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Marketing / Business relationships

12 signs you should say NO to clients

Making the decision to say no to clients is not made lightly. Do you know how to recognise when you should say no? No to an existing client, no to future income, no to potential new clients?

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Learning where to draw the line is very helpful as experience has taught me that a client who distracts you from your core business can lead to undue stress, unpaid bills, unsatisfied clients and the inability to take advantage of business opportunities.

Let’s say you’re faced with a potentially good client, but they do not fit your current business operations. Consider whether the following is true to help you decide whether you should say ‘no’ to clients:

  • You do not have the capacity to serve them.
  • Their culture (e.g. formal, corporate) does not suit your style.
  • They want deliverables that move away from your core business.
  • They don’t appear to listen to your advice.
  • Their business or what they want you to do conflicts with your code of conduct.
  • The geographical location would make it uneconomical to serve.

Saying no to a potentially good client who does not fit with your current business operations is relatively easy. They can be referred to a competitor that may be better suited to their needs. This solutions means that your business operations are not stretched, your competition is appreciative of the referral and the client is happy you were able to provide them with a workable solution. A win-win for all.

"As your experience and business confidence grows, so will your ability to recognise clients you should say no to."

Want more articles like this? Check out the business relationships section.

But what about the potentially difficult clients, where the signs that you ought not work with them are more obvious. Indicators like:

  • Security and or safety concerns.
  • They turn to litigation as a way to resolve issues.
  • There are signs of cash flow problems.
  • You feel uncomfortable or your intuition suggests you should avoid working with them.
  • You have heard unsavoury rumours about the organisation.
  • They complain about the work performed by a competitor, whom you consider to be very reliable.

How should you say no to clients in this instance? Once you’ve come to the realisation that the client may be potentially difficult to deal with, I would be hesitant about referring them on and damaging relationships you have built. I strongly stress that you should never burn bridges, bow out of the relationship gracefully with the simple suggestion that you don’t have the capacity to serve them now. It may be unwise to tell the client the real reason why you are saying no.

As your experience and business confidence grows, so will your ability to recognise clients you should say no to.

Do you know how to say no to clients?

Heather Smith

is a Chartered Certified Accountant & Xero Accounting Advisor specialising in moving businesses to the cloud, improving productivity and profits. She's written six books including Xero for Dummies & Learn Small Business Start-Up in 7 Days.

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