We’re coaches — our days involve helping others and guiding them toward more fulfilling lives.
We motivate and encourage our clients, meaning we have more experience saying “Yes, you can” than “No, you can’t.”
But it’s often beneficial to ourselves and our clients to say “no" occasionally. Potential clients may ask for services we don’t offer or time we don’t have, and current clients may expect an objective to take less time than we know it will.
When we say “yes” to committing resources we don’t have, we could weaken our business and set our clients up for failure.
In this article, we’ll discuss how to turn down client requests so that when the situation arises — and it surely will — you’ll be ready to handle it with confidence and grace.
When to turn down requests
Here are a few examples of red flags that suggest it’s best to say “no”:
- When the request doesn’t align with your philosophy: Your values matter. If a client asks you to practice methods you’re not familiar or comfortable with or to provide services outside your purview, like therapy or consulting, take a step back. Saying “no” keeps your ethics in check and ensures you don’t take on a role you’re unprepared for.
- When you feel strapped for time and space: You can’t pour from an empty cup, so it’s essential to prioritize your mental health. Turn down requests for services when you’re already at capacity. Striking a healthy work-life balance ensures you continue to provide excellent services, protect your personal life, and avoid burnout.
- When a client has an unattainable goal: If a client wants to make a change you think is impossible in the time you’ll be working together or in the type of program you offer, trust your gut and say so. You don’t have to decline the client’s project entirely. Explain your services to the client and be straightforward about what you can accomplish together. If they insist, point them in the direction of another coach.
How to decline a request
The best way to manage a difficult client request is to go in prepared. Here are some tips for drafting the perfect response to a client who wants something you can’t give:
- Make sure you understand what the client is asking for. Ask any follow-up questions you need to get a clearer idea of their request before drafting your response.
- Come up with solutions and offer alternatives. A hard “no” isn’t the only solution. If there are ways to modify the client’s request into one you can fulfill, do so. For example, if you usually don’t coach remotely but can make an exception if the client covers the video-call costs, offer this.
- Write it. Drafting and memorizing a polite denial paragraph is a good role-play exercise, even if you think you may be able to meet a client halfway. A version of this will come in handy in another situation. You can start by apologizing for not being able to fulfill the request or thanking the client to set a positive tone.
- Give clear, firm reasons. Be upfront and explain why you can’t take on a new project or satisfy the client’s request. Empathy and mutual understanding go a long way in situations like these.
How to say “no” in different formats
Here are some tips for politely declining requests via the most common communication mediums.
Most of us skim our emails, so the number-one rule to writing a polite rejection is to be as clear and brief as possible while remaining friendly. Being polite and direct are not contradictory. You can use kind, formal language, thank the client for their time, and continue to show your generosity by pointing them in a direction that’s better suited to their goals.
Offer a call if the client wants to talk further, but be mindful of your time. If they take you up on a clarification conversation, limit it to a reasonable amount of time, like fifteen minutes. Tip: Save common responses as email templates for the future.
If you use a professional messaging platform like Practice to communicate with your clients, you’ll want to craft an even briefer explanation. Just as you might in an email, offer a fifteen-minute follow-up call.
If you use your phone (not a computer) to write these messages, take the time to clean up the grammar and style of your note before sending it. It’s easy to make errors on a phone keyboard — not to mention the havoc auto-correct can wreak.
Over the phone
Phone calls are tricky. You don’t have the benefit of writing a clear, concise message and waiting for a response — you have to react in the moment. We recommend writing bulleted notes of all necessary points. If it helps, write out word-for-word information and practice it before making the call.
Unless you’re using a video-calling application, your client won’t see your positive body language, so try to modulate your tone and keep the conversation as friendly as possible. End the discussion on a high note by offering an alternative like adjusted services or a coach that’s a better fit.
You can use body language to your advantage when denying a client’s request face-to-face. Smile, avoid closed-off behavior like crossed arms, and make eye contact.
The downside of in-person conversations is that you must think on the spot and avoid escalation. Listen attentively to any questions, and take a deep breath before responding. You can also make notes ahead of time to feel better prepared and less nervous. This preparation may include having client-relevant forms on-hand and alternatives ready to suggest.
Do right by your clients
Declining requests protects your integrity and work-life balance. And while they may not see it immediately, saying “no” is always in a client’s best interest. Working with a burnt-out coach who doesn’t feel prepared for the request is never the experience a client hopes for.
Streamline day-to-day business operations so you can handle more requests and increase your referral rate with a customer relationship management (CRM) tool. Practice allows you to store important documents such as client intake forms and coaching proposal templates, communicate with clients, and authorize payments — all in one place. Try it today.