Saying "No" To a Great Client So I Don’t Have To Compromise My Business

Saying No
Saying no is something I’ve had to learn over the years. When I first started out I would say yes to every project – taking on things I had never done before. I wasn’t sure I wanted to, but did because I thought I needed to land every project I quoted. I would often start off quoting less than I wanted, mitigating the negotiations, sure, but also leaving money on the table.

In some cases I still do this, but pretty much only for friends and family projects that are nowadays few and far between. I’ve recently had an experience in saying no to a project I really wanted, but in the end had to bail.

The opportunity for the client was going to be big. They wanted a new logo, website, and a plan for their marketing – including social media. The problem emerged when I was having a tough time determining the exact scope of what they wanted. Because of this I had issues determining their budget and flow of income. Everything else about the project was on par. It would look great in my portfolio and client list, and I got along with the client well. I was willing to overlook a few things, so I told them I would be in touch with an estimate.

I went back to the office with a page full of notes from our discussion, and a head full of ideas on how to deliver the project. It didn’t take long before I was wrestling with myself over how to price the project. On the one hand, it would be a stellar addition to my work, but on the other I felt like I would have to compromise too much on the costs. Biting the bullet, I emailed them and included this line:

I’m torn between not wanting to compromise my business and how I currently price and in wanting to help you get on track with marketing the company here.

I was stressing a bit now. It’s one thing to send off an email like that and never have to worry about what they say if you never see the prospect in person, but in this case it was someone I saw often. I didn’t want to come off as pretentious and I wanted to leave the door open for future business.

Their reply came the next day, and needless to say it surprised me. They agreed the budget wasn’t there yet, that they respected my stance and to check back in the future about working together once they had more cash flow:

How forthright and thoughtful of you to say what you said….If you love what you do, and you can afford missing out on clients, don’t compromise. People with passion, do what they do because they love it and that is always passed onto the client….You just went up a few more notches in credibility.

In the end, it worked out. I worry about where the next project is coming from, but everytime I do, or I have an opportunity that doesn’t close, I remind myself that the door just opened for something else. Instead of taking on this project for less than I wanted to, I ended up picking up more projects from some star clients. Now, I’m too busy for a project with that kind of scope.

Some takeaways for you:

  • Don’t shortchange yourself
  • Don’t be afraid of telling it like it is
  • Don’t worry about finding the next gig

Have you had an experience where you’ve said no to a client, or maybe you’re in the middle of quoting a project and need some guidance? Share your stories and/or situations in the comments below.