How to Say No When a Client Isn't a Fit

July 15, 2022

Not every client is a fit for your business.

Working with the wrong people is like trying to put together Ikea furniture with someone you don't like; it starts okay and then becomes extremely frustrating and sometimes damaging in more ways than one. In contrast, when you work with a client that's perfectly suited for the product or service that you're offering, the heavens open up in a way like never before!

Oftentimes, the most profitable businesses are ones that focus on serving a specific niche or type of client. You can't be everything to everyone! Whether you're focusing on a specific area of service, industry, or type of project, specializing helps to create excellent guard rails around your business.

So, why is it so hard to say no to people?

A lot of people start a business because they love something and want to share it with as many people as possible. Though, as your business grows, you begin to understand more and more about your ideal customers - those people that you love to work with. As you grow, you begin to realize that the types of products or services that you're selling are best suited for a specific group of people.

You're Special for a Reason

Let's say you run a web design company. You make incredible websites for amazing organizations and people! You love working with smaller, growing brands as well as non-profits. Your passion is design, and you're good at it.

One day, someone comes along and says, "Your work is amazing! Can you help me design my web app?"

You've got experience designing beautiful websites, but you haven't worked on an app before. You know that, given enough time, you could probably make something functional. Your business is growing quickly, so you need the money, but this project isn't what you'd typically take on.

In most cases, it's best to say no to these kinds of projects. Be direct and let the prospective client know that you're not the best fit and are going to have to pass on their project.

While it might seem like an opportunity to earn extra cash to fuel your burgeoning business, this is secretly just a distraction in disguise. This might seem helpful in the short term because of the extra cash, but really, projects like this typically end up taking far more time and requiring far more resources than you originally anticipated. Because you don't have previous experience offering the requested product or service, it's almost impossible to come up with an accurate price!

Your business is designed to offer an incredible product or service to the people who need it. It's not designed to create something brand new when the right amount of money comes along.

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Is it worth it to develop a new product in my business?

It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that a new opportunity can give you space to develop something new, whether it's a new skill for your business of one or a new product for your growing company.

Products and services take a long time to develop and reach their full maturity. It's incredibly important to gauge the level at which your company's offering is. Are you able to fully support adding something new to your repertoire? Have you done enough research to know if this is something you can take on? Is your client aware your business may not be the best fit?

When a customer is requesting something that you don't have experience doing or creating, it's important to be upfront about what your company is capable of. Clients and customers always expect results. When using a new opportunity to develop something new, you're essentially gambling with your time and your client's money to see if you can make what they're looking for. If you decide to take on a project outside of your specialty and use the opportunity to create something new, be honest with your client. Let them know that you don't have prior experience doing what they're asking for, but that you're willing to give it a shot.

If you are open to working together but not fully committed to the idea, simply explain that you may not be the best option. Offer to try a test run so that you can limit the amount of time that you're committing to the project and ensure that you're able to handle the work.

How do you say no to a new client?

If you're looking for a way to say no, the best option is to always be direct. Letting your prospective client know that you're not the right fit will always provide an end to the conversation. It ensures that you're not wasting their time in any way and sets a firm boundary.

An excellent way to say no while still being helpful is by providing a referral. Referring business to someone who is more qualified to take on the project that your client is looking to get done can go a long way! You can build your credibility with the prospect by being self-aware of your limitations and you also have an opportunity to help a fellow business owner make a sale.

Creating deep referral relationships goes a long way in establishing a partnership with other businesses. While it's not guaranteed, people who receive referrals from you are far more likely to reciprocate when the time is right.

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Jeremy Millar
Written by:
Jeremy Millar

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