What happens when you need to tell a client ‘no’

Sometimes no matter how well you get on or how much you want a relationship to work (professional or otherwise), it simply won’t.

Last year, one of my clients decided to fire a client. They had been working together for 6 months and it just wasn’t working out.

Despite several meetings and discussions about how to make it work better, my client suddenly became very clear that it would be best for all concerned to move on as quickly as possible.

He didn’t have the clarity right away. It took some time, but he woke up one morning and he just knew. When you follow that kind of ‘knowing’, you can’t go wrong.

Whether it’s because of a misalignment of interests, a miscommunication of goals, or poorly-set expectations, sometimes you just have to say, “No.”

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Knowing when and how to tell your client or potential client, ‘No!’ is an essential part of becoming a successful creative freelancer.

So, saying ‘no’ is what we’ll be covering today for you.

Why you need to say ‘no’ to a client

As humans and budding freelancers, saying ‘No’ to work can be a pretty scary prospect. After all, you want your clients to like you, you want their referrals, you want them to believe in you and your business. And of course, you want to keep them as a client.

But, as my little story at the beginning hopefully demonstrated, when you don’t tell a client ‘no’, you’re not necessarily helping your business.

Try to reframe what it means for you to say, ‘no’. When you turn down work, you’re turning away a project that can only end badly, or that stretches you emotionally and negatively impacts your other work or life.

The clients I’m talking about are the clients that don’t know what they want, the clients who just want it, ‘cheap’ who don’t care about design, or the clients who feel that the work is never good enough. This is stuff that is toxic, to you and your business and these are things you should be saying no to.

If you’ve been freelancing for any period of time, you will likely know exactly what I’m talking about. No matter what, those small underlying issues manifest themselves in a big way sooner or later.

It could be a refusal to pay, endless rounds of revisions with no direction, or simply poor communication and deadline-keeping (on the client side).

Whatever it is, usually your relationship with the client deteriorates to the point where neither of you wants to work with each other.

This is typically accompanied by blunt and passively (or sometimes openly) aggressive emails, delayed payments, zero referrals, lost time, wasted energy, emotional stress and ultimately – you don’t get to do what you do best.

Now, I’m not saying that these things are certain to happen. It’s just that they’re much more likely to happen when you don’t know how or when to say ‘no’.

When you say no to a client, you’re protecting yourself and your business. Keep that in mind when deciding when to say no as well.

When to say ‘no’ to a client

Knowing when to say ‘no’ is often harder than actually saying it.

The first thing is, don’t agonize over it. You’ve been blessed with the power to say no, so use it when you need to.

The second thing is, you’re the person who gets to decide who you work with and why. Don’t waste that. One of your biggest weapons in this is having a good idea of who you want to work with, and most importantly, who you don’t.

Put together a Buyer Persona or Target Audience (if you want help with this, you can download my free target audience worksheet here. This will help you get really clear on your ideal client so you can spot trouble-makers or clients that you know you’ll have problems with.

Some freelancers find it useful to create ‘Negative Target Audiences’ too. This can be a useful way of filtering your prospects out. But the most important thing is learning to actually say that little word.

As a creative freelancer, it’s only natural for you to want to please a client, whether they’re old or new.

We don’t just want to design their website, or write their articles; we want to absolutely knock their socks off.

We want them to come back a week later, shaken and confused, Google Analytics print-out shaking in their palm…”How?” they’ll mumble, “How did you do that?”

Not; “I don’t know why I don’t like it, can you make it, like, ‘pop’ more?”

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Remember this: You’ll never regret the bad jobs you didn’t take. Only the ones that you did.

Oh, and people will actually like you more when you kindly and authentically tell them no. Putting your foot down at the first signs of disrespect or unprofessionalism will help to set a precedent for your future relationship with them. Make your first impression count.

Below are some ‘Red Flags’ that should help you identify when it’s probably best to refuse a request from a client, and how to do it without ruining the relationship forever:

You may even want to include some of these in your Target Audience (grab your worksheet here if you haven’t got one yet). Then you can use these to frame questions to help filter out potential problem clients.

Say ‘no’ when the client wants you to work on spec or for much less than your normal rate.

For the freelancer, this is the first and probably the most important ‘No’ we need to learn to say.

We’ve all been there with a potential client who tries to get a discounted rate. This instantly belittles your skills and risks compromising the quality of work that can be produced.

This is a pity because the client doesn’t appreciate that a proper investment is required to ensure a thorough and quality outcome. In other words: you get what you pay for.

