No, Thank You: When To Turn Down Business

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It’s tempting to say yes to every client who walks through the door. But there are times when you must refuse business.

“It
is easy for small businesses to fall into the trap of being all things
to all customers. They must avoid this trap and stay focused on what
they do well and/or where they plan to go as a company,” says Dethra U.
Giles, director of consulting services for human resources consulting
firm ExecuPrep.

You should also consider turning away customers
who are not your ideal clients, says business coach Jennifer Martin,
owner of Zest Business Consulting. “Your ideal clients are the ones you
love working with. Your interaction is satisfying and uplifting, they
really ‘get’ you or what your business stands for and is all about and
they are happy to pay you your going rate, on time. It’s a mutual love
fest and you are both happy in the relationship,” she says. “Ideally,
you want a business or practice filled with people you enjoy who feel
the same way about you. When you turn away someone who doesn’t fit these
standards, you are creating space for your ideal customers to take
their place.”

Some small business owners might be wary of turning
down business for fear of losing customers. But saying “no” shouldn’t
be a deciding factor. It’s all in the way you say “no.” “Keeping a
client’s business starts well before you tell them ‘no.’ The most
valuable tool any business owner has is the ability to build and
maintain relationships. They must learn the art of saying ‘No’ while
making a person feel good and still open to going out for drinks
afterwards,”says Giles.

Also, there are times when a client will
actually appreciate your refusing her business if you either don’t think
your company can handle it or you just aren’t passionate about the job.
“What many people don’t understand is that there is nothing a client
values more than honesty and integrity. If you’re not the person for the
job, do you know who is? If you do, recommend them. If you don’t, just
flat-out tell them that you’re not the person for this job. Don’t waste
their time. They will appreciate it,” says Mike Tanner, founder of web
development firm OneRedCat.

And don’t just say “no.” Explain and
inform. “One of the best ways to let them down lightly is to say that
‘It’s just not a good fit’ or if you have a referral or strategic
partner who would be better suited to work with them, just let them
know,” says Martin. “And ask them if you can have this person give them a
call. They might not be expecting this, but if you don’t think you can
love them, then in the long run it’s probably better for both of you.”

Refuse
business without offending your client. “Old clients, who have had a
superior customer experience, will appreciate the focused expertise of
the company and new clients will get an opportunity to learn what the
company does and appreciate that their focus allows them to be experts.
Again, whether a customer is gained, maintained or lost is in the
delivery of the message,” says Giles.

There are, in fact,
drawbacks of taking on business you don’t feel is a fit for your
company. “You will fail. End of story. It may not be catastrophic, but
you cannot expect to do your best, and any time you’re not doing your
best you are severely diminishing your brand. Your brand has to come
before short-sighted financial gain,” says Tanner.

By saying “no”
you are setting up the reputation for your company. “If you are
wondering what the benefits are of holding your ground, you can start
with feeling good about honoring the rules that you have set out (or are
following) that will help define the future of your business,” says
Martin. “More so, you are setting in motion systems that work
(hopefully) and giving all your clients an expectation of what they can
expect from you and your business consistently.”