I could do. I couldn’t think of anyone who I could recommend this guy to, nor could I think of anyone who would want to work with this guy.
Ehh, whatever. I’m not losing any sleep over this.
I’d like to offer a different approach than simply declining the offer (and forgive me if it’s mentioned above as I didn’t read every post).
Instead of simply declining (which there is absolutely nothing wrong with) I tend to just price the project accordingly. If, as you say, he may monopoloize your time or require skills you may not have (leading you to outsource those parts of the project) just make sure you cover those things in the price of the project.
It will make the project seem much more expensive, probably so expensive that he actually decides not to hire you. There are no hard feelings and he can find someone more affordable to help him with his project.
I do this on small jobs all the time. I get people who call me and they want a website in 2 weeks - and only a 5-10 page site at that. I have about 8-10 projects going on at a time so fitting in a small website with a demanding client is not something I want to do. So I just quote the project accordingly. It might be twice, or even three times what I might normally charge for that website. But, if they choose to hire me I know I am at least going to be compensated well for the trouble of having so much on my plate and having such a demanding client for those few weeks.
This may not always be an option - if you just cannot fit them into your schedule you shouldn’t even give them the option (unless of course you can outsource any of the project).
Still, before you simply turn down a job - think of this approach.
I am also of this practice of simply pricing the project accordingly. The only difference is that with such projects where I project the client to be problematic, my pricing is broken down and attributed to milestones even more so than my typical pricing formula. This helps avoid many common issues with problematic clients as there is a clear road map for being compensated for my time and should any problems arise where they wish to go outside of the scope of the project, I simply point to the road map as means for justifying additional invoicing on the new items.
If the price does not scare them away and they wish to play ball based on my road map, then I have most likely avoided 90% of the problems. If the price does scare them away, then you can offer a recommendation to someone more fitting if you know such a firm or individual.
Also, you mentioned not being skilled for a certain portion of the project. As beley mentioned, this is a good opportunity to hire a sub-contractor who can handle that aspect of the project. I emphasized this as a good opportunity due to the fact that if you scout out the right sub-contractor, this is a person that will return the favor by sending you clients in the future that are not up their alley. If you are comfortable as a project manager, you can also turn this into another aspect of your service line by using this person on a regular basis at their rates + a project management fee (mine is +50% of their rate) for yourself.
None of these options seemed good to me at the time. Just from speaking on the phone, he sounded like many clients that I have worked for in the past. These clients haggled every last bit of energy/time/money out of me and rarely gave enough compensation in return.
I had a strong gut instinct to not engage with this person. I can’t put a price on my dignity and happiness.