To avoid clients pinning you down on price, don’t reveal your day rate; this increases the likelihood they will try to reduce the price. Once they’ve told you what they want, simply tell them it will cost $X to complete the work.

If you absolutely have to reveal your day rate, set it a little higher (+25%) so that you’ve got some room to negotiate without suffering a real loss. Remember: you can always come down but you can’t go up! Don’t reduce your rate, change the scope of the work.

The client’s budget has to be part of your target audience/buyer personas. Once you have your Target Audience mapped out (download a free worksheet to find yours here), stick to it, especially when it comes to pricing.

Say ‘no’ when the client has a reputation for being overly demanding or dishonest.

This one is a little trickier to determine, especially if this is the first time you’ve come into contact with a client. However, these days a quick Google search will often tell you all you need to know about a business.

Be wary of clients who have not paid freelancers in the past, or have a reputation for being overly demanding or have unrealistic expectations.

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Also, watch out for clients who have worked with many design firms in the past; this is often an indicator that they will be a problem client. Don’t work with clients who are trying to get you to save the project for a cheap price because it didn’t work out with someone else.

What exactly makes a client a ‘problem client’ will differ depending on you, so make sure you use your Target Audience worksheet to go effect, to determine people who are not the best fit for your business. Here’s another one: don’t do the work for free, thinking that it might lead to something ongoing.

This is often a good indication of underlying cash-flow problems within the company. If this is not the case, then likely they do not value the service you provide very highly, which spells future trouble for any creative freelancer. Ask about the financial health of the company. They may not give you exact numbers but can tell you if they’re profitable.

Even if they agree, later this may manifest itself as a repeated requests for changes or work that wasn’t in the original scope. This is where a good contract can come in handy too.

If you know the client has unrealistic expectations or goals, don’t be afraid to say ‘no’.

This one is tricky and is not always obvious from the first meeting with a client. However, usually in such cases, a client will have vastly unrealistic expectations about what can be achieved given the time and resources available.

A great example of this is website design/builds. A client may say they want a website when what they really want is 1,000 customers.

You can make the most beautiful website in the world but your design alone won’t bring them new customers. It’s an important skill as a freelancer to be able to pick apart what your client wants from what they say, and then determine if you can deliver to their expectations. Be sure to find out their objectives right from the start.

Setting realistic expectations for a project is key. If a client refuses to alter their expectations, and you know they are unrealistic, don’t be afraid to walk away.

When the client or project requires you to go against your moral and ethical beliefs, walk away.

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Do not sacrifice your personal beliefs for the sake of a client, and certainly do not do anything illegal.

This may even be because you don’t believe in it or agree with the business behind the project. Do not skip this one, as easy as it may seem to be to ‘just take the money’. You will not do as good a job as you would if you believed in the project. Knowing yourself and your target audience is key here, as with all of these.

Say ‘no’ when you are too busy, have plans, or cannot realistically keep to the deadlines.

These are often some of the hardest decisions to make because we feel responsible. But it’s better to postpone or pass than to say yes and not be able to deliver to your full capability later.

How to say ‘no’ to a client

There are a multitude of reasons why you may need to say no to a client, both before, during, and after a project.

The most important thing is, ironically, to avoid just blurting one out; “Sorry, it’s a no. 

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When I first drafted this, I thought I would add a ‘how to say no’ to each of the main things above. But, the reality is that each situation you need to say ‘No’ to will be unique; as will each reason and each response.

All the same, here are some examples of ways to say ‘No’ that should help give you an idea of how to say to and still leave you and your client feeling good about the situation.

Saying ‘no’ when you don’t like the project;

“Sorry but I don’t think I’m the best fit for your project- here are some designers who might be a better fit.

“It’s been really interesting working with you so far but I think it’s time to let someone else a crack at it. I don’t think I’m doing it the justice you deserve, I can recommend a couple of good designers for you.”

Saying ‘no’ when the money isn’t there:

“I really appreciate the opportunity but I wouldn’t be able to make it work for that price and you wouldn’t be happy with the result. Perhaps we can work together in future.”

“That’s a pity – let me know when your budget situation improves and I’ll be happy to discuss this again.”

“That’s totally understandable – there are so many different qualities and prices for freelance work – I’m sure you can find another freelancer who will do it cheaper.”

“Sorry but I’m a small business so financially I can’t position myself to take that kind of risk – that’s why I ask for the 50% deposit.”

Saying ‘no’ when they ask for extra work (scope creep)

“Yes, we can do that, no problem. Only thing is that it wasn’t part of the original project so it will take an extra {time} and {money} to achieve – you’re looking at X$. Please let me know if you’d like me to go ahead.”

