How to Say No to a Customer and Really Mean It

Have you ever walked away from a client?

Have you ever said “No” to a particular business deal?

After 12 years in the business of designing business websites, like it or not, we sometimes have to.

While having (big name) customers are great for our design portfolio, sometimes the costs of serving these customers can be too high.

Why We Say No

We sometimes need to turn down big name customers because they demand too much. (And sometimes their products are a tad shady too.)

And they want everything and the kitchen sink, if you let them have their way.

And given the resources that we have (we are a small web design firm after all), we’d rather be less stressed and earn a little less than to pander to corporate whims and fancies.

The way I look at it, when we establish a relationship with our clients, regardless if it is a solo-preneur business or a 100-person business, it is for the long haul.

It’s like dating with an intention to get married or at least, get engaged. We don’t like one-night stands or speed dating. That’s just not our style.

We don’t just build you a website and throw it to you and consider it case closed and you’re on your own now.


We Help Make Your Business Better

We build you a website and help you make it even better as your business expands.

We grow with our clients and help them maximise their website potential as they grow. Using their website for better marketing, better PR, better automated tasks, better visibility.

But big name customers sometimes aren’t looking for a long term vendor or supplier of web design services.

They want to call someone or some company to revamp their corporate website and usually the IT Department is tasked to find a web design firm (if you’re a CEO and you’re reading this, get both the IT and Marketing Departments to talk to us).

The IT Department knows its IT stuff but it is a business website we are developing so the input from the Marketing people are crucial.

The IT Department usually want to get their ‘front door’ nice and prettified. They don’t know and probably don’t care much for marketing and business viability of their corporate websites. In some cases, the CEO just wants to know if their website looks better than their competitors! They’re not really keen on using a website for all its worth. (So it’s an uphill battle sometimes trying to educate these people – the kinds of CEOs we’ve met and the stories we can tell can fill up a whole book.)

Not Our Ideal Client

So yes, like it or not, we have turned down big name customers because we feel they are not the kind of clients we want. Of course we do meet up with them first before we make a decision.

The key to saying no is to say no without offending them. Don’t make an enemy out of a stranger.

When we say no, we usually preface with, “Thanks for asking but we’re really tied up with other website development projects and may not be able take yours on.”

It’s not just big name customers sometimes.

Just the other day, we spoke to a woman who wanted a website designed. The problem was, she had attended way too many seminars held by Internet “gurus” (you know my take on these ‘gurus’).

You see, the problem with certain folks is that they get super-excited about earning money in their pajamas. They don’t care what they sell or what they do – “Just show me the money” – that’s their mantra anyway.

The moment we spoke to her, we went “Uh oh!”.

Straightaway we already knew that this was something we are not going to take on.

Sometimes you can tell by the way your suspect/prospect speaks over the phone – this person was truly dodgy, with dodgier schemes and that dollar sign in her eyes. This was someone we knew we didn’t want to deal with, now or in the future.

So we politely emailed her and said we were perhaps not the right match for her needs. Of course she didn’t take it lightly, spouting disappointment and bile. The key is: after you’ve said no, stick to it and don’t get drawn into an email war. Move on and get better prospects. C’est la vie!

Say No Firmly In the Beginning

Sometimes saying no in the beginning is the best thing to do because you don’t want to say no in the middle or the end.

I don’t advocate you saying no and turning down big name customers all the time because there are times when the corporate types DO GET IT.

Sometimes you have to evaluate based on your current situation and whether it is a go or no go.

But if you feel in your gut that it’s so wrong saying yes, then it’s time to be honest with yourself and say no. You’ll sleep better at night!

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