When you’re self-employed, the idea of saying “no” to clients can be tough. But, it can be key to long-term success. Here’s why it’s valuable to know how and when to say no.

Why Saying ‘No’ Can Help Your Business

Seeing a happy customer after the work is complete is one of the rewarding parts of being a business owner. Yet, there are times when what a client seeks is simply too much. They either aren’t realistic about budget, timeline or scope, or they understand the reality but still expect you to deliver.

In another scenario, perhaps a job candidate doesn’t seem like a good fit for the team. The manager hires them anyway because they know how much the applicant needs a job. In the end, the new hire won’t last, and the team will be disrupted again while another person is hired.

Learning how to say “no” when necessary is vital so that self-employed of all types can comfortably look at the big picture. Here are some ways to get comfortable saying “no.”

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Listen Carefully

You will feel better using assertive communication if you go into the information-gathering process with an open mind. Don’t go into a pitch meeting or discuss a project with a decision already made up in your mind.

Take the time to consider the full scope of the work being requested. Ask questions. Bring up concerns immediately and see how the person doing the proposal responds. You will only be able to make an informed decision if you have all the facts.

Understand the Bigger Picture

Once you know what you are looking at, it’s time to ponder. Here are some of the factors to consider:

  • What is a realistic timeline for this work?
  • What will this project cost in the long run?
  • How much money could this project earn the company in the long-term?
  • Is this a client I want to work with now and in the future?
  • Does this customer value the company’s work?
  • How will accepting this work advance the business’s long-term goals?
  • Is this project in line with our current priorities?
  • What work will have to be put aside to make room for this new project in our schedule?

Of course, there are all kinds of questions that will be specific to your industry and situation, but these are some universal considerations that can help you make a solid decision.

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Give a Quick Answer

After you’ve made a decision, and especially if it is “no,” it’s time to practice your assertive behavior. You might even want to practice the conversation with a colleague or assistant so you’re prepared for objections.

When you feel ready, let the requestor know your answer in person. Email can be misconstrued, and you don’t want anything to get lost in translation. This is especially true if you hope to work with the client in the future.

Be firm with your answer, and don’t let them talk you out of your decision. Make it clear you’ve considered all the angles. Forbes Magazine advises against resorting to self-deprecation because it provides an easy out if the client tries to flatter you to gain compliance.

Explain Your Thinking

It is only fair that you give the requestor a reason for your refusal. However, you don’t have to go overboard. The more details you give, the more loopholes the client might try to find. Consider some of these phrases:

  • We are eager to partner with your business, but our schedule doesn’t allow us to take additional projects right now.
  • We want to provide you with the best service we can, but our staffing levels are not currently sufficient.
  • The timeline you are seeking is not compatible with our current situation.
  • The budget restrictions you’ve suggested are not sufficient to reach the goals you’re expecting.

Make Suggestions

If possible, part of your assertive communication might open the door to future collaboration. You can offer alternative plans if you are willing to do the work after new parameters are set. For example:

  • We can revisit the opportunity in the future, after we’ve added employees.
  • Why don’t we revisit this idea six months from now to reassess the possibilities?
  • If you are able to find new funds for this project in your next fiscal year, we might be able to work something out then.
  • I can let you know when we have room in our schedule for a major new project.
  • I don’t know that your goals are compatible with our company’s ethos.

Assertive behavior is something that a lot of business professionals struggle with. And it’s a learning process. These tools should help you say “no” more often.

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Jennifer Yaniz

Jennifer Yaniz

Jennifer Yaniz is a Paid Search Manager at HawkSEM who has 10+ years of online marketing experience with a specialization in paid search, social media, search engine optimization, web development and project management. Her extensive knowledge encompasses a variety of different verticals including SaaS, telecom, healthcare, education, insurance, travel, information technology, tourism and e-commerce.
Jennifer Yaniz