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How to Turn Down Business Clients, Professionally

By Holly Reisem Hanna

Have you ever worked with a difficult client? I know I have worked with my fair share of difficult and impossible to please customers (I waited tables all through out college). The beauty of owning your own business is that you get to choose with whom you work with. There are numerous reasons why one would turn away business; lack of time, clash of personalities, ethics, outside their realm of expertise, too little pay… In fact in his book, The 4 – Hour Workweek, Timothy Ferriss explains how once he dropped his nightmare clients his revenue started to increase!

For me it’s not so much working with difficult clients, but because the work-at-home realm is so littered with scams, that I often have to turn away business because I don’t feel comfortable promoting the opportunity presented. This is something that I definitely do not enjoy doing, but over the past year I have gained a lot of experience in turning down business clients. Whatever the reason, there is fine art to turning away clients and customers professionally.

Here are a few tips and strategies I’ve learned along the way.

Act Quickly. Making the decision as quickly as possible allows time for the client to search for alternative solutions and shows them a certain level of respect. Dragging out the decision could turn into an angry client who gives you and your business poor lip service.

Short & Sweet. When turning down a client it is best practice to be polite, prompt and to the point. A simple and direct statement should suffice. If this is a desirable client, see if you can refer them to another trusted source, they will appreciate your willingness to assist them.

Offer Explanations When Asked. If a client asks the question, “Why won’t you take me on as a client” explain why you won’t be able to assist them. Remember to be polite and as delicate as possible, many people will take this rejection personally.

Always Remain Professional. If a client starts to step over the line and starts name calling or acting unprofessional, as tempting as it may be, never engage in this sort of behavior, just cut off communication. You never want to burn any bridges or add any fuel to the fire.

Suggest an Alternative. If possible offer alternatives, this is not only helpful to the client, but it leaves them with the feeling that you tried to help them.

    Have you had to turn down a client? How did you handle the situation?

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    8 Responses to “How to Turn Down Business Clients, Professionally”

    1. 1

      This couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve been trying to figure out how to handle a client who is increasingly becoming nightmarish. This might be the nudge I needed to end the problem before it turns sour. Great tips.

      • 1.1

        Hi Elena,

        Sorry to hear that you have a difficult client. As Suze Orman says, every time you shut one door a new one always opens. Shut this door and make room for a new client who truly appreciates you and your hard work! Your jewelry is so beautiful and needs to fully be recognized for how unique and special it is!

        Good luck with the process,
        Holly

    2. 2
      Jeanne says:

      First of all Holly – GREAT article, great suggestions. I have turned prospective clients down and I do several of the things you have suggested. I do these for several reason’s: 1. Although I don’t go into an explanation of why “we cannot assist you to get to your goals & I wouldn’t want you to waste your money on a process which may not help you” – if they go further and ask why…I tell them why, nicely – yes and I do not lie or beat around the bush. I think it’s important for for them to get the truth because it could help them in their quest for their goal to be met. 2. Also, I almost always suggest an alternative, always. I believe they called us for help and I genuinely want to help them take at least a small step forward, even if our services are not exactly the entire path they should take. I also always want our company to be thought of as professional and even though I don’t own this company – I have personal and professional moral’s and standards that I stand by, always. I also have a great respect for the company owner.
      I really love your suggestions and feel they are “right on”. Thank you for sharing because there are always going to be people who are “difficult” in some way and people that we simply cannot accomodate.

    3. 3
      Joel Black says:

      I had to turn down a client yesterday and am blogging about it today. I just searched to see if anyone else had the same problem. Thanks for your insight!

    4. 4
      Jill Perry says:

      I am wondering how to turn away a graduate student who is looking for help from me on their thesis. I have answered a few questions and pointed them in the right direction (toward a colleague more in their specialty), but they have come back again with very big time-consuming industry-wide questions that it would take a degree to learn. Some questions don’t even have definitive answers yet. I can’t see any business benefit to it. I do want to be a charitable person, but I have my limits. An additional complication is that the student is in India. I don’t know if this makes the situation different than if the student was in the US? Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks!

      • 4.1

        Hi Jill, It’s great to be helpful, but there comes a point and time when you just have to say no. Often when I’m not able to help someone out, I offer up a couple of referrals (if you know of any) and just be honest with them, let them know that you have too much on your plate and that it’s not your specialty. Good luck to you!

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