⏭️ How to Gracefully Turn Down Clients

It has to be a win-win, or no deal

Onward Everyday

Good morning.

Last week, I turned down $18,125 in potential revenue.

Today, we’ll discuss why a for-profit business would do such a thing, and how to do it the right way.

Let’s get into it.


“Yes!” is the answer to any opportunity when you start your first business.

Initially, it’s all about getting reps, learning from experience, and building a database of satisfied customers and raving fans.

In time, those customers and raving fans recommend their friends, co-workers, and family to you.

To have earned that level of trust is an honor that must be respected and protected at all costs.

As your business matures, it becomes clear which clients it can serve at the highest level and which clients are the right fit for your business.

You no longer need to say yes to every opportunity to survive.

The ability to respectfully and gracefully say no is a superpower.

Even then, turning down a new client opportunity is a tough decision.

However, when you know the client or project isn't a good fit—whether due to expertise, bandwidth, or strategic direction—saying no is a testament to your integrity.

It ensures the client finds a service provider who can meet and exceed their needs and lays the foundation for trust and long-term goodwill.

Operating with the highest integrity reflects your values and enhances your reputation. Clients will appreciate your honesty, and this honesty can lead to future opportunities that are a better fit.

Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs struggle to say no without burning bridges. They worry about losing potential income or harming their reputation.

Focusing on integrity, making thoughtful referrals, and prioritizing trust can turn potential short-term losses into long-term gains for your business and clients.

Here's how to do it:

Step 1: Assess Alignment

Before saying yes to an opportunity, carefully consider whether the project aligns with your skills, values, and business goals.

Ask great questions and carefully listen to their responses for details that will provide the insight you need to determine whether your business is the right fit.

In my conversation last week, it was clear that the client and I would work well together. I was confident I could provide the expertise, experience, and results they were looking for in this project.

By asking one more great question, I unlocked what they really wanted.

They wanted to build a long-term relationship to complete multiple projects each year.

If this were 10 years ago, I would have felt like I struck gold.

This isn’t my first rodeo, though, and this ain’t Texas. 🐝

I don’t have the expertise, experience, or bandwidth for the relationship they were looking for beyond this first project.

If the client's goals are misaligned with yours, politely declining the project becomes a necessary step toward maintaining your business's integrity.

When you say no for the right reasons, you safeguard your brand's integrity and focus.

Step 2: Make Thoughtful Referrals

When you decide to turn down a project, offering a referral to another exceptional provider is a powerful way to demonstrate goodwill.

This ensures the client is well taken care of, reinforcing your commitment to their success, even if it's not directly through your services.

Build a referral network with trusted professionals whose skills complement your own, and you can transform declined opportunities into win-win-win outcomes.

By asking great questions and listening for detailed insights, I knew that I wasn’t the best fit for the client, but I also knew who would be.

I made an introduction, and the client not only hired my referral partner, but both parties shared that they believed it was a great fit and are excited about their partnership ahead. 🤝

Being thoughtful in your referrals provides the best client experience, strengthens relationships in your network, and leads to reciprocal referrals.

Step 3: Communicate With Transparency

The key to turning down clients without damaging the relationship is transparent communication.

Explain your reasoning respectfully, making it clear that your decision is in the best interest of both parties.

Express gratitude for the opportunity, explain why you're not the best fit, and provide a thoughtful referral, and you will literally hear trust and appreciation in the client’s voice.


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