How to Reject a Potential Client
“How do I say no to a potential client? And how do I tell that it should be a no?”
– A Bearing Fruit reader
How to Tell It’s a No
Speaking just for myself, it’s an easy no if the request is outside of my wheelhouse or my availability.
But if it is aligned with my skills and mission AND I have the space in my schedule, I then check that the project fits these three criteria: fun, lucrative, and no assholes.
You have to make up your own criteria, of course. Just like you had in your dating days, you need a red flag list for clients.
But also, it might just feel bad. Like, the project or the client isn’t ringing any specific alarm bells but your heart or your gut is just saying no. That’s perfectly fine. Trust your spidey sense.
How to Actually Say No
Ah yes, the hard part. The reason this is hard is because you have to be honest – without oversharing.
If you say “I’m all booked up!” you may experience exactly what happened to me (as described in this fun podcast episode) – the potential client (who was an asshole) wrote me back to ask when I’d be free.
Saying no after that is extremely awkward – so much so that if you have any people-pleasing tendencies whatsoever, you’re likely to say “in two weeks” and now you’ve got yourself an asshole client.
On an Office Hours call with my Boost & Bloom students, someone with a very well-established business (you’ll notice I don’t name names of my students or my readers – we follow The Chatham House Rule) gave the best answer “We’re not a good fit.”
This is the best reply because it’s hard to argue. The trick is to stop there. Don’t start explaining WHY you aren’t a good fit. People socialized female will especially feel compelled to make the other person comfortable, so we’ll justify the mis-fit. But the more you talk, the more you leave yourself open to be countered.
If you feel you must, you could provide a recommendation. But that’s not a requirement. You aren’t a match-making service.
You can just type “Thanks so much for reaching out. This project isn’t a good fit for my company. Best of luck in your pursuits.” Hit send and go about your day.
If they write back, don’t panic – smile. It’s great! Because it’s validating your initial assessment: People who push back against a no are assholes.
Do not reply. Delete without guilt. People show you who they are. Listen and act accordingly.
This may be one of the shortest Bearing Fruit newsletter editions because the answer is brief. It’s the emotional effort to get to that brief answer that takes time to work through.