Clients Really Want You to Say No

Step by step, I'm learning to say "no."

Step by step, I’m learning to say “no.”

On a recent business trip to Germany, my client asked about my session at the Creative Freelancer Conference. How’s that for an awkward moment: talking about a session about client relations with your client?

I told him that one of the biggest issues for freelancers and small business owners is saying that one little word: “no.” We all fear that “no” will forever shut the door. Over the years, I’ve developed the soft “no,” which amounts to, “no, but….”

For example: there are times when I’m absolutely loaded with projects. Maybe I’ve scheduled poorly, but it’s more likely that a client (or two, or three) has let a deadline slip. Another client comes along and needs to get started with a new project ASAP, because there is no other kind of project. Six years ago, I would have worked nights and weekends to make it happen, bleary-eyed suffering that resulted in a perfectly respectable but not exactly stellar product. Now I say, I’m sorry, but I’m booked through next Friday. I really want to give your project the attention that it deserves. If we can start the following Monday, I’d be happy to take it on. It’s the kind of response that I would have wanted from my freelancers when I worked in-house, and it’s the kind of response that I should have been giving from the start.

He nodded emphatically. “I want you to say no,” he said. “I don’t want to sacrifice quality. This tells me that you’re conscientious, you know your limits, and when it’s time for my project, it will get your full attention.”

I have to admit, I was a little bit relieved to hear it.

How do you say no?

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