When it comes to client work, I have only recently gotten more comfortable with saying no. It’s always been hard because I have a bit of a guilt complex. The last thing I’d want to do is hurt a potential client’s feelings. Email should make it easier and in some ways, it does. But there’s still a human on the other side, reaching out.
It’s only been in the last two years where I even felt comfortable turning down projects. Up until that point, I took on everything I could get my hands on because I needed the real world experience, the income and I knew that each project would teach me something new. I took on the good, the bad and the questionable in a thirst for knowledge. A few projects landed me long-term clients that I still work with over at Branch and filled out my personal portfolio at a time when I spent my days working at agencies on large corporate projects.
Looking back, I wouldn’t trade any of those experiences because they not only taught me a lot about working with different types of clients but they taught me a lot about myself. I learned what I wanted more of. I learned that the sweet spot of Branch was creative small to medium-sized businesses.
Where is all this leading? By now, it should be easier to say no. A few weeks ago, even when I looked at the Branch schedule which was booked solid for at least a month out, I found myself cringing inside as I told my project manager to turn down about five jobs. Saying no still stings but I’ve learned that it is better to be honest.
Sometimes, it’s a matter of timelines. If a client needs something faster than you can offer it to them, be upfront about it. There’s no point in disappointing yourself and them when you can’t keep up. Other times, it’s in an industry you don’t know much about or feel comfortable diving into. That’s okay, too. Take the time to offer some great referrals to other designers you feel would be a better fit. And in some instances, it’s a clash of communication styles — you’re going to be spending a lot of time with clients, even if you’re working remotely so it’s imperative that you mesh well right from the beginning.
If you’re saying no for the right reasons, you should never feel guilty. Every single person who contacts you deserves the absolute best service and outcome of their project. If you can’t make that happen for any reason, be honest. There is nothing wrong with wanting the best for potential clients. It’s nothing personal; it’s a matter of being comfortable enough with who you are to know what you excel at…and what you don’t.
Saying no doesn’t always have to be viewed as a negative — instead, it can be viewed as empowering, honest and straightforward. Don’t just focus on what’s best for you but also what’s best for your potential clients.
Your turn: What are your tips for making saying No sting less?