When to say the dreaded word ‘No’ to a client!

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Anyone who handles clients on a daily basis will know that dealing with their needs can be challenging. Often we over deliver to show goodwill and strengthen our relationship with them, however, we need to ensure that we don’t give away huge amounts of our precious time and expertise for free and even lose the respect of the client.

As a freelance copywriter, I am bombarded with requests from long term and new clients on a daily basis. In the early days, I found it hard to say ‘no’ – I thought it would put clients off or make them think I was not prepared to go that extra mile for them. Seriously, I have done a few extra miles (marathons in fact!) in my time and, yes, it has taught me a lot and helped me grow my career and business.

However, there are times when we need to utter the dreaded ‘no’ word and it’s not a bad thing! It often just lets the client know that you are confident, have the expertise and you will not be taken advantage of. Hopefully, also, it should increase their respect for you - and for those that it doesn’t, well do you really want to be working with them? The only times I have got push back after saying ‘no’ to a client was when they didn’t appreciate or truly understand my work or my worth.

Sadly, though, there are people out there who will try and get you to do more than agreed within the budget or are simply oblivious to their actions. Stand your ground!

So when can you push back with a client?

  • When agreement is breached
    Some may weave extra ‘little’ bits of work into a project. Simple things that don’t take too long and, out of goodwill, you will do. However, if you do it once, then make it clear it’s a one-off or they will keep asking. If you leave it too late to push back, it becomes difficult. You made an agreement so stick to it and if numerous changes or additions are required, then discuss them in advance.
    This also applies to the number of updates/changes/tweaks etc agreed upfront. Some clients change their mind like the wind which makes your life very difficult and consumes your time. Include a clear scope for changes and so, if it happens, the client is aware and covers the costs. It’s their mind change, not yours!
  • When you don’t have the skills for the job.
    A client asks you to do something that is not within your capabilities or strengths. There will be times you feel competent to do it, however, if you feel your abilities are being compromised and you are uncomfortable, tell them. Even direct them to a suitable solution, if you can. They will be thankful. You may have lost a client in the short term but could mean a better long term relationship and other opportunities – instead of sleepless nights, high anxiety and a damaged reputation.
  • If you’re not a good fit.
    Don’t agree to work if you don’t get on with the client or it causes you to lessen your values and beliefs. If you don’t gel and have clashing work approaches, for example, then sometimes it’s better to just say ‘no’. Having a stressful client is not worth it and may not result in your best work. If they’re going to annoy you, be constantly unsatisfied with your work or land up demanding all your time – then walk away!
  • When they don’t know what they want.
    If they demand a million changes as their vision is not clear, you will spend your precious time creating work that will never be right. That’s fine if they’re paying for the numerous changes, otherwise stand firm and wait until they are 100% sure of their goal or incorporate their indecision into your fees.
  • You’re too snowed with work.
    You have every right to say ‘no’ if you just don’t have the capacity – regardless of their deadline! Work out your schedule and explain to the client your situation. If they have some flexibility and really want to work with you, they may wait.
  • The money is not enough.
    There are times you take on lower paying projects for the experience, exposure or your portfolio. If you do, then do it for the right reasons. It’s not all about money but don’t take on a lesser paying project that simply belittles your skills. You will land up resenting the client as you will feel undervalued and may not give them your best attention. You could also be giving up more beneficial opportunities.

Just because you say ‘no’ to a client, it doesn’t mean you’re closing the door on an opportunity. It can often make them realise your worth and that you will not be taken for granted. ‘No’ is also, in some instances, a great tool to restart a negotiation process. In the end, if it does not work out then maybe it’s for the best. Having a nightmare client, projects that are not showcasing your abilities effectively, or if your expertise is being abused, then surely saying ‘NO’ is the best, and only, option?!

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