Telling someone that you won’t be able to work with them doesn’t start with the words you say to the potential client. It starts with the conversation that you have with yourself. There are four questions you must ask yourself before taking on a new customer or project to gain clarity around your enthusiastic “Yes!” or your firm but honest “No.”
Yasmine Cheyenne is a mental and spiritual wellness coach who focuses on teaching people how to implement self-healing practices so they can succeed both in business and life.
“As a mental and spiritual wellness coach, time and again I’ve seen clients skip over this internal inquisition, silence the voice in their head, and brazenly ignore their personal and professional boundaries. They take on customers they knew they shouldn’t have—but couldn’t find the courage or the right words to turn them down. Just two minutes of introspection can keep you from months of agony working with someone who wasn’t the right fit,” explains Cheyenne.
Here’s how she recommends we decide to turn down a client.
1. Ask Yourself: Do I Really Have Time For This?
“It can be difficult to turn down an opportunity, especially during financially precarious times like these. But the truth is, taking on more projects isn’t the answer when you don’t know how you’ll find the time to complete them,” says Cheyenne. “If you ask yourself this question, and are genuinely struggling to figure out where the hours in the day will come from, that’s a red flag.”
“It’s also important to note that when you say yes to projects that you don’t have time for, it may lead to you to being overwhelmed and unable to focus on the projects that you’ve already committed to,” warns Cheyenne. “Saying no to projects may be scary because it feels like you’re turning away opportunities, but if you’re already swamped, it’s the right thing to do – not only for the potential client – but also for your current clients, and for you. Politely let them know that you’re booked through X date. And remember that being in short supply may increase their demand for you down the line when you are free.”
2. Ask Yourself: Is This A “Not Just Yet” Instead Of A “No”?
“If you’re genuinely interested in a project but having hesitations, take a step back and think about what you would need to make this project work for both you and the client. Time and money are two factors that can often turn a ‘not just yet’ into a ‘yes!’” says Cheyenne.
“For example, are you saying no to the project because your schedule is packed at the moment? If so, let them know that you’re very interested in being a part of the project and ask if there’s flexibility in the timeframe because of your schedule.
“Are you saying no to the project because the compensation offered by the potential client doesn’t match what they’ve asked you to do? If so, perhaps you could negotiate and ask for a higher fee or you could ask them to change the tasks/deliverables you’d be responsible for to better meet your rate.
“If they’re unable to meet your requests, that’s a red flag that this project isn’t a good fit for you. Thank them for the opportunity and let them know you hope to work together at some point in the future.”
3. Ask Yourself: Can I Refer Them To Someone Else?
“Perhaps once you hear about the project you realize that it sounds amazing but you know it isn’t for you. This is completely okay! In fact, it’s an incredible opportunity to refer the company to other people in your network,” suggests Cheyenne. “Not only are you honoring your needs by being honest with yourself and them that this isn’t the right fit for you, but you also don’t leave the company hanging.
“You’re also exercising an important skill: relationship-building. Don’t be surprised if your colleague returns the favor down the line by sending a potential client to you or supporting your business in some other way.”
4. Ask Yourself: Do I Even Need To Respond?
“There will be times when you receive opportunities that you won’t want to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to. You’ll just want to delete them. Although it’s customary to try and respond to all emails or interest, it’s actually not always required.
“Some people may try to coerce you into answering their email by sending you the same message multiple times or asking for a response ‘asap.’ Know that you can put emails in the trash that feel spammy, aggressive, or that you’ve already answered and said no to. You’re not obligated to waste endless hours explaining why a request takes more than 24 hours to respond to, why a product isn’t in alignment with your business values or why you feel like you’re being solicited instead of offered an opportunity. Just click delete and move on.”
Not every person who reaches out is a good fit – be sure to go through these questions when deciding to say yes (or no) to a new client.