One of the reasons many of us share for going into business for ourselves is that we want to be able to choose who and when we work. In the beginning weeks or months of our businesses, however, we may take any client, customer or project that comes our way. But, as we get established, and if we have a very clear of sense of our mission and purpose, there will eventually come a time when a project or client presents itself that we really don’t want to work with—so how do we turn down a project or client and still preserve a solid reputation?
First of all—no guilt. There is nothing wrong with turning down a project or client or customer. Businesses do it all the time for various reasons. You will want to handle it with tact and professionalism, however, as you may want to continue working with the particular client (just not on the project) or you may be able to take on the client or customer at a later date. Here are some suggestions for ways to say no with care:
If you don’t have the time to take on an additional project or client, you can surely say so: “I’m sorry, but our calendar is full and I wouldn’t be able to give your project the time it needs, so I am declining, but can refer you to…” If the project is too big for your business, this can be a little sticky. You don’t want to really admit that you can’t handle it but you can put the focus on what is best for the client: “I really cannot give this project everything it needs right now. I truly believe that you will have good success if you work with a firm like…”
Back when I was consulting, I was asked by a friend to take on a fundraising project for a faith-based organization he was running. While I had extensive experience in nonprofit management and fund development, I really didn’t want to get into working with faith-based organizations and projects; I preferred the secular and felt more comfortable in that realm. At the time, I was quite concerned with how to turn down the project and maintain the friendship. Finally, I just came clean with him and told him just what I told you—“I really don’t feel comfortable working in the realm of faith-based projects and organizations, you deserve someone who is experienced and can behind your project 100%.” Our friendship continues, and he was able to find someone within the organization who was passionate and devoted.
It is definitely okay to say know to projects or clients that you can’t or don’t want to work with—it is just a good idea to go about it with professionalism and consideration.