Why You Shouldn’t Say Yes to Every Client (Even If They Pay)

September 5th


Offsprout is the only WordPress website builder for freelancers and agencies.

So, imagine that you’ve just met with a prospective client, and from everything that’s been discussed, you know you can create a great website for them.

However, their industry isn’t exactly one that you’re familiar with, or maybe it’s just not something that gets you excited. But they have a need, and you have the solution, so why not take the job?

Or maybe the client seems all right, but they’ve requested things that may involve a little extra work on your end. So what? It’s not like you haven’t faced challenges before. You should definitely take the client, right?

Well…maybe not.

There’s a good argument to be made for saying “no” to a potential client, even if they’re offering you big bucks.

Here’s what you should know before signing the contract…

“We Might Be a Good Fit, But…”

The first reason you might consider rejecting a client even would be due to concerns about time, money, or the working relationship.

It’s important to understand that your time and energy is valuable, and even though it may be tempting to take a quick paycheck – especially if you’re a small company or just starting out – having a level of integrity about what you will (or will not) do for a client is essential for growth.

Mark Busse says, “As your reputation will be linked to those you work for, it’s important not to rush into opportunities just because you need the experience or money.”

Rushing jobs can lead to poor work. Overworking leads to being underpaid and undervalued for future jobs. And, being constantly harassed is never good for morale.

So, even if a client is a good fit but they don’t respect you or your team’s boundaries or they can’t work within your timeframe, it’s best to walk away for the good of everyone involved.

But what about a client that’s not a good fit, but respects you and is willing to meet all of your demands?

You may still want to say “no.” Here’s why…

“Sorry, We’re Not the Right Fit”

Trying to be everything to everyone can be severely limiting to your potential. Specialization – or choosing to work within a niche industry – is actually a much better strategy for growth.

Having a well-defined group of clients that share your similar goals and characteristics can help you produce your best work, generate more income, and attract influencers to your business.

Saying “No” Bolsters Your Niche

Having a niche or specialization empowers you to say “yes” to clients you love to serve, and has the potential of creating more income from those clients, as they will see you as a trusted authority.

Brennan Dunn of Double Your Freelancing says that niching sends a signal to potential clients that you are a lower risk because you have the experience and understanding of their business to go the extra mile.

In the long run, having a dedicated industry or skill set not only means more business for you, but it also means getting to work on projects that truly inspire you for people that really trust you.

Samar Owais from Creative Class takes it a step further and even recommends filtering clients by your personal preference:

“I don’t work with any alcohol based businesses, tobacco companies, adult sites, or online casinos, but those are just my personal preferences. Yours could be entirely different,” she says. “Whatever your reasons, find out where you draw the line. And under what circumstances you would be willing to extend that line.”

Saying “No” Expands Your Capacity

Ultimately, the reason you’re saying “no” to one client is so that you can eventually say “yes” to another.

If you take a look at your income, chances are that a smaller number of clients are providing most of your profits. If, for example, 80% of your profits come from 20% of your clients, you should be saying no to 80% of your prospects to focus on the rest.

We’ll say that again: You should say “no” to 80% of your prospective clients.

Saying “no” creates a higher level of capacity for you and your team. When you don’t have to waste time with clients that don’t fit your criteria, you’re free to work with any and every client in your desired market.

So even if your clients are willing to pay, it’s important to recognize that saying “yes” to them may mean sacrificing things down the line.

Of course, eventually you’ll have to say “yes” to someone. But, how do you know for sure that it’s the right client?

What to Ask Yourself Before Saying “Yes”

Here are a few questions you can ask before sayings yes.

Is their industry a niche that I can enter?

Or perhaps more importantly, is this a niche you want to enter?

One thing to keep in mind is that unless you’re simply doing one-off projects, you’ll be working with this client for a stretch of time. If you’re not passionate about the industry or niche they’re in, or excited about the project as a whole, you can lose a lot of momentum.

Steve Jobs once gave some advice about sustainability, saying:

“People say you have to have a lot of passion for what you’re doing, and it’s totally true, and the reason is because it’s so hard that if you don’t, any rational person would give up. It’s really hard, and you have to do it over a sustained period of time, so if you don’t really love it … you’re gonna give up.”

Your first priority is making sure you’re working with clients in your chosen niche that you can stick with for the long haul.

Will this relationship be profitable?

You want to make sure that your clients can afford you. You shouldn’t have to penny pinch in order to keep them, even if they’re a good fit.

If a client says, “We can’t afford you,” Fabienne Fredrickson from The Client Attraction Business School recommends restating the value to the client and showing them that your work is an investment in their future.

Keep in mind that “profitable” doesn’t just mean financially beneficial, either. You want the relationship to add value to you and your team, so make sure that your client has the sort of disposition that meshes well with your workflow.

Have we had success with this client or industry before?

If you’re diving into a niche industry that you have no experience with, you may want to reconsider taking on that client, or at the very least, doing your research.

On the other hand, if you have worked in similar fields and you know that you’ve been successful, it can be worth considering the client as long as they meet your other criteria.

Make sure to look at the hard evidence of success – case studies, stats, sales numbers, etc. – and not just a general feeling that you’ve been successful.

Will everyone get what they need?

Finally, the most important thing you need to ask is, “Who comes out ahead in this relationship?” If the answer is “both of us” then you’re on the right track.

If you have a sneaking suspicion that one of you is getting the short end of the stick, consider saying “no.”

If everything is working out great for you, but the client may not be getting what they want, it’s not really an ideal situation. The last thing you want to do is be known as a business that takes advantage of clients.

On the other hand, if the client is over the moon but you’re still overworking or being under valued, that’s not great either.

The goal is to make sure that the end result of your relationship is mutual benefit, and if you see an opportunity that’s win-win, feel free to give that client a resounding “yes”.

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