Wondering when to say no to a new client can be tricky

Do you know when to say NO to a new client?

Have you ever felt confronted by a potential new client?

Do you know WHEN to say NO to a new client?

Have you met someone in person, or over the phone, who was interested in using your products or services, but they just made you feel uncomfortable?

It happens to all of us at some point, and the most important things to remember are:

  • IT’S OK – you do NOT have to work with everyone who approahes you
  • if the person makes you feel uncomfortable for ANY reason, you do not have to work with them
  • if the potential client keeps talking over you and won’t let you finish your sentences, imagine how that’s going to work for every single conversation you have with them — that’s right — it won’t work.

Some time ago in another city far, far away …

I was approached by a lady who had heard of me and needed my help. The first conversation was very short as she wanted to see how I sounded over the phone, and wanted to make sure I was living locally, as she didn’t want to deal with people who were not in the same town.

She went on to explain that she’d had many website people, developers, SEO people work on her site over the past 7 years, and they all did the wrong thing by her (Warning Bell #1!).

On the second phone call a few days later, I was asked if I’d visited the website, and was then grilled as to just how much of the content I’d “heard” so that I could understand where this lady was “coming from”. I replied that I hadn’t “heard” anything as I didn’t find audio or video files — it was all text, and it was suggested that perhaps I didn’t understand what was meant.  At first hearing, this sounds quite acceptable, but as the grilling became more intense I realised I was expected to understand the entire spiritual journey of many years and everything which had been studied along the way – which of course I couldn’t possibly have done.

The lady sounded very frustrated with me, and I was asked if the site “spoke to me” – I tried to speak but was talked over again, the lady then wondered out loud whether I was on the same wavelength.  When I tried to reply, I was prevented from doing so as this lady spoke over me again — until I finally managed to be forceful and asked how I could help.

I was told I would need to “collaborate”, so I thought it would be a good idea to work out exactly what this would entail.  When I asked what that meant exactly for this Project, I was advised rather abruptly that the conversation wasn’t “flowing” for this lady, and that was my cue — this was not going anywhere.

I politely thanked her and we said our goodbyes, and when I hung up the phone I felt such a sense of relief.

When someone is domineering – even in the nicest possible way – and doesn’t want to hear — or listen — to what you have to say, it’s a giant sign telling you to step away – right now – as this is not how a good working relationship should start.

And no — I never did hear from her again, so it worked out perfectly.

Many moons ago I took on difficult clients against my better judgement when I needed the money, but inevitably there were many problems with each of those projects, and the downside far outweighed any good points — and each of the projects ended up costing me many days and even weeks of time for which I was never fully paid.

This reminds me of another very sticky situation …

Another potential client contacted me about ten years ago via a very dear friend of mine – he was in a bit of a jam and needed a website in a hurry.

We spoke on the phone, he sounded rather pushy (which I pushed to the back of my mind), he sent me all his information, and I followed his instructions to the letter.

I contacted him every two days throughout the project (at his request) and he kept mentioning my friend’s name, to remind me of our connection – in a very odd “false cammeraderie” type of way.  He was extremely demanding and nit-picky over things which he believed were my fault or problem, but they were actually to do with the text and images he’d provided. It seemed as though I couldn’t do what he could see in his mind’s eye.

The agreed payment was well and truly used up and I spent hours on the phone with this chap for things he wanted changed and for which I was never paid.

One morning after having spoken to him the night before, I sat down at my desk to start working for the day and there was a knock on the door – it was the client!!

He had flown for several hours especially to come to see me, but had not asked nor mentioned he was about to do so.  I have no idea what he would have done if I had not been at home (he got my address off our friend by saying he wanted to send me a thank you card).

(Bear in mind this was long before I learnt to say no to a new client!)

I invited him into my apartment and he told me forcefully he would not make his final payment until I made the website exactly as he wished — and it must be done on THAT day. He also mentioned he would not be paying me any extra for my time that day.  I was mortified, but he was a tall, strong chap and rather intimidating.

To cut a long story short, we spent about 8 hours absolutely redesigning his site until it looked the way he envisioned, which was totally different from all the conversations, sketches, images and text he’d sent me.  In fact, it was a total new site, a new design, a total redesign.

You’re probably wondering why I didn’t call the police — well, I didn’t feel threatened enough to do that, and he was a very good friend of our mutual friend, so I felt I should try to placate him.

So I bit my tongue, said nothing about the time which he wasn’t paying for, and decided to just do what he wanted, to get him out of my apartment. He did leave much later that day, and I was exhausted – mentally and emotionally.

I learned several valuable lessons that day, and I became a much stronger person when it came to quoting for jobs, and asking for a decent amount of money up-front, as well as putting documents and systems in place which future clients had to agree to and sign before work commenced.

I came up with a strategic process so that no website owner would have access to the site until the money agreed was paid in full, which they had to agree in writing and had to also agree to that verbally with me, to make sure they understood.

In some ways it was a bitter lesson, but it helped me to grow as a business owner, and a clever web designer.  I hope you don’t have to go through anything like this, so forewarned is forearmed.  What that means is, by knowing up front what could happen, you can plan in advance just in case it might happen.

So – create Terms and Conditions and Contracts for your clients to sign. If you don’t know what they should look like, search online for similar businesses and see what they use. Don’t plagiarise, but use them as guidelines for an outline of what you need to be thinking of in advance.

If you think of all the things that could go wrong with a client, then write down how you’d deal with each situation, you’ll discover you’ve just created your terms and conditions documents 🙂

Hindsight (and age) are great, aren’t they?

Having burned my fingers on those projects years ago, as soon as the hairs on the back of my neck stand up these days, I know I won’t go forward with a potential client.

To decline to work with someone is not embarrassing nor shameful – to say no to a new client is an opportunity for growth on both sides, to recognise when to step away from something which you believe is not the most authentic way to share your expertise.

All you need to do is thank the person very kindly, wish them the very best of luck with their project, but let them know you won’t be available to take on their project. If you don’t feel comfortable saying that, try adding, “I won’t be available to take on the project for approximately eight months.”  That’s a gentle way to let them down.  If they contact you again further down the track, you can advise that you have many projects scheduled and you’re sorry that you won’t be able to fit them in for the foreseeable future.

One of my friends has even told potential clients that she doesn’t believe they’re a good fit, doesn’t wish to proceed with them, and wishes them well.

What’s important is that you can say no to a new client with dignity, without malice, and done kindly.  Who knows – maybe that person has someone else they might recommend to you in the future, so there is no point in burning bridges by being mean or nasty.  Treat everyone the way you’d like to be treated and you’ll become known as a kind and caring business owner whom others will want to work and collaborate with.

This works the other way too …

If you have misgivings about someone after you’ve approached them about their products or services, it’s best to walk away without proceeding.  Not everyone is a good match business-wise, and it’s always best to find someone you can really feel comfortable with and have faith in their potential to deliver the product or service.

To step out of this situation, simply let the person know you’ve decided to go in another direction and interview other providers. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, and honesty is the best policy (without malice or being mean).

Your Say about “Say NO to a new client!”

Has something like this happened to you in the past?  Would you like to share it, so we can all learn from each other? If you do, many thanks in advance – I really appreciate that; just scroll down to the Comments box below to get started.

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Teena Hughes

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