It doesn’t matter what kind of business you’re running or if you’re flying solo – saying “no” to potential work always feels like the wrong thing to do.

After all, why on earth would you turn down business? Someone is willing to pay you for your services, and all you have to do is say ‘yes’.

But what if you can’t actually deliver in time? What if in doing so you won’t make a penny of profit? What if the task is beyond what you’re currently capable of?

Sometimes, saying ‘no’ is absolutely the best thing to do.

Here’s five scenarios you might encounter during your career and how to deal with them.

Scenario 1: Your to-do list can’t be trimmed or readjusted

To-do lists don’t have to be sacred, but sometimes you simply can’t adjust them any further when another job comes in.

If, having looked at the list, you realise you’ll simply disappoint another client or force yourself to work into the small hours, there’s only one thing for it.

How to say no

Be honest. Explain that you can’t give the project the time it deserves due to your current workload.

Scenario 2: You’ve hit your rock-bottom price

Your time is valuable, and whether you charge by the hour, day or project, it’s important you don’t devalue your service.

If it feels wrong to go cheaper, don’t.

How to say no

Explain that you simply can’t deliver the value they want at a price lower than the one you’ve quoted. Stand tall.

Scenario 3: It’s beyond your current skill set

Sometimes, you have to admit you simply can’t do whatever it is the client is asking. And that’s fine – no one is a master of everything.

How to say no

Be honest and tell the client that you can’t deliver what they require. If you know someone that can – point them in that direction.

Scenario 4: There’s a conflict of interest

If you’re a freelancer or business that relies on partnerships, you may occasionally encounter scenarios where a client comes directly to you for your services, rather than via the partner.

While it might be tempting to grab a bit more of the profit and relationship-building opportunity, this will ultimately damage your partnership and word may get around that you’re less than trustworthy.

Conflicts of interest can also arise when a customer approaches you from an industry within which you already have an exclusive contract with someone.

How to say no

Explain to the client that you have a great relationship with the partner (or customer) and that you can’t betray their confidence.

businessman with his hand out, showing to stop

Scenario 5: Something doesn’t feel right

Your gut can tell you an awful lot about an opportunity, and if it just doesn’t feel like the right thing to do, listen to what your head is saying.

Can’t put your finger on what it is? Don’t worry – you don’t have to; it just isn’t right.

How to say no

There’s no need to fabricate a reason for not wanting to do business – just explain that the project doesn’t fit within your business culture and you’re not the best fit for the job.

Wrapping up

Every answer provided above should give the client the option to readjust their own timelines and expectations. The more honest you are, the more likely they are to give you extra time or come back when you can fulfil their needs. Just remember to keep the line of communication open.

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