How to Survive Saying No to a Client

Alyssa Gregory
Alyssa Gregory

When you’re working with clients, it’s important to have boundaries based on clear communication and mutual respect. Then, when you have established your boundaries comes the difficult task of enforcing them.

What happens when enforcing policies means saying no? In many cases, you may run the risk of losing an ally in the other party once the word “no” leaves your mouth. This is why it’s so important to figure out a way to honor your boundaries while making connections and developing relationships — even when you need to say no.

Here are a few situations when you may need to say no to a client with examples of gentler ways to do it.

A Non-Ideal Client Wants to Hire You

The Situation:

You’ve been communicating with a potential client and through your communication you are certain that this client is not an ideal client for you. The client, however, thinks you’re perfect and wants to get started ASAP.

The Gentler No:

“I’m flattered that you think I’m up to the task, but I have to be honest. I don’t think I’m the best match for you and your project [you can elaborate here on why, if you choose]. I’d love to send your information to a colleague who may be a better fit for your specific needs [assuming you’ve given your colleague the rundown and have gotten his/her okay].”

A Client has Unrealistic Deliverables and Deadlines

The Situation:

You’ve been working on a project, and the client revises your proposed timeline with overly aggressive milestones and unrealistic deliverables.

The Gentler No:

“Wow, I love your optimism on the project plan revisions! I think we can meet [compromise on one or two points, if possible], but let’s rework the rest of the estimates so we’re closer to what we originally discussed when we scoped out the project. If all goes well, we might hit those optimistic milestones anyway.”

A Client’s Idea Isn’t Doable/Relevant/Appropriate

The Situation:

The client takes your mockup and cuts and pastes it into a new design that isn’t feasible, isn’t aligned with what they initially wanted and/or lacks a professional appeal.

The Gentler No:

“I see you have some new ideas for the design. I think I have a better idea of what you’re looking for now. Let me take another stab at the design based on what we talked about and the feedback you’re providing [ideally, you’ll be able to extract one or two of the changes they really want and work it into a new design that solves the other problems].”

A Client Requests Last-Minute Work

The Situation:

A client emails you at 2:00 pm on a Friday afternoon with an emergency project he/she wants completed by Monday. It is not urgent from business standpoint, but the client just wants it done and off his/her plate as soon as possible (waiting would not have a direct impact on the business).

A Gentler No:

“I’m not working this weekend, but I’d love to tackle this next week. Let’s touch base on Monday to discuss the project and a timeline.”

A Common Thread…

All of these examples have one thing in common – the gentler no focuses on respecting the client, compromising and offering an alternative whenever possible. Ultimately, if your goal is to give the client what they need to feel valued, appreciated and listened to, you can’t lose.

Have you ever been in any of these situations? Did you try a gentler no? Did you get the result you wanted?

Image credit: jurvetson