How To Say No To Clients

As a Coven member, and therefore an automatic BABE, it’s safe to assume you’ve got a track-record of being in the spirit of kindness. As small business owners and freelancers, we generally seek a reputation of being helpful and we’re most certainly not in the market of turning work or opportunity away. But sometimes, we just need to say no. We know we need to say no, but the truth is, we continue saying yes — we continue breaking our boundaries because we’re not only scared of the repercussions of ‘no’ but we also don’t know how to say it.


First up, I think it’s worth spending an afternoon going deep to the core of your business but also yourself. You need to figure out your value system. Because in order to make exerting the ‘no’ that little bit easier, you need to be crystal clear on what you are willing to do in business and how you are willing to be treated. It’s time to start treating yourself and your business as if it was a workplace with hundreds of employees who are made to follow a code of conduct. It’s time to make some rules, witch.


Here are questions to ask yourself:


  • What is the absolute minimum fee I am willing to take for a service?


  • How much time am I willing to spend on a single commission?


  • How often am I going make myself available/be on call to clients and others?


  • What other boundaries do I want to put into place?


Once you have answered these questions and understood how you really want to operate in your business, it’ll make the next part SO much easier…


Here are some ways you can practice saying no:


  • Use the Shit Sandwich Method. For those of you unaware of what I mean when I say this, the shit sandwich is a method of giving feedback by which you give a compliment, then state your area of concern or ways to improve and then end on another positive. Here’s an example: “Thank you so much for reaching out, I love what you are doing and am so flattered you thought of me for this. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to decline on this occasion because of _______. However I would love the opportunity to discuss how I could be of service to you.”


  • Use positive language. Yes, their request might be obviously unreasonable to you who knows your business and how it operates but instead of making them feel bad for asking, explain that it’s nothing personal against them, it’s just not something you can provide.


  • Counter with a solution to the problem. If, for example a client is asking for a discount or free work but this is not something you want to give or can afford, then think of a way you can keep their business and also not put yourself out of pocket. For example, you might instead offer them a longterm payment plan which would benefit them but also give you more work at the same time.


  • Explain how it’s in both of your interests that you cannot fulfil their request because you wouldn’t be able to deliver to the outcome they desire on this particular task. Again, suggest how you could alternatively serve them.


  • If you really don’t think you can come to a mutual compromise with this client, it’s okay to suggest someone else you think might be better for them and the job. The truth is, if they really don’t like what you have to say or offer, they were never really for you. And the more you practice setting terms that are completely in alignment with you and your business plan, you will naturally begin attracting the clients that are for you.


And last but not least…


Here are some important things to remember:


  • If it compromises your mental, emotional, physical or financial health, it’s not worth it.


  • The customer is NOT always right.


  • Know your worth. (This podcast episode from Letters From A Hopeful Creative is a great listen!)


  • Be wary of people taking advantage.


  • It’s not always what you say, it’s how you say it.



When we don’t say ‘no’ or we don’t respect our own boundaries, we can often end up further away from our business goals than ever. We can also be left out of pocket, burnt out and full of resentment for the work and the clients. When we start saying ‘no’ more, ‘yes’ is going to feel even more great.



Written by Esme Marsh.


Esme MarshComment