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How to turn down a client (politely!)

January 29th, 2019 by Steff Green 4 minute read

The thrill of a new client approaching your company never wears off. It's amazing to know that your skills and reputation has preceded you, and you’re in demand. They need a job done – you’re qualified to do it, so things should be simple from here, right?

Not necessarily. There are times when you need to turn down a client. This will usually be a new client you haven’t worked with before, but sometimes it may be a long-standing client.

Saying no to a client can be scary. In business, it can feel as though we’re crazy to turn down paid work because there’s no guarantee more will be there tomorrow. From the client’s point-of-view, they already see you as the ideal match, so they aren’t anticipating a rejection. Some clients take this as a personal rejection. If you do your job right and let them down gently and politely, you can keep your dignity and reputation intact, and perhaps have to option to reinvigorate the relationship in the future.

Why turn down a client?

Just because a client contacts you with a job, doesn't mean you'll be taking it. There are many reasons you might decide to turn down a potential client.

Perhaps you've worked with them before and found the relationship difficult. Maybe the work itself doesn't match your company objectives or strengths. It could be that the client's company doesn't align with your values or that your schedule is simply too full.

Get more perspective on Noobpreneur, where a group of Young Entrepreneur Council members discuss reasons they say no to clients or jobs.

Naomi Dunford of Ittybiz explains that you might need a different approach depending if your client is new to you or if they’re someone you know and like. She explains that saying no to a client you already know is much harder, because you’re more afraid of disappointing or offending them.

Remember that turning down a client is a business decision, so treat it as such. Don't allow fear or guilt to influence your decision – you'll regret it later.

How to turn down a referral

If the client is a referral, you’re still not under any obligation to take on their work. Send a polite “thanks but not thanks” email to the inquiring client, then forwarding your response with a brief explanation to your referrer. This helps stop any future drama, and also teaches your referrer how to find more suitable clients.

How to turn down a client with grace

Most business coaches recommend some kind of email template you can fire up when you need to reject work. We believe this is an excellent idea, with the following considerations:

Return the message in the format it was received. If the potential client emailed through a request, or the majority of your communication has been by email, you can get away with sending an email if you prefer. However, if you've spent time with the client in person or on the phone, then you should have a real conversation with them. Otherwise, an email will look as though you have something to hide.

Give the client an answer as soon as possible. On the Work At Home Woman site, Holly Reisem Hanna explains how as business owners we tend to drag our feet on delivering bad news. You're more likely to salvage a business relationship if you give an answer as quickly as possible.

Thank the client. Even if you have no interest any future project, thank the client for their consideration. This is polite and starts the conversation off on a good note.Starting off

Give a reason, but don't go into detail. Justifications and excuses make you look as though you're not telling the whole truth. State your point concisely and professionally. Be clear, and leave no room for interpretation. If the client asks for more information, you can give more detail, but remember to be polite.

Suggest an alternative. If possible, have another company prepared who might be a better fit for the project. This finishes the exchange on a positive note and shows the client you're still trying to help them. Plus, as a bonus, you can refer work to someone else in your industry and build a positive relationship.

Keep your opinions to yourself. You've acted professionally and offered a simple explanation. You've even suggested a place where the client can get the help they need. You've done your job, and how the client chooses to react is on them. 99% of the time, clients will accept your answer and continue to look for a company they can work with. However, occasionally, a person will take your refusal as a personal rejection of them. They may get vocal in your office or on social media.

No matter what they say or how they attack you, retain your professional dignity and refuse to engage. Trust that your audience will be able to see what really happened from context.

Reassess how you obtain new leads. If you frequently have to disappoint potential clients by letting them down, then you might need to consider that you're attracting the wrong type of leads. Assess your lead generation tactics and content, as well as the way initial communications are conducted, and figure out if you can better qualify clients before they express interest, so you don't have to reject them.

A simple “thanks but no thanks” template

Use a template like this when you need to turn down a client:

Hi {name},

Thanks so much for getting in contact about your project. We appreciate you offering us the chance to work with you on this.

However, at this time we’re unable to proceed as your supplier. Unfortunately, this project isn’t a good fit for our team at this time [insert similar explanation, as the situation demands].

Damon over at 123 Accounting deals with other businesses similar to yours, so he might be a better fit. You can contact him at www.123accounting.com – feel free to let him know I referred you. [If your rejection is simply a matter of ‘we’re snowed under right now’, then in this paragraph you could suggest a month they could return to ask about the project again if they felt like it.]

I wish you all the best of luck with your project. Thanks again for considering us.

Yours Sincerely,


Turning down a client can seem like a difficult task, but it doesn’t have to be. Keeping it simple and professional should avoid misunderstanding and keep the door open to future collaboration.

Have you ever had to let down a client? How did you do it politely and tactfully?

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