The Dos and Don’ts of Turning Down a Prospective Client
Want to know what one of the most challenging things is for business owners (especially new business owners)? Turning down a prospective client. And one of the biggest reasons it’s so challenging? Guilt! Saying “No” can lead to guilt.
I get it because I’ve been there. Saying no to a client and the potential income from that client can be a struggle. It makes you wonder if you’re doing the best thing financially as a business owner and also makes you feel sorry for the person, too.
The thing is, it needs to be done sometimes, and there’s nothing wrong with doing it if you do it professionally and wisely. Remember, you’re the business owner and you’re in charge. One of the best things about owning a business is doing business on your terms with the services you choose and the clients you want to serve.
When Turning Down A Prospective Client Might Be the Best Option
I turn down clients weekly. And it’s actually a good thing. Because I’ve been doing this for a while now, I know exactly who I’m meant to serve and who I’m not. Most of what I need to know about a client, I learn during our initial phone call about their business, their goals, and what they’ve done so far to reach those goals.
It’s during that time that I gather some subtle information, too. There are signals that can either:
- Make you fall in love with them and their business from the start, or
- Make you decide that you and the client may not be the right fit for each other.
And, I’m telling you, 99% of the time you just know when a client isn’t a match.
Your prospect should be someone you click with. I’m not saying you need to agree with everything that comes out of his or her mouth. But you should, at least, understand where they’re coming from, what they need, and see how all that aligns with what you do in your business. When you have shared visions and values, it leads to more smooth communication and shared goals.
You also may need to pass on a client if your skills don’t meet their needs. They could be in an industry you’re unfamiliar with or need work that requires technical skills you haven’t quite mastered yet. And, in some instances, you and your service may be more than what someone needs. Here are some things to consider:
- Can I meet this client’s needs?
- Do I offer more than what he/she needs?
- Am I confident we’ll communicate effectively?
- Am I already sensing any red flags?
If you don’t think you can live up to a prospect’s expectations, then it’s okay – and necessary, even – to do yourself and them a favor and be honest about it. The same is true if what you offer and your level of service is more than what he/she needs. It’s best when the prospect’s need is a match to the service you provide.
Finally, respect your time! Your time is an important resource. Just because you own a business doesn’t mean you need to spread yourself so thin that you’re affecting your health and well-being or the quality of what you can deliver. There are times you may need to say no just because you don’t have enough room in your schedule.
How to Turn Down Clients Professionally
As uncomfortable as it can be to turn down a client, there are several things you can do to make the process a little easier for both of you. First and foremost: Make the decision as soon as possible.
While I don’t suggest rushing into a decision, it’s important not to leave a prospect waiting around for an answer. A delay can offer false hope, appear unprofessional, and it could make it even more difficult for you when you do it. Learn to trust your gut during your initial interaction and make your decision as soon as possible.
When you communicate your decision, you don’t need to go into incredible detail. Keep it simple and honest. Let him or her know if it’s a function of your workload, something about their business type or product, or if you think you’re not a good fit for them. It’s much easier to keep feedback neutral rather than trying to explain if they don’t meet your needs. It’s also helpful to make referrals to other service providers if you think they would be a better fit. But it’s never a good idea to refer someone who you feel would make a difficult client.
If you think you might be able to help in the future, let the prospective client know you’ll keep their information on file for when you have openings. Whether you refer the client to someone else or save their information, you might want to check in with them in a couple of months. It’ll make a positive impact that will likely stick with them.
Turning down clients may not be ideal, but I promise – you’ll reap the benefits and so will your client. If it’s not the right fit, it’s not the right fit and that’s okay. What matters is that you don’t veer from your business and promise things you can’t keep.
Have you ever had to turn down a client? How did you handle it? I’d love to know.