How to Say “No” to Clients

by | Business, Tips & Tricks

3 Ways to Turn Your Other Cheek and Say NO to Clients 

At a glance, the word NO is a Pandora’s box of negativity. A two-letter word that conjures quite a number of feelings in a nutshell – mostly feelings that doesn’t exactly make us jump for joy, such as rejection, refusal, and resistance – and if you’re in the business of providing support and services, chances are, this is one word you didn’t list in your vocabulary especially when dealing with clients. 

After all, the “customer (or the client) is always right” mindset seems to work better, feel better and get conversations done faster. You’re expected to serve after all. 

However, it’s also good to keep in mind that the success of a project or a task, lies in effective communication and mutual understanding. Therefore, both parties – client and you, the provider- should establish a clear set of rules that mutually works and have been agreed on. 

With that in mind, here are 3 surefire ways to avoid the bad blood when saying NO to a client. 


Tip #1 It’s okay to fire a client. 

All is fair in love and war, as Sun Tzu once said, and so it is in business, and fairness in this light, means that the conditions of the job works, for both parties involved- client and you, the provider. 

Ideally, the clients’ conditions and expectations should be feasible and aligned with your service commitment and limitations, should there be any. These factors are preferably discussed in detail, before the project starts and be put in writing. However, in a not-so-perfect scenario, when the client at 

any point of the project, demands something that is outside the agreement, or have made you feel uncomfortable in any way at any time, you have the equal right of terminating the contract, or in a similar sense, firing the client. 

Now, terminating a contract may not be the happy ever-after you both have hoped for, but it is a better road to decide to tread on early, than proceed and have disagreements build up between both of you due to missed deadlines, delayed project turnovers and disconnects in communications. 

Just make sure you end things in a polite manner so you maintain that connection without building the bridge, which takes us to our 2nd tip. 

How to politely say No 

As we mentioned, saying No may summon negative feelings in your client, but we can reduce its gravity if delivered politely and respectfully. 

If you’re saying No to a task which you deem is not achievable, for example within the timeframe expected by your client, the best way would be to present the challenges, and highlight the things you CAN do as an alternative. This way, your client will understand the limitations, and by highlighting the positive, he will focus on the alternative options and hopefully consider the opportunities you presented. 

Bottom line, there’s never an excuse to be rude and while there will be times when we can’t do what we can’t do, it’s a rule of thumb to stay calm and professional at all times. 

Setting client boundaries 

Boundaries are essential in business especially when we literally swear to meet clients’ expectations. To do this it is ideal to establish any rules and limitations, before a project or a task starts. 

With that in mind, it is important for you to identify first the limits you want to apply so you can discuss it together with your client and manage their expectations. 

Establishing boundaries and setting up limits demands respect, which is essential in effective communication and partnership. Be direct, clear and firm when you’re communicating them, so the client understands that this is the non-negotiable factor of your service. 

What’s Next?

Saying NO doesn’t always lead to ended contracts and burned connections. While this is always a risk when you decline a client’s request, remind yourself that not all projects are created equal, as approach and expectations differ for every client. 

Your client’s response to your “No” may not always be a ‘Yes’, but Paulo Coelho has his heart in the right place when he said, “Don’t say Yes to others, when you’re saying No to yourself”. 

In the end, the ability to say “No” past the risks involve will eventually lead to a more respected version of you. You may lose contracts but it will lead the road to finding better clients and building stronger working relationships.

About me

Hi! I’m Catherine 🙂

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