“It’s been great working together but due to some changes in personal circumstances, I’m no longer going to be able to help you out. I’d recommend {Company X} instead.”

“After doing some strategic analysis, I’ve decided to shift my/our focus to only serve a specific niche going forward. Due to this, we regret to inform you that we will no longer be able to work with you. Thanks for your understanding.”

The key here is, knowing when to say no, being confident enough to say it, and knowing how to say it in the best way.

Getting your Target Audience right is going to help you a lot with this. If you don’t have a target audience or an ideal buyer persona, you need one.

Download the free target audience worksheet, which will help you get started putting together yours. Then have a read of my post here, which will tell you a bit more about finding your target audience.

How to stop wasting time on clients that never buy

Being a freelance creative is hard enough. You’re strapped for time. Income isn’t exactly stable. The last thing you need to do is waste your time.

One of the most frustrating things you experience as a freelancer is all the time you waste writing unanswered emails, sending ignored proposals and taking pointless driving trips to see clients that you never hear back from.

Most freelancers I work with tell me they experience similar frustrations.

The first thing I have to do is tell you that ultimately, some of your potential clients will fall through. It’s just life.

Things get in the way. Life takes unexpected U-turns. You just have to accept it.

But when people first join the Business Accelerator, they tell me they are spending way too much time trying just trying to keep their business afloat.

And so many of them are making the same mistakes, so I thought I’d share with you what I tell them:

Why your prospects don’t convert

Ok – as I said there are a million reasons why your prospect might not become a client.

But most of the time you’re wasting your time on someone who was never going to convert in the first place.

“What?” I hear you cry, “But they approached me!”

aI’m afraid it’s true. Often people are just shopping for a price, or they changed their mind, or life got on the way, or the project got put on hold.

The fact is that you can’t work with everyone. In fact, you SHOULDN’T work with everyone. You shouldn’t want to.

It’s like dating, some clients are just not going to be your ‘type’.

Finding your ‘type’: Why a target audience will help you grow

I’m going to keep with the dating analogy because it works well here.

Most people will have a ‘type’ of person they like to date. It may be physical appearance or mental traits; whatever it is – they’re looking for it in a partner. Even if they don’t think it.

You need to have a type of business, a type of client that you know you can work with, and that are likely to want (and be able) to work with you.

Particularly now, when there is so much choice and information available online, it’s SO important not to waste your time trying to please everyone. It just doesn’t work. Even the largest, most successful companies on the planet can’t do it. On top of that, Quite often when you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no-one.

Have you ever walked into a Pizza restaurant that also serves burgers, chicken, curries, and spring rolls? The menu takes 15 minutes to read. And you just know that it’s not going to be as authentic or as good quality as it would be in a family restaurant who have been serving the same dishes for generations.

What makes you think you can appeal to everyone? Why would you want to? Even though most freelancers I work with can tell me the types of client they hate working with, they rarely act upon their experiences.

If you can’t tell me what your ideal client looks like in under 10 words, you don’t know who they are. But that’s OK because this post will help you to figure out what they look like.

How to create your ideal client personas

There’s a group of people that you already know like you and want to do business with you. They’re going to be your key ally here in working out who your ideal client looks like. Who are they? Your existing clients.

1.  Survey/Interview existing clients

Without this survey, the whole thing will fail. Your buyer personas won’t be as useful if you try to do them all by yourself.

First of all, you need to reach out to your existing clients, past and present, to find out who your clients are and what they want from you, in a deep way.

Send them a quick email asking to fill out a micro-survey.

All the ‘survey’ needs to be is: ‘What is your single greatest business challenge’, and ‘Why did you choose to do business with me?’.

You can use Google Forms or Survey Monkey for the survey but an email works too.

The other part of this ‘survey’ you’re going to do yourself.

Use our Target Audience Worksheet to help you think through your clients and their similarities.

This will help you to group your clients into ‘types’ based on more than just their survey answers.

2. Use their answers to build your profiles

Ideally, the answers to their questions (and your own target audience worksheet) are going to give you a lot of really rich data about who your customer is, and what they like about your business.

You’re probably going to get quite a bit of ‘fluff’ as well but that’s ok.

Put your clients’ answers into a spreadsheet and you’ll start to see some similarities in the language people use when talking about their business and their challenges. This is exactly what you’re looking for.

You’ll likely notice is a ‘pattern of problems’ that people have relating to your service and there may be a few of these. This is great.

You want to try and put your customers into ‘groups’ or ‘buckets’, so try to find the similarities between them. To help you do this you may find it useful to add surrounding data you have on your clients from the Target Audience Worksheet.

