7 Brilliant Ways to Say No To Work or Clients

nice ways to say no to clients

It’s hard to say no to work and even harder to say no to clients with whom you’ve got some history. And, when your business is new and clients are few, you probably find yourself accepting jobs and client behaviour that are less than…optimal. This is part of the beginning phase for just about any business. But, as you and your business grow, establish a good reputation, and build a solid client base, you’ll almost certainly find that it doesn’t make good business sense to accept certain jobs or particular clients. To say no to work doesn’t have to ruin your reputation or leave clients (or potential clients) feeling rejected, though.

Nice Ways to Say No to Work or Clients

When a Client Expects Free Work

I run a parenting / lifestyle blog as a sideline and frequently get emails from companies that either hint or flat-out ask for free reviews, guest blogs, links, and so on. But writing is my income. It’s how we live. You know – like a real job. So, I just can’t (and won’t) do free pieces unless they’re a gift from me to someone.

In response to a hint for free work, I’ll say something like:

Thanks for reaching out. I had a look at your product and it sounds really fun / exciting / interesting. Do you want bloggers to review it? If so, I’ve attached my rate card. I look forward to hearing from you and wish you all the best for this exciting venture.

If they ask directly for a freebie, I’ll respond more along the lines of:

Thanks for reaching out. I had a look at your product and it sounds really fun / exciting / interesting. Because writing is my job, I charge for the service. For this, I write and share the post across my social media, which means exposure to xyz followers. I’ve attached my rate card and look forward to hearing from you.

When You’re Not Qualified for the Job at Hand

This is a tricky one. You’d like to give it a shot (probably), but you know that your skills aren’t where they need to be to produce something that won’t damage your reputation. You need to say no. So, if you choose to swallow your pride and decline the work, you could do it like this:

Thank you for your enquiry. This project sounds so interesting. As much as I’d enjoy being part of it, I won’t be able to tackle it for you at this stage. All the best, and please keep me in mind for any {list some of the things that you could offer them confidently}.

On the other hand, if you’re not qualified, but would like to give it a shot, you need to be honest. Try:

Thank you for your enquiry. This project sounds so interesting and I’d love to be involved. To date, my skills have been focussed more on {the services that you offer confidently}. However, I’d love to expand my horizons and extend these skills to {the service they want from you}. If you’d be willing to work and grow together, let’s discuss a way forward.

Please note: for this last option, you need to be fairly au fait with what they want. It can’t be something completely different from where you are right now. So, for example, I’m a content writer, proofreader and editor. I’ve got experience in many fields under that umbrella. However, I’ve never proofread or edited an engineering journal. So, if I were contacted by an engineering company asking for a quote, I could use this approach. This is not applicable to content writers that are asked to design a logo, though. Either you can do it, or you can’t. This is about experience and levels of expertise in a given field. 

When You Don’t Have the Time

This is an understandable reason to decline work, so I’d be straight-forward about it. Just say no.

Thank you for your enquiry. This project sounds so interesting. Unfortunately, I have three projects on the go at the moment and won’t be able to give yours the attention it deserves until around mid-April. If you are willing to keep it on the backburner until then, I will send you a quote for the job by the end of this week. However, if it needs to be done before then, you could perhaps contact So-And-So for a quote.

When You Can’t Stand Working for the Client for a Second Longer

You know these clients by your reaction when you see their name in your inbox. Your eyes roll to the back of your skull, your shoulders slump, you suddenly feel sick. And there are lots of reasons for this reaction. Maybe they’re rude to you, don’t pay on time, criticise your work, micro-manage… But it remains surprisingly hard to say no to work. Even when nothing in you wants to do it. In the initial phases of your business, you may need to just lump it. I mean, your eyes won’t be rolling when you’re feeding your family. But, as you grow, you may get to the position in which you can fire certain clients. Try this for a gentle refusal (it could even be the catalyst to a passive client-firing in the long run):

Thank you for offering me the opportunity to be part of this project. Unfortunately, I have quite a few projects on the go at the moment and won’t be able to give yours the proper attention that it deserves. May I recommend contacting So-And-So to handle these types of projects going forward?

When There are Moral Conflicts

I was once offered a really great job (like, career-altering) by a company that is known for something that there are many (and continuing) moral conflicts about. I couldn’t possibly accept. Still, although the moral conflict was glaringly obvious and completely black-and-white for me, it was hard to turn down such a great opportunity. In these cases, it’s best to be brief and honest. Getting into a discussion about their stand on the matter (whether it’s abortion, weapon manufacture, rehabilitation, etc…) is pointless and changes the issue from being one of professional services to being one of moral debate (and, ultimately, personal opinion). Pointless and unprofessional. Rather, keep it simple:

Thank you for contacting me with this opportunity. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to assist. But I can recommend So-And-So for this type of project. All the best.

Wrapping It Up

Saying no to work or clients always works best when you’re 1) honest, 2) direct, and 3) not personal. When recommending someone else (the So-And-So), make sure that this person is qualified, prepared to do it, and offers a quality of work that you can happily endorse.

If you have any effective suggestions to add, please include them in the comments below.

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2 thoughts on “7 Brilliant Ways to Say No To Work or Clients

  1. Love this post Amelia! It’s really helpful. I last week was in tough spot when an NPO wanted me to do work for free. When she asked at first I asked, do you have budget because it will be xx (half of what I usually charge) and the response I got wasn’t really nice. Now this person I’ve been working with for a couple of years, it just left a bitter taste.

    1. I’m sorry to hear that. While I totally get that NPO’s need to make use of any opportunity that they can find for discounts so that they can do more of their good work, we all need to acknowledge that we work for money so that we can live. It’s worth a shot, but a rude response is totally unnecessary. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post x

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