Are you familiar with the power of NO? Do you use that power in your client management strategy?
Entire books have been written about how embracing the power of no can change your life. Learning when and how to say no can free up your time for what is truly important in your life.
I want to state clearly that building your “no” muscle isn’t to be confused with negativity. According to Judith Sills, Ph.D., “Where negativity is an ongoing attitude, No is a moment of clear choice.” It’s a choice that shows you are in control of your life and business. How can you use the power of no in your business? There are six NOs you can and should use regularly when dealing with your clients.
One: YOU are the Decision Maker
No matter what is happening between you and your clients, remember you are running your business. And the key to running your business is client management. Your client needs to understand you are the one with the skills, the talent, and the ability to do what you do. That’s why the client hired you in the first place!
So when should you flex your “no” muscles when communicating with your clients?
A client approaches you about doing a project and you have a great discovery call. The client likes your work, their budget is right, and you are interested in the project. You send a proposal to the client the next day reiterating the scope of the project, listing the agreed-on deadlines, and you give your fee.
The client responds, in a much different tone than what you heard on your call, saying they’ve decided that their budget was an overestimate and the project is only worth half of what you’ve stated. So that’s what they’ll pay you. They go on to say their assistant will send you the information you need so you can get started.
Your response? No.
Your clients do not get to set your rates. That is your job as the head of your business. Have you ever tried to set rates for your electrician, plumber, or lawyer? I bet not. You are offering a service; you set the rate.
Your client states they need you to work over the weekend because the deadline for the project has been pushed up. No.
Your client doesn’t like the software you regularly use to do your work. They want you to invest in a specific software they prefer. No.
Your client sends you emails and texts late in the evening and on the weekend and expects you to respond right away. No.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
You must define your role and the client’s perception of you as a valued expert from your very first communication. That is the key to your entire client management strategy. And sometimes that means saying no and standing up for yourself.
Two: Criticizing Your Client or Their Process
Sometimes your no isn’t for your client. Sometimes it’s an internal no.
As an expert, it’s your responsibility to educate your client occasionally. Especially when they have unreasonable expectations, want something counter to their goals, or if they can’t make up their minds on what they want.
Here’s where the no comes in. Educate does not mean ridicule or criticize. Maybe you feel the need to say, “Wow! I can’t believe you’re still using that system. It’s so ten years ago!” It would be wise to take a deep breath and tell yourself no.
Maybe you are tempted to say something in a way that says, “I’m better than you, so you need to listen to me.” Give yourself a good shake and say no.
I’ve had many clients who’ve complained about high-handed or pushy contractors or consultants they’ve worked with on previous projects. And I’ve heard freelancers talk about how their “clients didn’t know what they were doing.”
If you have those thoughts, I want you to remember this: NO. Just stop. Stop denigrating or belittling your clients and how they run their business, even if it is in your head.
Respect is the keystone of a positive client relationship throughout your client management. If you want your clients to respect you, then you need to respect them and act like a professional adult. Don’t criticize the client, don’t be rude, and don’t teach newer freelancers to disrespect their clients, either.
Three: Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep
I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of gurus talking about faking confidence until it becomes real. I’ve even recommended that to newer business owners and contractors myself. What you need to remember is faking confidence and faking ability are two different things.
- If a client asks you if you have experience doing something and you don’t, say no. But reassure them you’ll be up to speed in time to finish their project.
- If a client wants you to ensure a project is going to produce the desired result in an unreasonable time, don’t make that promise. Say no and explain why you can’t make unrealistic guarantees.
- If a client needs a project in two days and you’re pretty sure you can do it, say no.
Expectations are important. And promises you can’t keep lead to unreasonable expectations that impact other freelancers, damage your client’s perception of your work, and ruin your reputation. Instead, say no and temper your client’s expectations instead.
Four: Opinions Can Ruin a Relationship and Undermine Your Client Management Strategy
Share your expertise. But unless the client asks, keep your opinions to yourself. This is another personal no. And this one is important enough that you need to be willing to bite your tongue if necessary after you tell yourself no.
I talked to a designer once who had just landed and lost their dream client. The project they signed on for was worth half of their previous year’s profit, and it was only going to take a month.
