Sometimes you can't say yes to new business: When to turn down a potential client


I used to say yes to any and all potential clients that came my way. If someone wanted me to help them with their business, I'd do it. Sometimes when I shared my price with them they'd haggle or try to get me to compromise and sometimes I would.

I always resented those clients. And myself...

The real problem though was that I was saying yes to any and everything, without putting any real boundaries in place, and it was hurting my business and me.

That changed recently, when I had to go back to work at a job. Suddenly, I had boundaries imposed on me by the schedule I was in and after getting used to that schedule, I realized those boundaries weren't so bad.

And it got me thinking about the lack of boundaries in my business and why there had been no boundaries in the first place. The conclusion I came to was that I took on a lot of clients out of a sense of desperation. I wanted my business to be successful so much, and part of me figured that saying yes to any potential business that came my way was the answer, but the truth was that saying yes and not having boundaries was part of what put me into the situation where I had to go back to working at a job.

And right now I've chosen to take a sabbatical from my business, to give myself the time and space to process my mistakes and figure out what I really want to do with this business, without necessarily taking on anything else until I get it figured

So the other day, I had an acquaintance contact me, and tell me he wanted to see if I'd teach some classes on business.

And in my mind, I immediately began to hear, "Do it! This could be the start of getting back on your feet with your business. You should totally take this work on."

I didn't say yes right away. Instead, I asked myself why I felt compelled to say yes and I really looked at the emotional component behind that voice. And what I felt was a sense of desperation and in realizing that I decided I owed both myself and that potential client a better answer than yes.

So I told him no. And I explained that I had recently gone back to work and that I was in the process of re-evaluating my business and couldn't say yes to him at this time. He understood.

 I used to never say no, but now I'm learning to say no, so that I can figure out what I really want to with my business. Of course that's likely not your situation, but you may also need to learn how to say no to business.

How and when to say not to business

Its hard to say no to potential business because when you own a business you do need to have a steady stream of clients coming in to keep the business viable, pay the bills and do all the other things that need to be. So saying no can feel like you're hurting your business, but I find that if you can't say no, its usually because you're operating from a place of scarcity and desperation, and chances are your business probably isn't doing all that well.

When we can say no to potential business, it means that we respect ourselves enough to know when to say no and why to say no. In my opinion there are sometimes where saying no is warranted:

1. When you have enough clients already. If you're at capacity with your business its okay to say no, instead of taking on more clients than you can handle. In fact, unless you're ready to make changes to your business so you can handle more clients, I recommend saying no, because you're doing yourself, that potential client, and your existing clients a disservice by trying to take on more business than you can handle.

If you feel like you have enough clients on your hands, then say tell your potential client no and either put them on a wait list or refer them to someone else. 

2. When the client isn't a good fit. Sometimes your potential client isn't a good fit.  When you have specific criteria in place that helps you evaluate clients, that will help you determine if the potential client is someone you want to take on or pass on. 

Sometimes a potential client wants to work with you, but you can't solve their problem. If you know that, then you must pass on that client, because they are operating from a mistaken assumption about what you do and how you can help them. 

3. When the client doesn't seem to value your expertise. In my experience when a potential client haggles on price with you, its because they don't value your expertise. They think you can help them, but they don't want to pay full price. And if you take those clients on they become nightmare clients because they will critique everything you do. The reason, again, is because they don't see the value in what you're doing for them. And so in the back of their mind, they think you shouldn't charge them anything.

Run, don't walk, away from these kinds of clients. You deserve better than to put yourself through hell trying to please people who simply don't value you or what you have to offer.

4. When you simply aren't in the right space to take on clients. And sometimes you simply won't be in the right space to take on a client. Whatever your reason is for not being in that right space, you owe it to yourself to recognize you aren't in the right space and respect yourself enough to put boundaries in place that allow you to be in that space and work through whatever needs to be worked through, so you can take on clients again.

And if you're honest with your potential clients they'll understand. They may not wait, but that's ok, because there is always other clients and more importantly if they really do want to work with you they'll come around when the time is right.

Learning to say no is a radical act of self-respect and care for ourselves. If you've had trouble saying no to potential clients in the past, take some time and think over why that is and what's stopped you from saying no. You'll be doing yourself and your potential clients a big favor by figuring out what's stopping you from putting boundaries into place in your business.