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The Fine Art of Saying "No" to Clients Part Two

freelancesupermarket.com newsroom

RSS 31 March 2009
Last week we looked at why it can be important to say "no" to clients. This week we look at how to say "no".

When faced with a request, there are a couple of ways of politely saying "no", and making it clear that your work takes time and can't always be rushed.

Strategies for refusal

1. Pre-empt the request. If you get the feeling that an unreasonable request is coming your way, make a statement about your current workload. Something like: "Holy poop Mike, I've never been so freaking busy! I'm fully booked until the next Olympics!" should do the trick.

2. If a client wants you to suddenly produce some work at short notice, say that you can get it done, but for a fat additional fee. So you're saying "yes" while actually saying "no" (unless the client is rich)

3. Interrupt. If a client is clearly heading towards a request that you want to refuse, politely interrupt them. Simply say, "If I could just interrupt you there..." then explain that as per suggestion 1, you're too busy. But as per suggestion 2, you can become available if the price is right.

4. Say you need to think about it. Go away and assess whether the request is achievable. Can you meet the client's request without destroying your relationships, devaluing your work or appearing like a spineless dweeb? The simple act of saying that you need to think about it tells the client that you have a schedule and other clients to consider. Once you've evaluated the request, you can either just say "no" or offer an increased 'expediting' fee.

Saying no when negotiating with clients

Picture the scene: you're basking in the rosy, climactic glow after securing a new client, who we'll call Mike. Then Mike asks for a discount. Because you're on the verge of landing the deal, it seems silly to say "no". Why risk losing the client?

So you say "yes".

But you've made a mistake. Agreeing to reduce your price suggests to Mike that he's got you by the balls. For no reason at all you've agreed to reduce your price. Mike knows that you want his business, and he understands his position of power. You're Bambi. You've just rolled onto your back and exposed your soft white belly to Mike's big gun.

On top of all that, Mike now attaches less value to your work. So Mike is paying you less and respecting you less. It's a double-whammy of SUCK.

And by saying "yes" you tell Mike that everything is negotiable. Mike may well become your most difficult client; one who feels entitled to haggle over every transaction and question every decision you make. Agreeing to Mike's initial request may set a precedent that will be difficult to undo.

When clients really, really want a discount

If the price is a big issue for a client, offer to work within their budget by reducing the scope of work. So if they want to pay you less, fine. But you'll do less. Make sure that a reduction in price is balanced by a reduction in expectations.

Being agreeable

Before we finish this exploration of saying "no" to clients, I'd like to reiterate that it's important for freelancers and contractors to maintain a friendly but firm air of authority. So while it's important to be open to ideas and working arrangements, it's essential that you are well respected and reimbursed for your work.


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