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The Importance of Saying No

Updated: Oct 21, 2018

It’s hard. Someone wants to work with you; however they’re already proving a bit of a challenge.

  • They want it done in a timeline that doesn’t fit your availability

  • They want you to come to them even though you work from your location and they’re a long way away

  • They want appointments at times that you don’t normally work

  • and on and on and on...

You really want the work - it's hard to turn people down - especially in the early days when you're more likely to be concerned about your cash flow and establishing yourself.

You start thinking about how you can make it work. You justify to yourself why you can't turn it down and that it won't be that bad if you fit with them this time - just for this client.

Perhaps you decide to do a few weekends or an evening, or you agree to go to them - after all it'll be a nice drive or you can do lots of work on the train. Of course, you don't charge for this time or the expenses you are incurring.

None of these things are good for you, they're just good for your client.

The Impact of Saying Yes (when you should have said No)

Before you know it, you're really feeling the pressure - you're accommodating what each client wants and you are being run ragged.

The impact may not be immediately apparent but as the pressure builds and you start to feel more stressed you may find that you:

  • start to get snappy with friends and family - you've exhausted your store of patience on your work

  • spend all your time working or thinking about work

  • aren't delivering to the quality you expect of yourself - its more important to get it done; or

  • can't bring yourself to deliver lower quality so work to the highest standard - adding pressure, taking more time and yet not necessarily bringing benefit for them or you

  • start to resent working with them

  • can't seem to get on top of things and your task list is never ending

  • find it hard to get started

  • flit from one task to another, never really getting your head down on any one

  • start to doubt your ability to deliver

  • question if your business is what you really want to do

None of these are good and it's worth keeping an eye out for them and any other impacts you might find related to you saying yes when you should have said no.

We all want to be good to our clients but we also need to be good to ourselves.

How to Say No Softly But Firmly

Saying no doesn't have to be a harsh or blunt interaction. You need to be firm and clear but also providing options. Remember - they want to work with you!

Consider their request:

  • what would mean to you to accommodate it

  • what would it mean to them if you do or don't accommodate it.

  • decide if you can meet their requirements in any way and then propose a solution to them. Rather than no you are giving them alternatives that may work for both of you.

If it comes to it though, you may need to explicitly say no - however, leave it open for them to return if appropriate. For example, 'Due to my other commitment, I can't work to your deadline on this occasion. My normal turnaround time is ... but if you give me sufficient notice, I can sometimes turn it around more quickly.'

Don't hesitate to suggest someone else to them -

this will provide you with good will from both the recipient of your suggestion and the client.

Making Yes Worthwhile

Before you say no - consider what would make it worthwhile to say Yes. I've provided some examples below.

'Joe can do it for less, can you match his price?'

If you start competing on price alone, it puts you on the wrong footing. Tell them that you can't and that you believe in the value you offer. If you know Joe's work, mention things he may not offer. Be clear in your own mind that you are worth this. If you do decide to offer a slightly lower price, make it a special discount - put it on the invoice so they see what you would normally have charged. Make it clear if this is a one off or if you will continue working at this rate.

You could also consider offering a lower price but with slightly fewer deliverables.

Whatever price you do this for - you need to be happy with it. If you feel negative about it, it can impact your attitude, the quality of your work and your motivation to get it done - especially if there is higher valued work on your plate that is now suffering.

'It's really urgent, can you get it done by ....'

Poor planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on mine.

I love this quote. It's so true. It is really easy to take on someone else's problem because we want to help.

There is nothing wrong with that but you need to consider what it will take from you to deliver in their timeframe.

Do you have the time? Will other work slip? Are you going to have to put in long hours.

What is it worth to you? Will they expect this turnaround every time?

There is nothing wrong with saying you can't do it. If it isn't worth your while, you shouldn't do it. By worth your while, I don't just mean financially sometimes there are other benefits that make things worthwhile.

You could consider suggesting you can do part of it, or a higher cost to allow you to get support to complete it (or to make up for working evenings and weekends on their behalf), check that their deadline is legitimate - strangely people often put themselves under pressure to hit a deadline that, with a bit of rethinking, can move or be hit in a different way.

Is this client the type that is always going to come to you at the last minute and if so, do you want to work with them?

Or increase the rate - can you hire extra staff to get it done on time - when you charge a premium for this remember that you still need to make a profit and that your time is going to be partially spent sorting out the additional resources which will impact your other work as well. Price accordingly.

Of course, if they are an existing client who you have a good working relationship with and this is an exception, this may not require much consideration!

'I can only meet in the evening (or at a weekend)'

Is this a one off? Or will you be meeting them regularly and they will continue to expect you to meet in the evening.

You need to decide if you are willing to work in this time. If you are, what will make it worth your while - is it an increased rate, or a different location that is more suitable for you. Do you only offer Skype/video calls rather than face to face?

Think about what makes it worth your while. You are in control. They want to work with you.


  • Being in demand is good

  • If you always say yes, without ensuring you have the capacity to take the work on, odds are that you will end up feeling stressed

  • Value yourself and the work you do

  • Don’t be reactive to the whims of a client

  • Flexible is good but not to your detriment

If you are finding that you are already somewhat overwhelmed, you can download my top tips to stop stressing at

I work with clients to stop stressing and start earning. We start by getting out of overwhelm and then establishing how to work towards a successful future. Contact me at or 01344 289985.


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