So you’re midway through a potential client consultation when your gut starts telling you this client isn’t for you. Maybe your personalities just aren’t clicking or maybe they sound like a bad design client. (Here’s a handy list of warning signs.)
But, like any smart freelancer, you know unburning bridges is really tough, so you’re feeling stuck. As GDB reader Samantha puts it,
If you do meet up with a client that you know you don’t want to work with, how do you turn them down? In a polite/professional manner, of course.
What’s your secret? Share your tips in the comments.
Here are my most successful answers plus a bonus tip that’s sure to leave a good impression even though you’re turning down the client:
“I’m all booked up”
Blame it on a more comprehensive project than you initially estimated or having just booked yourself through their time frame.
Example: Jim, this project sounds interesting, but unfortunately I can’t commit to those timeframes. I’d be happy to refer you to a few colleagues who might have openings.
“This is out of my area of expertise”
Unless it’s a really simple request or you’ve sold yourself on being a perfect fit, claim that the project is out of your area of expertise.
Note: “Outside your area of expertise” can refer to your technical capabilities as well as your specialty or niche.
Example: I need to be honest with you, Patty. This project is out of my area of expertise. I specialize in infographics, but I’m not an illustrator. Can I refer two great digital artists who might be perfect for your request?
“I’m not passionate enough about the topic”
Some industries and hobbies have a cult following (think extreme sports, music, environmental issues, etc.) that require passion to sell a message. If you’re not feeling it, this can be an easy out.
Example: Mike, I enjoy the outdoors, but I’m not a mountain-biker. I’m afraid I don’t have the passion to share your product like you need. Would you like the name of a colleague who loves outdoor sports?
“I’m not comfortable with the subject matter”
You can only use this for controversial, subjective, or adult subjects, but it’s worth keeping in your toolbox. Things like:
- Political campaigns / views
- Falsification of data (unscrupulous spins on information)
- Slander campaigns
- Pornographic material
- Religious views or views you don’t agree with
- Products or subjects you don’t condone (alcohol, gambling, drugs, family planning, etc.)
Example: I’m sorry, Jessica, but I’m just not comfortable with this subject matter. Let me share a few references with you who might be available to work with you.
Other than turning down the clients, every example offers to refer someone else for the project. This is key to maintaining a good impression on this person despite telling them they’re not hiring you.
Think about it: most clients aren’t very good at hiring freelancers (how many do you know that have bad designer stories to tell?). Hiring is also stressful, takes away from “real” work, and is a leap of faith with a total stranger.
So giving them a lead that the designer they wanted to work with recommends is huge. (And you improve your relationship with the designers you recommend, even if they don’t take the job.)
Pro tip #2
Sometimes, you’re just ho-hum about a potential client, or maybe you’re only slightly interested in their project. What I mean is, for the right fee, you’d probably do it, but it BETTER be well worth your time.
So toss out a ridiculous quote.
Go big. Quote 25-50% higher than you’d ever charge for the project. (Struggling with pricing? Check out our latest ebook.)
If they take it, awesome. If they don’t, well, you weren’t stoked to work with them anyway (but don’t forget to offer a referral).
Get in on the discussion
Don’t forget to share your questions, comments, and tested tips in the comments. We love to hear from you!
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