Not every prospect is an ideal client. By ideal client, I do not mean anyone who is willing to pay.

I wrote about the 80-20 Rule in another article. You need to sacrifice those who will cause headaches and focus your energy on those who will sing your praises.

  • 80% of your profits come from 20% of your customers
  • 80% of your complaints come from 20% of your customers

You have the right to decline, especially since most boutique businesses have inbound traffic, meaning customers come to you. Remember that just as customers are interviewing you, you are interviewing them too.

If the fit is not right, decline nicely.

seattle gum wall

These tips to turn down a prospect are particularly useful for those who are super nice – I know that you want to please people. The last thing you want is for someone to hate you.

1. Transfer ownership.

This is one of my secrets to negotiations. You can never convince anybody to do anything if you demand it. You have to present circumstances that make it favorable for the person to agree.

“Given the XYZ conditions, what do you think the best approach would be?” Not only did I transfer ownership, I made it seem as though it was his or her idea.

Conversely, if you do not want to work together, you can use circumstances outside of your control to decline nicely.

  • Before I accept your offer, let me get back to you. I have to get approval from my business partner (even if you do not have one).
  • Due to an unforeseen event, something came up and I must sadly decline.
  • As much as I want to do it too, my distant relatives spontaneously wanted a family reunion! Crazy people. I have to attend or else it’s highly disrespectful.”

Whatever the reason, the blame has to be pinned on something else, even if fictitious. This way the conversation remains anodyne.

Always give yourself a way out. If the deciding power rests in your hands, good negotiators can easily corner you and possibly coerce you to do something you did not want to do.

2. Do not explain in detail.

That’s it. The more you try to lay it on thick, the easier your refusal can be disassembled.

Caution. Just in case if you decide to take on another client for that same date, you can always say that your previous engagement got canceled. It really can happen!

Always remember that you have the same right to decline as prospects do. The key is to do so cordially.


Lawrence Chan

P.S. Were you ever persuaded to do something that you did not want to do? Comment below πŸ™‚