Willing to Say No

I belong to a small network of businesses each of which provides similar and related services, though it is rare for any of us to compete directly with one another. This allows us to forward projects and clients to each other with little risk of losing the client.

A few days ago, the owner of one of those businesses came over to me to ask if I could take on working for one of his clients, who had been looking to extend one of their websites to a new market. I took a quick look at what was needed, and realized that while part of the project fell within my area of expertise, a major component did not. I was also aware that he had another option – his network of vendors included someone with expertise in this particular area, though that vendor’s prices were significantly higher than my own.

However, I didn’t feel that I could justify working on his project, or at least, not on the portions outside my area of expertise. While I was confident that I could complete the project, there were two reasons not to take on the work:

First, the amount of time it would take me to do the work would be much longer than if he used the other vendor, and ultimately might have cost the client more.

Second, I didn’t really want to learn how to do the portion of the project that I didn’t currently know how to do.

I declined the work, and he asked if I could do the part of the project which I did know how to do, to which I accepted. By declining one part of the project, at the risk of losing the other part of the project, I gained the trust of a client.

Sometimes, the gains of saying no to a client are known almost immediately, and sometimes, you just have to trust that the gains will come. When you inform a client that something falls outside your area of expertise, they will either ask you to do it anyhow, ask you to find someone who can do the work, or find someone else themselves. In any of these situations, you stand to gain – either immediately in the form of being able to subcontract work that you might otherwise not have been able to do, or in the long run with customer referrals.

When you gain the trust of a client, it will last longer than any satisfaction they get on a given project. It will translate into more business, references for more work, and many other long-term gains. But to gain this kind of trust, you need to teach yourself to be able to say no.