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Sometimes it’s necessary to say no to requests. This is true, whether it’s a new client or a long-term client requesting additional work. This alone can be a scary thought, especially since progressing to partner takes you building your own book of business. But sometimes it is necessary. You must do it in order to keep your dignity and reputation intact. Furthermore, it will also give you the opportunity to reinvigorate these relationships in the future. Here is how to say “no” to clients gently and politely. 

Why say “no” to a client at all?

Taking on every client may be tempting, especially when you are a lawyer, accountant or consultant looking to build your own book of business, but it isn’t always a smart move. There are actually many reasons for turning down business, crazy as that sounds, that will actually offer you a lot more benefits. Here are reasons why it might be best to say “no” to a client:

  • Your schedule is too full with work that has a higher value.
  • The type of work doesn’t align with your skills and strengths or the firm’s objectives.
  • The client’s company doesn’t align with your values or the firm’s objectives.
  • You’ve worked with them before and they are a difficult, time-consuming client.
  • You may want to suggest a different approach to the work.

Whatever your reasons for declining work, remember that this is a business decision. Don’t feel fear or guilt about it, just try to say “no” in the nicest way possible.

How do you say no to clients politely?

Answer the client as soon as possible.

It’s not polite to make a client wait, especially if it is for refusal, so don’t drag your feet on delivering the bad news. Take the time to respond gracefully but do it as soon as possible so that you can salvage the business relationship.

Return the message in the format it was received

Whatever way your client contacts you to communicate their request, respond using the same format. Even if you really don’t want to, contacting them via the method that they are most comfortable with (e.g. phone, email or a face to face meeting) is key to being as polite as you can be. (Check out our email templates for letting down clients gently)

Thank the client

Another way to say no to clients politely is to thank the client. Do this even if you have no interest in any future project. It doesn’t matter if it is a new client or a long-standing one. It is polite to thank that person for their consideration and interest in your business. 

Explain briefly but clearly

You may be tempted to make up an excuse that sounds better but telling the whole truth actually puts you in a better light. The most polite way to let someone down is to be honest, and to state your point as clearly, concisely, and professionally as possible. If you leave room for interpretation it just leads to unnecessary disappointment for the client.

Suggest an alternative

If possible, try to be as helpful to the client as you can by suggesting an alternative solution for them. Perhaps someone else within your company is a better fit for the project or you can refer them to someone else in your industry. 

Reassess and refine

Reassessing how you obtain new leads will help you to make sure that you are only turning away the wrong types of clients. Once you know you are doing this you can then refine the refusal process and let down clients as politely as possible. (Are you struggling to win bigger and better clients?)

Don’t be afraid, be polite and tactful

Saying “no” to clients isn’t a bad thing, there’s just a bad way to do it. In fact, it is actually the bad execution of a refusal that costs many lawyers, accountants, and consultants business not the actual “no” itself. If you need to refuse a client and you’re thinking how do you say no politely, just remember to respond quickly, explain your reason, and be as thankful and helpful as possible. You’ll soon find that it has a much more positive effect on your book of business when it is full of the types of clients and work that you actually want.

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