Turning down a client is never easy for a business owner. But what do you do when that seems like the best course of action? And more importantly, how do you do it?
Coaches may have to make these tough calls to protect their business or mental health, especially when faced with toxic clients, mounting workloads, backlogs, and stress.
There’s a proper way to deliver bad news. This article dives into how to say no to a client and helps identify occasions when refusing a client is the right thing to do.
When rejecting clients is the right move
Individual businesses differ in their needs and services, which is why rejecting client requests is ultimately a personal decision. But there are three everyday situations when it’s valid and vital to say no to a client:
1. When your to-do list is full
Understand and acknowledge your capacity so you don’t take on new clients or additional tasks when you can’t. As business owners, we promise to fulfill customer needs and provide excellent service in return for payment, and we must uphold these standards.
Not overburdening ourselves when our to-do list is full will help us meet expectations on time, deliver quality service, and maintain customer satisfaction. This is essential for building a great brand and a reputation for high-quality services.
2. When they can’t match your prices
No matter how tempting it is to give an interested customer a significant discount, doing so can devalue our services. As business owners, we understand the time, labor, and costs that have gone into our ventures and have set our prices fairly based on this calculation.
Also, agreeing to lower prices might set a precedent with the customer who requested the discount. It may be more difficult to charge those customers your regular rate since they’ll expect the same consideration again.
3. When you can’t fulfill their requests or expectations
We must understand our skills, qualifications, strengths, and weaknesses — these will inform what type of services we can confidently offer our clients. Coaches should also be aware of their limitations and not take on any work they’re not qualified for.
Communicate your limitations clearly to the client. Ideally, we should only take up work that we’re sure we can complete. Projects we aren’t prepared for will take more time and effort and should be valued at a different rate than what we usually charge. And if we’re unfamiliar with a subject, the extra effort to learn the nuances may consume more energy and time than we have.
We must also be honest with potential clients about their expectations. If they come to us with an unrealistic goal and timeframe, we should tell them that. Let’s say a potential client looking to start training at a gym wants to lose an unhealthy or unrealistic amount of weight in a week. We can take the opportunity to educate them on how that goal isn’t possible and explain what our coaching philosophy can actually help them achieve. If they remain stuck on their goal, it’s okay for us to tell them this coach-client relationship isn’t the right fit.
How to politely say no
Saying no to customers may be difficult, but we can do our best to keep the interaction pleasant and professional. Here are five tips to turn down clients gracefully:
1. Be open and listen to the client
When rejecting a customer, never jump the gun. Always hear them out and allow them to declare their expectations and needs before deciding. It’s good practice to reframe what the client said to them to show understanding or ask clarifying questions if necessary.
Remember not to dominate the conversation; listen more and speak less. The goal is to understand what the client wants and strive to meet that need when possible.
2. Show them you care
If you decide to reject a client’s request after careful deliberation, do so with empathy. Ensure that the client knows you understand their request and want to help. This way, the client is more likely to return later when you have the bandwidth to accommodate them.
3. Be honest
Always tell the truth. It may be tempting to appease clients with a white lie, but being transparent builds stronger relationships. Make honesty a part of your policy in every customer interaction. Clients can often tell when we’re being sincere, and a “no” will go down a lot better when they believe and sympathize with us. In doing this, we secure their goodwill and loyalty and build our brand.
4. Provide context
Context is essential when dealing with angry customers. Rejecting a client without effectively communicating with them will make you appear mean-spirited. So provide ample context about the circumstances around the decision to prove to the client that you mean well.
We always want to help our clients understand why we can’t complete their requests and assure them that it’s not personal.
5. Offer alternative solutions
When a client comes to us with a request we can’t fulfill, we can find other ways to be helpful. They obviously have a need, and in more cases, we may have ideas or alternatives (if not the time) to offer them. Doing this demonstrates your sincerity and shows that you care. It helps maintain your relationship with the client.
These tips can be anything: suggesting an alternative approach to overcome a challenge, rescheduling a deadline, or recommending another service. If we do this and follow up with clients to ensure their problems have been resolved, we demonstrate our commitment to them.
5 reasons to say no to a client
No matter how much we want to grow our coaching business, there are times when it’s best for everyone if we turn down a request. Rejecting a client is not easy, but here are five reasons to do it:
- To keep the workload manageable: If there’s a huge backlog and you’re struggling to catch up, perhaps it’s a good idea to work with what you’ve got. Be intentional in scheduling and accepting new tasks. Focus on giving your best to the projects on hand, rather than accepting too many and doing a mediocre job on all of them.
- To meet expectations: Sometimes, meeting and exceeding clients' expectations takes time. But even if it means you have to refuse a new project to do a good job with an existing client, the sacrifice may be worth your while. A satisfied client is more likely to recommend our work and make referrals to our business. This also means that we assess what expectations we can help meet. Set boundaries around what type of work you’re willing to do.
- For mental health: Avoid burning out by taking up only as much work as you can handle. Being a coach and solopreneur means constantly juggling roles and projects, which can get all-consuming. Ensure that you space out projects and add rest periods to your schedule, even if that means turning down a new client.
- To set your own terms: Saying no to requests that aren’t in your best interest sets your authority in your practice and aids in building healthy client relationships. We know what our businesses are about, and while there will always be opportunities for expansion and growth, we must ensure that our customers are aligned with our expectations.
- To keep unpleasant clients out: Some clients bring unnecessary stress and complicate our already massive workload. Dealing with such clients drains our already limited time, energy, and resources. It takes a toll on us and on the mental health of our employees. It also means that we have less to offer our other clients. Angry clients are the bane of any small business. They tend to damage our reputation on social media. In such cases, use your judgment and turn down a complicated client before they become your problem.
How to identify bad clients
Bad clients are potential business liabilities, so how do we watch out for them? Here are a few warning signs:
- They don’t want to pay: Some clients won’t stop haggling, and even after negotiations, they’re not willing to pay enough for your services. These clients demonstrate that they don’t value our services and will try to take advantage of our kindness.
- They expect all your attention: When a customer feels entitled and shows little respect for our time, company policy, or other commitments, it’s a trend that’s likely to stay.
- They’re fickle: Some clients can be unreasonable and demand changes on a whim. While there’s usually a way to negotiate requests, bad clients disregard our business hours and often give short notice when they want to change something.
- They don’t care for written agreements: It’s harder to go back on your word if it has been recorded in a written and signed agreement, which is why contracts and coaching agreements are essential to protect our businesses. We should be wary of clients who refuse to provide this legal safeguard.
Ultimately, learning how to say no to a client that’s asking too much is about being self-aware. When we understand our abilities and limitations, we can set our boundaries and decide how far we’re willing to go to make exceptions. We reject client requests mostly because we want to maintain service quality, protect our business and brand reputation, and our mental well-being — and that’s something to be proud of.
Are you finding it hard to keep track of your customer requests? Try Practice’s all-in-one client management system today.