If there’s one thing no business owner wants to do, it’s to say “no” to a potential client — especially when it means losing a project or account. So — when is it okay to say no in your business?
Sometimes we set aside reason in the quest to land a new client, and, sometimes, throwing caution to the wind does work out.
Running a business is a learning process, and missteps will happen. They key is to not make so many missteps that you misstep yourself out of business, and that starts with knowing when to say no.
When a No is Better Than a Yes
There are five main situations when you should consider saying no. You’re probably aware of them, because they’re situations that don’t feel right:
- A client is asking you to take on a task you’re not experienced with
- A client is making an unusual amount of special requests before the project starts
- A client is requesting service with a much faster turnaround than you can normally manage
- A client doesn’t know what he wants
- A client asks you to do a job for well below your standard rate
There are exceptions to every rule, of course, but these are red flags that should make you pause and, in many cases, simply say no.
When you desperately need work or are just starting out, any of these situations can seem worth the money, but be careful — sometimes you can actually lose money from not saying no.
Requests That Are Out of Your Range of Expertise
There are many reasons why someone might look to hire someone with to take on a project outside of their area, and most have to do with saving money.
A writer with rudimentary design skills or a graphic designer with rudimentary writing skills, for example, can save a client money by doing the job of two people, in theory.
In reality, unless you really are experienced in several areas, you’re probably looking at an unsatisfied customer who gets exactly what he pays for (and might decide not to pay out of dissatisfaction).
Even if you manage to pull it off, it will probably take you a lot longer than a project focused on your area of expertise.
I once got hired to write copy for some simple banners ads — a quick and simple job — then I found out that the client wanted me to actually make the ads, design and all.
I only knew very basic (and out of date, for the most part) design, but I also knew that I could probably pull it off.
He wasn’t asking for a pop-up animation, just a simple design using images he provided. And, in my mind, the pay would be worth it.
I did manage to pull it off. But the time it took me to do a good job using a program I wasn’t experienced with meant the work fell well below what I normally earn when broken down by hour.
Too Many Special Requests
Sometimes, you have to bend to accommodate a client if you want to land or retain them, and, often, that’s OK.
But watch out for the client who asks you repeatedly to make exceptions to your business policies for them.
One example may be the client who is only able to meet with you at odd hours.
If the job is big enough, it’s a small inconvenience, but if meeting at odd hours goes on top of other special requests, it could wind up costing you valuable time and resources.
If a client expects you to meet with them by phone for an hour at every step — steps that are ordinarily handled online or with a brief call — you’re losing money unless you count phone time as billable hours.
I don’t bill for phone calls, because my phone time with clients is generally either minimal or built in to my rate, except for those one or two clients from whom I learned that it isn’t worth it to accept clients who have process expectations that are wildly different from mine.
You’re likely to say yes to a project with an unreasonable turnaround if you’re going through a dry spell, with no work in sight.
And if you are desperate for work, working straight through the night might not be a big deal.
If you’re not that desperate, but don’t want to turn down a project (and the “rush” fees that should go with it), biting off more than you can chew can cost you.
If the client is paying more than your regular rate (due to the fast turnaround), but you can’t deliver the same quality your do regularly, it’s best to just say no.
Otherwise, you’ll have a client who’s dissatisfied with the work but has no choice but to use it.
Do you really want to be that business who delivered a shoddy rush job? I didn’t think so.
Potential clients who have no idea what they want may work for certain business types, but for most of us, a clear idea of what the client needs is crucial to a successful business relationship.
If a potential client comes to you with a vague idea, and don’t seem any less vague after a consultation, it might be worth turning down the job.
As good as you think you are, if they can’t tell you what they really need, they likely won’t know what they don’t want until after you’ve spent time creating it.
A revision or two is par for the course for many businesses, but with a vague client, you’re destined for multiple revisions, increased scope, or even a complete change of direction.
In short, if you don’t know exactly what the potential client is asking you to do, give it a pass.
There will always be times when you cut your rate or donate your time, whether it’s to give a friend a bargain or to volunteer for charity.
Sometimes, you might be tempted to accept a job that pays well below your regular rate just because you need the work, especially when you’re just starting out.
The problem with accepting jobs that pay significantly less than your regular rate is that you’re locking yourself into a bad rate with a client that’s likely to want to do more business with you (and why not? They’re getting a great deal).
You want return clients, of course, but if you go too low in the beginning, you’ll have to tell them no sooner or later.
It’s best to nip these kinds of clients in the bud from the start. It’s fine (and realistic) to have a secret minimum that’s a bit below your “sticker price,” if you stick to it.
Anything less should be an automatic no.
Saying no when necessary is just good for business.
Do you have any business dealbreakers? Share your “no” policies or stories about times when you really should have said no in the comments.
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