Create maybe three or four of these groups of issues, the kinds of customers that experienced them and their corresponding solutions (or anything the client said about them in their response).

3. Filter your prospects with a survey

Once you’ve put together your customer surveys and merged it with the answers on your Target Audience Worksheet, you should have three or four groups of similar people and their issues. These are your ‘target clients’ or ‘ideal client personas’.

But simply having a client persona isn’t going to help you stop wasting time with non-ideal clients. You need to act on them.

There are various ways of using your personas, all of which will help grow your business, but the one we’re focusing on today is the filter survey.

This is simply getting all your new prospects to answer a few key questions, which will enable you to sort them into groups.

Each of your groups should have one main ‘headline’ problem – this would be an ideal question to instantly filter your prospects.

This could be a simple drop-down or checkbox with options chosen from the actual words people have said back to you.

For example, you might ask:

What is your biggest challenge as a business:
1) Finding new customers
2) Delivering assets on time/to budget
3) Developing new products/services
4) Other: (leave space for them to write).

The answers you get should help you to sort your clients into groups, so you know what language to use and what solutions they are likely to want.

Usually, you’ll need more than one question to accurately sort your prospects but you can continue to ask ‘filtering’ questions as you get to know them.
Don’t be afraid to say no

One of the hardest parts about using a target audience or buyer persona is saying ‘no’ when the prospect is not a good fit. But you must stick to your guns. I talked about this on my September Webinar (click here to watch it).

You don’t have to be mean about it and you’ll find people often appreciate your honesty.

When you get a prospect that doesn’t fit in your persona, be as polite and helpful as possible but make sure they understand that you are not the right person to help them out. Instead, point them in the direction of someone who might be able to help them out. Then move on.

Not only will you find yourself wasting less time chasing clients that never buy, but if you’ve done your personas properly, you’ll also find those clients coming back to work with you again and again.

Let me know in the comments below if you have any techniques or questions you use to find your perfect clients – I’d love to hear them

 

 

 

7 Problems Creative Entrepreneurs Have Growing Their Businesses (and how to solve them)

 

How good are you at business development?

I used to suck.

But years of growing my own freelance business taught me a few things about getting new clients.

Some of them I put into white-papers like the First Meeting Success Formula, which you can grab a free copy of here.

And all of them I share with my students…

We held a seminar recently with members of my Business Accelerator to handle some of their most common issues.

It was so productive that I thought it worth sharing some of what we covered with you.

Before the seminar, I collected a ton of questions from all our members.

Then I condensed them down to a few main problems that we all seemed to be experiencing.

These questions are pretty common; I’ve come across them many times over my 25-year career as a business consultant.

Hopefully, my answers can help you out too:

1. How do I craft a better cold email to clients and prospects?

I don’t recommend using cold email if you can help it.

Years ago it used to be more effective one-to-one but these days cold email is pretty ineffective.

This counts even more if you’re stretched for time.

I use Twitter to break the ice, which works well for me.

You do need a compelling reason to connect with them, not just ‘hey check out my portfolio’.

Have a compelling reason and it can open the door to an email.

To be fair, this can work with cold email too, except that your reason has to be super compelling.

You have to research that client and that person pretty extensively to do it well.

Detailed client personas will allow you to craft copy in your cold emails that will get much higher responses.

This works well when you have a specific person to connect with, but cold emailing has largely passed its time.

2. How do I strike a balance between getting the work and doing the work?

When your sales cycle leaves you no room to get work while you’re doing your work, it can be stagnating.

This needs to be your top priority – set aside time for it each week, no matter what.

Don’t skimp – it really is the most important part of your business.

The more consistently you can do it, the more effective you’ll be at it.

So block off the time and stick to it. I cannot stress the importance of this enough.

The more you do it, the better you’ll be at identifying ways to make it more effective.

For example, Friday afternoons seem to be a good time for me to connect with people.

Seems contrary to belief but it works for me.

Whatever it is, finding that set time will keep your momentum.

Want to know the formula to successful first client meetings? Download your free copy here.

Look for ongoing clients, rather than one off projects, where you can.

I’ll cover that in another blog post.

For now, just try to look for opportunities for work to develop, or long-term needs of the client you could satisfy.

3. Referrals and personal connections etc. seem to be our best source of leads – what can we do to increase the number of leads we get without attending a tonne of useless evening events?

In my experience, most freelance creatives or small agencies don’t do a great deal of marketing of themselves, for exactly this reason.

Or at least, they don’t do it consistently.

What you want to do is make sure you’re finding and working with your ideal client.

