Clients You Don’t Want and How to Say No

Money talks and no-one’s is saying, “You have enough, you’re good. Sit back and relax a while.” But, this can sometimes mean that we become afraid to say no. We’re afraid we’ll burn bridges, lose too many clients, get a bad reputation, or regret our decision.

I started on my own in 2008. I’d paid off my debt (some clothing accounts) and set up an office in the spare room. I was ready. Ready and waiting. Hit me with it! I’ve got the time, I’ve got the keyboard, I’m ready to write! For money! Guys? Hello?

It didn’t take me long to get to the point where I was borderline begging potential clients for work. I reasoned that it would be better to do some work for a reduced rate, sometimes even for free, to get the experience and contacts. And, maybe it wasn’t the biggest mistake. I do have some wonderful clients that stuck with me from those early years. But, I learnt a lot about the types of people that I’d be prepared to work with and for in the future. And those that I wouldn’t. And it’s taught me about the kind of client I want to be.

Here are the clients that are best to avoid:


This isn’t referring to a business-savvy client that wants value for his money. Scrooges are those that try to squeeze extra work from you at no cost. They downplay the value of your work. In my case, I’ve had comments like, “I could do it myself if I had more time,” “It won’t take you long, just copy and paste it from my website”, or “Writing is so fun, it’s like you’re on holiday anyway.”

My response to those is, “Then do it yourself while I work for paying clients”, “My work is more valuable to me than copying and pasting content from your website,” and “I work for money, not for fun. Whether I enjoy my job or not is inconsequential. Would you tell a surgeon to do your brain surgery for free because he has a passion for medicine?” Nope, nope, nope. You’re working for money, that’s the fair exchange.


If they’ve lied to or about others, they’ll lie to or about you. As soon as I sense dishonesty about anything (including in their relationships with their colleagues, clients or other service providers), I want out. These are disloyal customers that will do what they want to get their way and shirk responsibility. Out!


Sigh. You know the kind – they’ve given you the brief, you’ve stuck to it and produced something exactly within its parameters, and they change their minds; again and again. They change the spec, redefine the job, forcing you to start from scratch. This is unfair and a total waste of your valuable time. Having said that, there is a difference between time-wasters and clients that needed a base from which to start. Sometimes, they’ll have something in mind and, once you’ve presented them with that something, they realise that it needs to shift focus, evolve or be tweaked. This is not the same as a blatant waste of time. Consider including the number of acceptable changes in your initial quote to limit the damage that these types of clients can do.


Be alert to the way that a client speaks to you. If they’re uncommunicative, passive-aggressive, unnecessarily critical, sarcastic and patronising, you can be sure that no amount of hard work is going to incite any kind of benevolence. This is your call – can you take the abuse if the money’s worth it? Is there a price to your dignity?


If you’ve worked with someone in the past and had to remind them regularly to pay you, don’t expect that it will be any different in the future. Some clients are notorious for trying to delay a payment for as long as possible, perhaps hoping it’ll slip through the cracks and they can be off the hook. But, this is your business. You have a family, bills, commitments. Don’t let this kind of client be part of your problem.

Saying no to these clients doesn’t mean being obnoxious or arrogant. Rather, you need to be clear, honest, polite and reasonable. Try something along the lines of:


Thank you for your enquiry / RFQ / request. It sounds like an exciting project and I appreciate that you thought of me. Unfortunately, I’m not available to get involved this time. All the best for this new venture.”


There are very few potential clients that will question your exact reasons. However, if they do, keep it above board, if a little vague. Avoid lying, as you’ll inevitably pay the price.

If you’re having a problem saying no to these types of clients, it’s likely that you’re underestimating the value of your work. By ensuring that you offer good quality products and services to your clients, you can be confident in your decision to accept or refuse certain clients.

Saying no to problematic or difficult clients
Kick these clients to the curb to save your sanity.


Free Email Updates
Get the latest content first.
We respect your privacy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.