Feelings of self-importance led to a thoughtless comment about how their work was definitely an improvement over the design on some of the previous projects they’d been shown. Work that had, unbeknownst to them, been done by the owner’s son. Bye-bye lucrative contract.
If they had taken a moment to think through what they were saying and thought, “No. I’ll keep that one to myself,” they wouldn’t have lost the client.
Unless your client asks for your opinion on what they are already doing, don’t give it. And even if they ask, be professional and complimentary when possible. If something honestly needs work, use the positive approach of, “This and this is great, but I feel this could be improved on by…” and then give actionable guidance. If you feel the need to add a negative or condescending spin to your reply, just say no.
Five: Stop Slamming Doors
No one has mastered the flair of slamming a door to make a point as well as a teenage girl. But I’ve seen some contractors come close.
I’ve had bad clients. Some I’ve had to part ways with. Others I wanted to let go but couldn’t. But I never burned a bridge unless the client’s behavior was abhorrent. Trust me, those personal conversations are filled with “no.”
- Yes, the client is a bigot. No, you will not tell them that.
- Yes, the client is in the wrong. No, it’s not your place to point that out. You’re here to finish a project, not make the client a better person.
- No, you can’t tell them to jump off of a bridge.
- No, telling the world how underhanded they are isn’t the professional choice.
Want to know why I’m so set on telling myself no in those situations?
One client I let go, in the gentlest way possible, ended up sending me another client and I made a tidy profit from the relationship.
Another client I declined to work with because of project fit and a truly insulting budget came back the next year and offered me a dream project.
Stay professional. That’s all I’m saying. Don’t let the client’s unacceptable behavior cause you to behave badly. Sometimes, the best advice you can give yourself is, “No.”
Six: Mistakes Happen
Say no to the blame game.
When our clients unfairly blame us for a project delay or going in the wrong direction with the work because that’s where they told us to go, we’re tempted to cast the blame right back at them. And sometimes you need to explain, in a professional way, why the issue really happened.
But the mistake is often ours.
Wait! Don’t start throwing tomatoes.
What I’m saying might not be what you want to hear, but most of the issues caused by our clients, especially the ones that blow up in the end, happen because we didn’t say no.
If your client doesn’t send the materials you need to finish the project until two days before the deadline when they were promised weeks ago, you need to say no.
That no might be a change in terms. “Thank you for sending this information. Because of the delay in receiving the information needed to finish the project, we have two options. The first is extending the deadline to xx/xx, which is an identical amount of time to what was originally agreed on. The second option is extending the deadline to next week and adding a rush fee because of the shorter deadline.”
Or maybe you need to say no entirely. “I’d love to work on this project with you, but the contract we agreed on was contingent on me receiving the items from you by a specific date. I received no responses from you, even after repeated attempts to contact you. I no longer have sufficient time in my schedule to complete this project.”
What happens if the mistake was yours? You forgot to add a deadline to your calendar, or you didn’t clarify a specific point they wanted addressed? Don’t sweep it under the rug or get angry about negative feedback. Tell yourself no and then ask the client how you can make the situation right.
The Power of No
There are a million other ways saying no can help you build a stronger business. I want to encourage you to think about embracing the power of NO in your life and business. It creates positive change and momentum.
No helps you control time. It allows you to keep things off of your calendar that might prevent you from doing something you really want to do.
No creates space. Telling a pushy salesperson or relative no when they keep badgering you to do something you don’t want to do gives you the mental and physical space you need to do what you actually want to do.
No gives you power. Bullies, abusers, and toxic workplaces all have one thing in common: they take away your power by removing your ability to say no. When you stand up and say no, you take that power back.
So what do you say? Are you ready to embrace the power of no in your life and in your client management strategy?
Looking for more information about how to embrace the power of no? Check out these resources:
Emilie Aries, the founder and CEO of Bossed Up, talks about the power of no in preventing burnout in her TEDx Talk.
In her article “The Power of No,” Judith Sills, Ph.D. talks about how no can be “an instrument of integrity and a shield against exploitation.”
You Have the Right to Say “No” – Tony Robbins
Want to know more about client management? Check out Who’s the Boss? Leading Your Clients to Success Through Client Relationship Management