When trying to grow a business, one the hardest things to do is say to no to any kind of new revenue. Cash flow is so important in the early stages of development that many people will accept any type of new business out of fear that the next lead may be a while. This thought pattern will actually lead to stagnation or worse, a decline in revenue.
In order to grow your business, and maintain your sanity, you must learn to say NO. Saying no to potential new clients is something they do not teach in business school, and in the real world of entrepreneurship, is very difficult.
We have experienced growth year after year, and one element that continues to thrive is that we actually have become more selective on who we choose to work with. I know that seems a little backwards, as clients are also choosing to work with us, but let’s face it, clients shop around, so why shouldn’t you?
Accepting less than your ideal client usually has one of three outcomes:
- You work way too hard to make them happy, and end up eating it on your hourly rate or sacrificing sleep and time with your family.
- The project gets completed to your standards and their expectations, but you never hear from them again. No repeat business, no quality referrals, and no raving fans that will help promote your brand.
- The project goes sideways and you find yourself either in a contract dispute, or end up working for free after you give a refund.
FYI, all of these have happened to us in the past, and one of the ways we have been able to maintain a steady stream of great clients now, is by being selective and regularly just saying no. It took us awhile to get here, but after looking back we have identified some common elements that usually lead to less than an ideal client or project outcome.
Six Red Flags That May Signal The Need To Say No!
Your prospect is price shopping.
If during your initial conferences, your prospective client is too focused on cost, and not results, you have two options; say no, or see how good of a salesperson you are and use the opportunity to convince them why you are truly worth the investment. Sometimes people just need a little nudge to move forward. If their only concern is price, nothing you say will change their mind.
Your prospect doesn’t really want to work, or has unrealistic expectations.
This is harder to sniff out during a preliminary meeting, because most people are genuinely excited about starting something new. The key to filtering out the prospective clients who have a get rich quick mentality, or approach their business like a hobby or side job, is to set clear expectations before a contract is signed. It’s OK to set expectations for clients before you engage in business. The ones that are truly ready to work with you will appreciate your seriousness, and the ones that are not will move along to someone else who will tell them what they want to hear.
You don’t understand or believe in what your prospect is doing.
If during your preliminary interviews, your client can’t articulate their ideas enough for you to understand their vision and their goals you are probably not meant to work together. Also, if they engage in something that you have a moral dilemma with or simply find ridiculous, don’t take their money and try to do a good job, because you won’t.
Your prospect asked you to do something that is out of your circle of competence.
If someone asks you to do something that you do not know how to do, kindly decline, but use this as an opportunity to evaluate if their request fits into your big vision of yourself and your business. If it does, you should be motivated to go out and enhance your skill set and grow your offerings. The first time you try something new in your business, it shouldn’t be an experiment on your client’s dime.
They do not understand or value your process.
Our roots were formed as a design company, and still rely on our creative process to get the results we get. This takes time. I have yet to find someone who can create someone’s brand, design their logo and collateral materials, build an awesome website, conduct keyword research for SEO, craft a marketing plan, and then get the implementation going in a week. After you explain everything, if your prospective client doesn’t understand why it takes the time for you to work your magic, they may not be the bet fit for you.
No matter what nothing you do for them will help.3h>
It is easy to take money from someone; the hard part is feeling good about. If your potential client has a flawed business model or engages in practices that you know will not convert sales, and is not ready to receive constructive criticism, they are not your ideal person to work with. Let them down easy and move on.
How to Say NO Gently and Professionally
After you have made the mental decision to say no to your potential client you must do it gently and professionally. One good tactic is to state that you are simply too busy to take on any additional clients, and then provide an actual referral to somebody else. This is great a chance to refer business to someone you may be in competition with or someone who needs the work more than you. They are not your ideal client anyways, so who cares, and they will love you for it. A little Karma goes a long ways.
It is hardest to say no the first time, because you are turning down revenue. We personally have said no to some monster projects, based just on the vibe we got from the prospect. It was really tough turning down that much money, but after looking back, I am really glad we did. It just wasn’t a good fit and would have probably sucked us dry.
So trust me, after a few times it gets easier to say no, and after a while, you will only be working with your ideal clients who will truly value your abilities, become raving fans and repeat customers for life, and provide an endless supply of quality referrals.