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Sunday, 05 November 2017
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My 3 Step Process for Turning Down Prospective Clients

pile of red cards with NO on all of them

My 3 Step Process for Turning Down Prospective Clients

Ok let me set the scene:


A prospective client reaches out to you (via website, social or network referral) and you setup a call to discuss their needs. On said call, you determine there is something not ideal in this scenario. It could be the budget, timeline, scope of work, your schedule or simply a gut feeling.


Your brain is also saying this to you:


“But [INSERT YOUR NAME HERE], this is money. Money has literally walked in the door and said ‘will you keep me?’ Who are you to TURN DOWN money???”

Why We Need to Turn Down Clients

Well I’ll tell you who you are. You are a smart business owner who knows that all money is not created equal and sometimes we need to say “no” to that money standing in our doorway asking to come inside and make us their new home. It’s funny because “No” is often one of our first words as children, yet it’s the first word we FORGET as we get older, particularly when it comes to entrepreneurship.


In times like these, when something about the scope of work or prospect call feels off, it is important to remember this:


Just because someone wants to work with you does not mean you have to work with them!


When times are lean (or new) the desire to say yes to any and all money walking in the door is strong. (Like The Rock kinda strong)


However, we often must learn the hard way that saying “Yes” to everyone who wants to hire us is not the way to build a fun, scalable, and fulfilling business. After all, did you start your own business to be miserable while working crazy hours ALL the time with difficult people? Yeah, I didn’t think so.


That’s why it’s so important to have clarity on your ideal client persona and realistic expectations for your own schedule. Fuzziness on either account will lead to:


  1. saying yes to the wrong fit client who later will make you miserable (gut feelings never lie!)
  2. overcommitted and therefore missing other important things in your life
  3. delivering a service/product below your normal standards because of 1 and 2


Is that the kind of life you want? Again, I didn’t think so. That means you have to turn down that money in the doorway. Here’s how I do it.

Declining That Prospective Client

I keep my approach quite simple by combining blunt honesty with politeness. Example:


“I’m glad we had a chance to discuss your project/needs, but I just don’t think I am the right fit for this.” 


With this response, the reason I am not the right fit could be a lack of skill set or budget needed to truly crush the project. (I don’t half a** my work after all.) OR, it could be a wrong fit client for any other number of reasons including a mismatch in personality or approach to work.


Now, let’s say the prospect seems great, but the timeline for when they need things completed would leave you with a lack of any life outside of work. That is a totally fair reason to say no to the engagement and here’s how you do it without losing the contact.


“I’m glad we had a chance to discuss your project/needs, but I won’t be able to deliver what you need in the time period required. Keep me in mind next time you have a bit longer of a runway for completion.” 


Whichever approach is the better fit, these are my 3 tried and true tips:


Step 1: Never be rude.

Even if your first thought is, “OMG this person is crazy. I don’t want to talk with them, nevertheless work with them,” you should always be polite. You never know how big someone’s network is and the impact, positive or negative, they could have on your business and brand reputation.


Step 2: Avoid leaving them hanging.

If you can provide a referral to someone else who is a better skill/personality/timeline fit, definitely do so. Even a bit of guidance on how to find someone more fitting would be better than saying “no” and sending them back to square one.


Step 3: Always tell the truth.

There is a difference between honesty and transparency. You can be honest “I’m not the right fit” without being transparent “because you seem like a handful and I want none of your crazy in my life.” Focus on honesty and resourcefulness.


Following these steps you’ll be able to turn down the client/project and still keep a positive brand reputation and some semblance of the work/life structure you want. After all, not all money is created equal. Turning down the wrong fit client leaves space for the RIGHT fit to come knocking.

Channing Muller is an award winning marketing & public relations consultant and the principal of DCM Communications. She works with event professionals and business owners to grow and scale their businesses with refined marketing strategies developed through one-on-one and group consulting, customized marketing programs and public relations. She has been named a "25 Young Event Pro to Watch" by Special Events magazine and "40 Under 40" by Connect Meetings. Channing is an avid runner, lover of labrador retrievers, good food, delicious drinks, and an advocate for the American Heart Association. Follow her on Instagram @ChanningMuller.

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