5 reasons why it's hard to say "NO" to a client

young asian girl NO finger_10259165 reasons why it’s hard to say “NO” to a client

(And why you should get over many of them)

I’ll admit it, I have a hard time saying no to my clients. And they know it too. They are very good at pushing all the right buttons. Given the onslaught of extra work in the run-up to a few days off, I’ve added “working on getting better about this” to my list of things to ponder while lazing about.

These are my 5 reasons why I have a hard time saying, singing, NO NO NO!

I’m sure you have yours, so please add them in the comments section and maybe, together, we can get over some of this silliness.


1. A great professional and personal relationship

It is harder to say no to faithful clients with whom you have a terrific professional and personal relationship. Call it loyalty, call it interdependence, call it a partnership – whatever – you’re involved in these projects together, you know the company inside out and how *this* project fits into the bigger picture.

It’s no struggle for me to say no to prospects or previously one-shot clients with whom I’ve not shared anguish over a turn of phrase or met in the flesh. But clients I like and have been in the trenches with? It pushes my guilt button.

2. Interesting and rewarding projects

As luck would have it, isn’t it often the case that the juiciest, most interesting projects show up in your lap just when you have no or little availability?

It’s easier to walk away from a run-of-the-mill project where the added value you can bring is limited (such as a quick translation for information) than something more challenging and rewarding, such as adapting a text for publication or writing a speech.

So what can you do?

  • Burn the midnight oil? That’s risky – if you’re tired, the quality of your work suffers (and you are only as good as the last project you hand in).
  • Sacrifice your week-end? Seems like I’ve done that a lot lately (it was my choice, so no regrets or frustration).
  • Get help on the non-critical project from a colleague, with your client’s blessing of course? That’s a good option too, provided you have time to go over the entire job with a microscope.
3. Client insistence, making you feel like they don’t want anyone else to do it

Sometimes clients really don’t want to hand over the job to somebody else. They know your work and how you work. It gives them peace of mind and saves them time. In this too, you provide value.

So you explain why it would be unprofessional for you to take on their project because X, Y and Z, or that you’d have to charge them double time to get it done (knowing full well they do not want to spend even more).

When the client strives to tweak his calendar to suit yours, it really is tough to say no.

4. The “grab the job in case tomorrow’s a rainy day” argument

Freelancing can be unpredictable. Sometimes, it’s feast or famine. Taking on more than you can reasonably handle is a panic response, and not a sound business decision most of the time (the “you are only as good as your last project” argument again).

Some freelancers fear turning down a client will mean losing them.

Get serious: clients are not stupid.

If you’re really good and at the peak of your learning curve with this client, he may take on someone else in a pinch, but he’s not going to start over from scratch building a relationship with a new service provider. He’d be taking a risk and having to invest time all over again. That’s not a sound business decision.

Ask yourself one question before taking on that extra “rainy day” project: is it tied to anything else?

In other words, does it contain the seeds for upselling? Is it the first phase of something larger? What visibility, inside the company and publicly, might you derive from taking it on? Or is it just a one-shot, stand-alone number that is not terribly critical?

The value of a project to the service provider is not simply how much it may earn you.

5. Believing you CAN fit that extra bit into your schedule

If you are like me, you make sure your schedule has buffer time. In case a project turns out to be more difficult than you thought. In case your Internet connection goes down. In case your computer crashes. Or simply because you refuse to work under the kind of stress that can damage your work.

So, yes, sometimes I’ll take on that extra bit because I do have wiggle room and I like being able to do a favor for a client in a pinch.

That often turns out to be a dumb decision.

  • Giving up my wiggle room is not good for my Zen
  • Giving up my wiggle room is not good for my creativity
  • If others are involved in the outcome, you don’t control their schedule. A slight delay on their end could put you in a real jam.

Cemeteries are full of irreplaceable people. Public transport is filled with commuters on the verge of burn out. I think I can manage to overcome points 3, 4 and 5 by putting a greater priority on my overall well being on the one hand and signaling a much firmer “No” on the other hand.

Points 1 and 2? Ouch. They are intimately tied to why I love being an independent professional (choosing clients and professional relationships) and am passionate about the work I do.

What about you? When and how is it hard for you to say no to clients?

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Comments: 8

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  • You’ve covered all cases very eloquently and I was smiling and nodding at each and every one. Love the bit about cemeteries being full of irreplaceable people.

