You like to make your clients happy. And when you say no to a client, it feels like you’re letting them down. You might also worry it’ll open up your business to criticism or cut into your profits.
But sometimes, saying no is the best thing you can do.
That simple word can make your business run more smoothly and remove the problems that cost you time, money, and sanity. Sometimes it’s even possible to say no while still pleasing the client and upselling your services.
In this article, we’ll first explain how to politely say no to a client. Then we’ll share five examples of when you should do it.
Learn to say no to clients in these situations:
How to politely say no to a client
When you’re planning how to say no professionally, start with these tips to get in the right headspace:
1. Take time to understand what the client wants and why
You don’t have to give a response right away. In fact, taking time shows the client that you thought about it and didn’t just dismiss them out of hand.
Depending on the request, you might realize their question is reasonable or that they actually want something completely different. You may in fact be able to provide it.
2. Offer alternatives that might fit their needs
If the client’s request is reasonable, but you still can’t say yes, try to offer alternatives.
Even if you can’t offer a perfect solution, they might be open to a compromise. You won’t know unless you ask!
“Assuming their request is within the service parameters we offer, I don’t say no to a client. I give them an option that I think would be a win-win. If they don’t agree, they can say no to me.”
—Donovan Quesenberry, DIV Cleaning Service
3. Be honest
Don’t lie about your reasons for saying no in order to save face or protect the client’s feelings.
At the same time, though, be tactful. For example, telling the client you don’t work with jerks might feel good, but it isn’t productive. And it definitely won’t be good for your reputation.
4. Offer a referral
If the client is asking for something you don’t offer or don’t want to do, direct them to another company who can provide that service.
The client is going to end up looking elsewhere anyway. It’s better to send them on their way with positive feelings so they’re more likely to come back to you in the future.
“For me, good customer service is trying to work through issues and retain that customer versus binning them at the first sign of trouble.”
—Bertie Lynn, Premier Lawns
Here’s an example of a situation that combines many of these ways to say no:
Let’s say a client is asking for your cleaning company to also do their laundry during your twice-monthly visits—and they’re pushing really hard on it.
You don’t offer this service and you don’t ever plan to. On top of that, your team is already stretched thin during the time they’re at the client’s house.
By digging deeper and asking more questions, you discover that the client is feeling stretched, too. They’re desperate for ways to save time on their side.
You take some time to think about it and come up with a solution. You offer to come every week instead so the house feels tidier for longer. You also recommend a local laundry company so that task is still taken care of, but you don’t have to do it.
The client feels heard and validated after sharing their worries and stresses with you, and they’re grateful to you for helping solve their problem. You also got to upsell your services and support another local business in the process.
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5 reasons and ways to say no
There are many ways to say no, and even more reasons to do it. Here are five possible reasons with some example scripts for saying no:
1. You don’t offer that service
The client might be asking for something that isn’t a natural extension of your services.
Maybe you haven’t expanded into that service area or it’s just not a service you’re interested in providing.
In these cases, it makes sense to explain why you don’t offer that type of service. You might even be able to further educate the client about what services you do offer.
Learn to say no: “I don’t offer that”
“You’re right, pressure washing services would be a good fit for my business. However, I don’t have the equipment or specialized knowledge to provide that service right now. I prefer to focus on window washing at this time.
“I did just expand into vehicle washing, if you’re ever interested in that. And I do know another company that does pressure washing—they might be able to help you out next weekend.”
“I tell people up front what I will and will not do. We are a small business and don’t have the resources to do some jobs. Usually, people are understanding when I tell them a job is too big.”
—Bryson Childs, NEA Junk Removal
2. You don’t have the time or capacity
Sometimes you have to say no to a job you want just because you don’t have the bandwidth to do it. You might be fully booked or not have enough crew members to handle the job.
You can tell the client what your schedule currently looks like, but usually it’s enough to say that you don’t have enough time or people.
As an alternative, try suggesting another available time later on in your schedule. If the client wants to work with you specifically, they might be willing to push their plans.
Learn to say no: “I don’t have time”
“Unfortunately, I don’t have any available crews to complete that job next Saturday. We’re currently booking about four weeks in advance. However, we did just have a slot open up in three weeks—would that work for you?”
3. You can’t or won’t do what they’re asking
At some point, you might find yourself facing a client who wants you to do something illegal, immoral, unsafe, or just plain uncomfortable.
Some clients don’t know that there’s a problem with their request. Others may not care. Either way, think of this situation as a chance to show your confidence and integrity as a business owner.
It should be enough to state the rule, law, or boundary as the reason why you can’t do what the client wants. You may be able to give them an alternative or another way to move forward.
Learn to say no: “I can’t do that”
“Due to liability reasons, it’s company policy that we can’t provide cleaning services for a property without the homeowner’s written consent. I can’t go against that policy.
“Since you aren’t the homeowner, we’ll need your family member’s permission in writing before we can enter their home.”
If the client still pushes back, though, you may need to end the working relationship.
“If a customer wants you to bend your rules to accommodate them, it can’t and won’t be sustainable. You can’t let ‘making an exception’ become the norm for any dollar amount.”
—Andrew Zell, JDog Menomenee Falls
4. You don’t want to discount your services
A client might ask for you to provide your services at a lower price point than you’re willing to offer, whether it’s still a reasonable amount or not.
Saying no in this situation can help reinforce the value of your services and what you charge for them. You know what your time is worth, and you don’t have to work for less than that.
In some cases, the client may not understand the value of your services and it’s just a matter of educating them. Here’s an example of how to do that:
Learn to say no: “Here’s what you’ll get”
“For the quoted price, we’ll be removing two large stumps and pruning the tree limbs overhanging your driveway. The price also includes the time for three crew members, who will be using top-of-the-line equipment and hauling away the debris at the end.
“This service will allow you to fully landscape your lawn this summer, which I know is important to you, as well as protect your vehicles. We’ll also do our best to make sure you’re completely happy with our services.”
If the client has an unrealistic opinion of how much your services should cost and won’t be persuaded otherwise, the example in the next section might be more effective.
5. You don’t want to work with this client
Maybe you’ve already done work for this client, and they’re hard to work with or don’t pay their bills. Or maybe you can tell they’re going to be trouble just from the short time you’ve spent talking to them.
Think of this interaction as a job interview. The client wants to work with you, but you don’t want to work with them—and you don’t have to. Instead, refer them to another company who has the time and resources to manage a challenging client.
Knowing how to reject a client you don’t want to work with is a big part of running a successful business. There will always be more clients, so don’t worry too much about saying no to one!
Learn to say no: “Try another company instead”
“After reviewing your pest control needs, I don’t think our company will be able to provide the level of service you’re looking for.
“We recommend speaking to Pest Busters instead—I’m confident they’ll be a better fit. Thank you for thinking of us, and all the best.”
“We say no by saying yes. Yes, we offer those services; however, we think so-and-so will be a better fit for your project. And then we pass them on.”
—Sarah Johnson, Johnson Reclaimed Supply Co.
Some clients might not want to accept your no. In these cases, remember that “no” is a complete sentence.
Learning to say no may be uncomfortable, but it changes the way you think about your time, your value, and your business.
Saying no can give you the confidence you need to make the right choices for your business and for yourself.
“No one else is going to stand up for your company. You have to stand up for your company.”
—Michael T. Bedell, Bedell Property Management LLC
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