Mastering the Power of “No” in Client Relationships

Mastering the Power of "No" in Client RelationshipsCaring too much about something can put you at a distinct disadvantage.

Car salespeople know this when they detect even the slightest interest or sense any desperation on your part. Savvy negotiators sniff out this weakness when working their magic at the final hour. Kids know this when they look up at you and ask for something you wouldn’t normally allow but hope that they can tug at your heart strings with that special look.

Caring is good — caring too much is dangerous. And I can’t help but think about how this Mind Your Own Business Conferencerelates to your own handling of client relationships. So on that subject, what is it that you care about?

What Do You Look for in a Client Relationship?

Let me suggest that client relationships should be profitable, have impact and (maybe) fun, in that order. If a client relationship isn’t profitable, it really isn’t a “client” relationship at all but more like a friendship (albeit a fairly empty one because it’s built on false premises).

Profit, impact, and fun are the things you should care about in a client relationship. That leaves off things like an opportunity to build your portfolio, an opportunity to get your foot in the door somewhere and later start to make money, or an opportunity to do Y after we’ve done X.

This idea of opportunity is so alluring to us, probably because all of our business lives we are trained to snatch opportunities so that they are not wasted. The United States is the Land of Opportunity, in fact, and countries around the world marvel at the chances we have to follow our instincts and seize the opportunity.

So where does saying “no” enter this picture? In simple terms, I’m suggesting that you decline any business opportunity that does not allow you to make a profit. I’d go further and say that taking someone’s money and not having an impact on their situation is going to hollow out a big part of your creative soul. And if you have the option to turn down work that is profitable and impactful but not fun, you’re in an enviable position indeed.

Working Hard at Caring Less

So how do you get to the point where you can say “no” more often, if that’s what will lead to a better client base (or one with more profit, impact, and fun)? There’s really only one answer, and that’s to ensure that your opportunities are greater than your capacity. The reason is because that gap — the difference between what your prospects/clients want you to do and what you are capable of doing while maintaining profit, impact, and fun—represents your ability to say “no.”

By saying “yes” all the time to clients, what you learn to do is work for longer hours (because you haven’t raised capacity to match opportunity), have less impact (because experts don’t say “yes” all the time), and less money (because the allure blinds you to the true cost).


More Resources to Strengthen Client Relationships


Desperation, otherwise known as caring too much, makes you too eager to say “yes” when it may very well be in your best interest — and even your client’s best interest—if you say “no.” Desperation is what tempts you to let a whopping opportunity lead you off the mission, thinking that it’ll build capacity to grow so that others think you are successful, and then you wind up one day discovering that you are a slave to your own business or job.
I think you’re starting to see, here, why it’s so important to craft a positioning for yourself that makes you a lot less replaceable in the prospect’s mind, and then to implement a marketing plan so that you always have more opportunities than you can handle, thereby preserving your ability to say no and fight back the client jungle.

That’s how you make money, impact your clients, and have fun in the process. You’ll more actively shape your business and career  by saying “no” than by saying “yes,” all things considered. So start caring about the things that make sense for your business and career, OK? Competent people are seldom stymied from lack of opportunity — it’s more likely that they’ll get off-center by not making choices, which is just another way of stating that they say “yes” too often.

Those of us who serve this field are motivated to help people make money, help them make a difference for their clients, and help them have fun in the process. If any of those things aren’t true for you, fix them by caring about the right things.

2 thoughts on “Mastering the Power of “No” in Client Relationships

  1. sheenadangers

    Being a Project Manager, I have to say “NO” all the time. But I’ve noticed that many clients actually appreciate the honesty. The ones that don’t are the ones that just don’t understand. There’s where educating the client about WHY I’m saying NO helps create mutual understanding and appreciation for the push back. Thanks for this article!

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