    The only one I would add is the Friday 4 pm when a direct client (or agency for that matter) you’ve been courting for ages calls you and wants something for Monday. Close to your “juicy project” scenario but the “new direct client” bit adds further pressure. How do you say no when you’re the one who has been trying so hard to convince them they want to work with you? Tricky…

    Having been on the verge of burn out several times over the years, I have found that committing to other things, such as a course or a sports team (unlike paying for gym membership with the best of intentions and never following the money to the gym) are great incentives to learn how to say no constructively and manage one’s time better whilst improving one’s work/life balance. Also, there is often room for negotiation on price if not on deadline and the medicine seems to go down much better when a sacrificed weekend for a job at a premium rate pays for an extra impromptu two or three days off somewhere really nice!

    I’d say a weekend or evening sacrificed but rewarded by a bucketful of job satisfaction is a positive thing (in moderation of course). It’s time to worry and reassess (and learn to say no!) if the bucket becomes full of resentment.

     
     
     
    • Thanks, Anne! And you are absolutely right – one needs to pause when resentment kicks in. But that’s the beauty of being our own bosses, we do have choice (even it it’s hard sometimes!)
      Actually, your “courted client” coming to call at 4 pm Friday for a Monday job is a terrific opportunity to establish a few sound foundations. “Of course, I would be delighted to help you with this! As you know, I have researched your company (confirm your proven interest). I can propose two solutions, which suits you best?” A Monday delivery would be X% more for urgent week-end work, a Wednesday delivery would be at your normal rate of Y. The playing field is set, the project agreed on, now the ball is in the client’s court to decide how he wants to run it.
      What types of courses are you taking? Having a hobby or passion is critical. My saving grace is putting on my sneakers and grabbing the Nikon and going out to walk/shoot.

       
  • Indeed! Negotiation can make all the difference. I have also found that when you really have to say no, even to a much-courted new client, recommending someone else can go a long way and doesn’t mean they won’t get back to you or recommend you in future.

    I go on contemporary literature or film courses at York University with the Lifelong Learning programme. I love it and it makes me read books I wouldn’t normally pick up. At weekends, weather permitting, it’s like you, walking boots and Nikon. Lots of fabulous places here in Yorkshire.

     
     
     
  • Hello Patricia,

    That’s a very interesting subject. I think basically, once you get to like your clients and are emotionnally involved, you can feel really guilty about saying no to them. In the end, I guess it’s all about offering recommendations and negotiating to make you client happy, whether you do the job or not.
    The weekend work issue is also a big one! I usually make sure sacrificing my weekend to work will make me nice money. I’ve never been in the situation that Anne mentions but if I were, I’d definitely go with your solution.

     
     
     
  • Chris

    hello! I’ve learned over the years that clients tend to respect you more if you dare say no to them from time to time… If they’re happy with your work, saying no doesn’t mean they’ll never call you back :) And yes, in that case, recommending someone else is a plus!

     
     
     
  • Thanks for this great post, Patricia! I think you really hit the highlights here; personally the one that grabs at my heartstrings is the “we can’t possibly trust anyone but you, this project is too important!” So hard to hold up the Stop sign after that! But I agree with Anne; if you force yourself to have a life outside of work (whether that involves family, your dog, hobbies, volunteering, social clubs, travel, whatever), it goes a long way. Then you can honestly say that you’re “unavailable,” and go on to the two options scenario as you suggested. Otherwise I think that all of us would be working 7 days a week and wondering why we freelance at all!

     
     
     
    • Writing this post boosted my “no” learning curve! Last week, I turned down a 20K-word project (suggesting a colleague) and this week, when I take the dog for his morning walk, a domesticated peacock comes along with us! A real change of pace!

       
  • Very good post. In the early years I also suffered by this, specially with #4, but then I started realizing that a) I could not burn me out and b) that clients DO realize that you cannot always support them. But as long as you very clearly state the rules you should be OK, such as saying: “Dear Mr. Customer, I am currently busy with an assignment, and you will understand that I will not delay it to take this job, in the same way that I would not delay yours for someone else. I could deliver the job by…”. I’ve found that such an approach often provides a lot of trust to the client, so that they will come back, and a significant number of times you also get the job. On the other hand, the guys that always come demanding to come first are usually also the worst and most unreliable customers…

     
     
     
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