This has to start with getting a good idea of who you work best with, and who is more likely to have a problem you can solve.

Then you need to get on their radar.

You need to find where they hang out and make yourself known there.

This could be certain areas of social media. It could be specific niche events. It all depends on your ideal client persona.

Idea client personas are key to this – so you have to start with this marketing essential

Like it or not, if you want to get more clients coming to you for work, you do need to spend time on your marketing.

4. What is the best way to get clients in a new/different market?

The key with entering a new vertical is always positioning.

You need to make sure that you understand the problems of your potential clients in this niche.

Really well.

Better than the existing competitors in the sector, if you can. If you want to succeed in a niche, you need to know your audience as well as you know yourself.

It sounds really hard and scary, but it is so essential for you to buckle down and do your research.

Know anybody in the market you want to enter? Take them out for coffee and grill them for info.

Whatever it takes, for success in any marketplace, you need to first understand your audience.

5. When planning a new launch how do you work out the best channel to market in with the most success..i.e…ppc/social/email?

Assuming that you’ve put together personas for your ideal client, this shouldn’t be too hard.

So it’s largely a matter of getting down to your marketing strategy.

You ideal client persona will give you hints about where to target.

For example, which social media channel will be more effective, or keywords to target on Adwords.

The best thing to do is to use them to put together a basic marketing strategy.

PPC ads can quickly become very expensive, so it’s important to have clearly defined budget and goals.

Sit down and put together a simple plan, define a budget, some goals and a time period, and really track your results.

When your campaign is underway you’ll be able to tell if it’s cost effective or not and adjust your strategy to fit.

6. How does an introvert begin to develop business?

I get asked this question a surprising amount.

I think this is because a lot of people who are on the more creative and artistic side see themselves as more introverted too.

Most of the time I tell these people it’s a great idea to become part of a business group.

Even better if it’s one with potential clients in it.

There are a lot of different techniques I could teach you to help you get used to breaking the ice with people.

Too many for this post.

So join a business group with like-minded people, and commit to attending regularly.

As you feel more comfortable with these people, you’ll start to find it easier to get into the conversation.

I’ve put together a formula for successful first client meetings, which you can grab a free copy of here

Really if you just keep showing up, it’s great practice for meeting people.

It’s going to be hard to start, but as you get out of your comfort zone and get used to talking about your business, you’ll reap the rewards.

7. How can we deal with pricing with clients? So many clients think graphic design is easy/always want it never yesterday/never want to pay more…

Ok, this is the big one. It comes in so many different forms. But it’s always there.

It’s probably the single most common question I get asked by clients and Business Accelerator members alike.

Many people aren’t going to like this answer, but it’s the only thing I’ve found effective over the years.

It comes in two parts:

1. Become a problem solver/increase your value

You really have to work on your research here.

Find out what their problems are.

You need to consider yourself as a problem solver, not just a designer.

Most businesses don’t care about whether something looks good unless it solves a problem for them.

That’s where you come in.

By doing your research by asking the right questions, like the three killer questions I talk about here, you’ll be able to offer so much more to your clients.

Think of it like back pain. Seriously.

If you’ve ever had back pain, you’ll know what a relief it is to find a practitioner, whatever they specialize in, that can help with the pain.

When that pain goes, you don’t care if it’s a chiropractor, a physic, or tiny needles that did it.

You’re just happy the pain is gone, pay whatever it costs, and book your next appointment.

So imagine how delighted your average business owner will be if you design them a good-looking website, that also helps to increase their conversions (or whatever their problem is).

If you’re delivering that kind of value, you’ll find your clients much happier to part with their cash.

2. Don’t be afraid to say, “No”

The second part of this answer is much harder to do.

Especially if you’re struggling.

Usually, even if you’re not.

Saying no is one of the hardest things to do, in any situation, but one that is well worth practicing.

Not only do various studies that show it can actually make you more likable, it can help your business grow too.

Analyzing your existing or past clients, and creating an ideal future client profile, will help you a lot with this.

It will help you identify when a client isn’t going to respect the work you do or want to pay your prices for it.

We all struggle to turn away work.

But if you’ve ever been in the unfortunate position of wishing you’d never dealt with a client, you’ll understand the power of the word, ‘no’.

So don’t be afraid of turning down work that doesn’t pay what you need, or with clients you suspect will be trouble down the line.

It just isn’t worth it.

Hopefully, you’ve found some of my answers useful.

I’ll be adding plenty more articles and resources here over the coming months, so make sure you subscribe to get more!

 

Want to read more? Check out my 4 Steps to a Winning Freelance Proposal post