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12 Perspectives on When to Turn Down a Client

Have you ever turned down a client? Why or why not?

Business woman turns down a client

The following answers are provided by members of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

1. I Follow the 80/20 Rule

There is a proven rule that 80 percent of the profit comes from 20 percent of the clients. Never beg for business. Build a business where they come to you. Also, never take a maybe; maybes are a waste of time and resources. Here is the trick: Define your perfect avatar (client). Figure out where they hang out, figure out a way to recruit them and then define what goal to accomplish for them.

Tommy Mello, A1 Garage Door Repair

2. We Don’t Identify With Their Product or Service

One benefit of being a boutique agency is we can be selective when signing new clients. The main reason for turning down a potential new client is if my team doesn’t identify with their product or service. For us to successfully pitch and land coverage for a client, we must be able to genuinely convey their message to editors and journalists.

Bryanne Lawless, BLND Public Relations

3. They Don’t Value the Importance of Your Work

If I could, I would help every single business owner out there. However, we’ve gotten to the point where we have the luxury to pick and choose the clients we want to take on. In order to build a good relationship with a client, they need to value the importance of your work from the get-go, which sometimes is not the case. Real results can only happen when the client is a good fit for you.

Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS

4. They Offer Unfair Propositions for an Incoming Hire

The No. 1 reason we may decline an opportunity is if we sense the company is offering a new hire a challenging proposition — such as a troubled brand, poor reviews on culture, or dated technologies — combined with a less-than-attractive compensation package. We just know that one is a recipe for frustration on both sides.

Peggy Shell, Creative Alignments

Trusting your gut feeling

5. I Follow My Gut

While turning down a client isn’t easy, there are instances when my gut lets me know that it isn’t a great fit. It may be because the value I can provide and their expectations are out of sync, it may be because our personalities don’t mesh, or perhaps because they’ll be the ones to call and email to no end never feeling satisfied. If I feel that, I say “no” and refer them elsewhere.

Darrah Brustein, Network Under 40

6. They Have a Bad Attitude

I’ve tried working with clients who had bad attitudes, I guess under the idea that it was business and not personal. I’m not interested in trying that again, or working with clients who are outwardly rude and combative. You have a human connection with someone when you have to work with them so closely, and mine was seeping toxin into the rest of my life. It’s not hard to avoid bad clients like this.

Matt Doyle, Excel Builders

7. They Don’t Know the Product

Customers who are not professional buyers will cost you money. Spending your time and effort with customers who you have to train on the benefits of the product will require more effort than one who already understands what you have to offer. Spend your time finding customers who are professional buyers and require little or no training; they will value your time and cost less to manage.

Diego Orjuela, Cables & Sensors

8. We Can’t Agree on Value Add

By value, I mean that they did not want to pay the rate I worked at as a freelancer at the time. They wanted me to do it cheaply and I didn’t want to devalue what I was offering. I had to turn them down and referred them to other freelancers who had starting rates much lower than mine based on the fact that they were new to the business. Never let someone devalue you.

Angela Ruth, Due

Firing a client

9. I’ve Not Just Turned Down, I’ve ‘Fired’

I highly encourage turning down clients who are not respectful of what you do and don’t show a good understanding of what you can do or why. People who seemed perfectly reasonable when I met them turned out to be suddenly unstable if something unexpected happened. I tend to turn down clients who don’t seem to acknowledge my limits or agree with reasonable expectations.

Adam Steele, The Magistrate

10. I Follow a ‘Doctor and Patient’ Model

I have turned down dozens of clients. I use the “doctor and patient” metaphor when deciding whether or not to work with a new client. First, it’s required that you have a problem that I am capable of fixing. Second, I need to conclude that there aren’t better alternatives available that can solve your problem. Finally, if I can’t help you, I recommend a specialist who can.

Kristopher Jones, LSEO.com

11. Their Projects Aren’t Aligned With Our Company’s Strategy

Yes, we turn down clients whose requests are out of scope and projects that are not strategically aligned with our company’s strategy. Taking on these projects will distract us from focusing on our longer-term goals. Saying “no” to clients is sometimes more important than saying “yes.”

Adelyn Zhou, TOPBOTS

12. We Can’t Agree on Ideas or Strategy

Besides obvious reasons like price qualification, we have turned down several clients when there was a misalignment on a vision for a project. Clients come to us with all sorts of ideas, ranging from simply brilliant to not so much. As a team, our goal is to do everything for the product to be successful, and sometimes clients have a different vision on the execution strategy.

Andrey Kudievskiy, Distillery

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The YEC
The YEC 115 posts

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

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  • Love these tips. Especially number 10. Doctor patient is a really good way to think about it. If a the problem isn’t a match between the two, move on. The general point is also a great one – clients that are not a good fit for your business often hurt your business in the long-run. Don’t be tempted by a short term shot in the arm. It’s just not worth it.