Most small businesses don’t like to turn away customers or clients, but sometimes there might be a good reason to say “no.” However, there is an art to saying it while still keeping your customers happy.
“This is a critical question in this customer-empowered era. Many businesses developed an inferiority complex and now treat all customers as though they are always right. This is wrong,” says Lior Arussy author of Exceptionalize It, founder of the Strativity Group.
Arussy adds, “A customer is a customer within a certain set of guidelines. Outside of those guidelines, the answer ‘no’ is not only recommended, but expected. Just as a doctor will not provide a patient with the wrong treatment in the name of ‘the patient is always right’, so should a business not deliver on unrealistic requests or lose money on serving the customer. Serve the profitable customers and send the rest to your competitors. Like any relationship, both sides must demonstrate a reasonable approach and expectations.”
So as hard as it may be–you will have to say ‘no’ as a small business owner.
“There will come a time when ‘no,’ is the only appropriate answer to give,” says Stephanie D. Moore, owner of Moore Marketing and Communications. “Unfortunately, sometimes ‘no’ is the best answer you can give. It is our responsibility as business owners, to educate and empower our clients with the knowledge that they can utilize today and use as a foundation to make decisions tomorrow.”
Of course, the one time you always say ‘no’ is when your client asks you to do something illegal.
Also, when you can’t deliver the product they require, it’s okay to say, ’no.’ “Say ‘no’ when the quality of the end product will jeopardize your standards or the standards of your client; and when you understand what the client desires and you know the request will not result in the desired end product,” says Moore.
While this is a good time to say ‘no,’ it is also good to give your clients other options in order for them to make their deadline. “I never turn down business. I help find a solution. I tell my clients that I like to under promise and over deliver, not overpromise and under deliver. I would then suggest being a catalyst to keep the customer’s business in the future,” explains Kristi Lin Finch, owner and talent agent of The Sam Blaze Agency for models and talent. “I have contact with competitors and I will refer one of my clients to a competitor I have an arranged a referral fee for or shared commission agreement with. I then offer my client free, second opinion consultation and they’ll run a contract by me before signing. This enables my client and I to keep contact and continue to build trust. I have many referrals who have heard that I was fair and honest.”
There will also be customers you may have to turn away–because they are no longer the right fit for your company. “Between your price and the value you deliver, there will be customers who perfectly fit it and others who do not,” Arussy points out. “To stay in business and thrive, you need to focus on the customers that fit your business model. Those outside of it will cause you to deliver value they didn’t pay for and in the process dilute the value to every customer. Your profitable customers paid you to deliver value to them – not to finance unprofitable customers. Stick to the right customers.”
Before you say no, think about how you will deliver the news. “Focus on the rationale behind their request. Try to understand the ‘why’ behind it. And then build on it to articulate the reasons why you say ‘no.’ In most cases, if you can articulate the ‘why,’ they will agree with you,” says Arussy. “In some cases, they may leave because your competitors are desperate. It does not mean that you should sink to desperation. It’s not a good path to business survival and growth.”
Adds Nathan Corbier, founder/principal developer at Saint Paul, Minnesota-based web consultancy Corbier and Associates Corporation, “Saying ‘no’ shocks many clients, but ‘no’ followed up with ‘this is why you shouldn’t do this,’ is the industry standard, best practice-based way to approach it. And the phrase ‘this is what we can do to get what you want properly’ usually steers the client in the right direction.”