Saying “No” Nicely

Saying “No” Nicely - finding the will & the words to stand your ground as an introvert & people pleaser

When I shared my red flags and green lights for evaluating client inquiries a couple weeks ago, I was absolutely stunned by the response. Designers and business owners from all over came out of the woodwork to share that they knew they'd been working with the wrong clients for too long. They told me my words were exactly what they needed to hear.

So if deep down all these entrepreneurs know their clients aren't a good fit, why are they taking them on? Most often I believe it comes down to at least one of the following.

  1. A scarcity mindset is haunting you with the thought, “What if there won't be another client after this one??”

  2. You feel like you can't afford to say no.

  3. You're an introvert or people pleaser, so even though you know you should say no, you don't know how.

Believe me, I've been there. As a recovering people pleaser and natural introvert, I used to find it impossible to turn down a prospective lead. Even when those red flags were crystal clear, I'd find a way to rationalize my way into taking them on. After all, clients with budgets are rare and who am I to turn down a paying customer, right?


You know the wrong clients. You just need to find the right words to say no.

Tweet this.

Every time I had doubts about a client in the beginning, those came to fruition in one way or another. Sure, I learned something each time and got paid, but these weren't the projects that lit me up. These weren't the clients I knew I was meant to serve.

When I finally found the courage to start saying no, it changed everything. I realized this is my business—my life. I'm the one that gets to decide how and with who I work. Sure, it was terrifying saying “no” at first, but I discovered that finding the right words was half the battle. Once I hit “send” on that email, I immediately felt empowered and knew I'd done the right thing.

Turning down a client doesn't have to be a dramatic, energy-sucking ordeal. You can even part ways kindly, without burning any bridges. You know the wrong clients. You just need to find the right words to say “no.”

The Nice Way to Say “No”

Once you've identified that a potential client isn't a good fit, sending them on their way is easier than you'd think. All you have to include in your reply is three simple things.

1. You're Not Available

Telling someone they're not a good fit for you could bring up all kinds of heated, reactive responses in your potential client. Not to mention, no one likes rejection. Soften the blow and recognize it's not necessary for these leads to know your reasons for turning them down.

The key is that you're not available to take on their project—simple as that. You can be more specific, letting them know your schedule is full or that you're focussing your work on another industry/type of client. This way you can let them down easy without drumming up any unnecessary drama.

2. Provide Recommendations

Whether this client is a good fit for you or not, they took the time to contact you. They clearly admire your work and expertise, so don't leave them high and dry. Provide recommendations for other designers/creatives they can contact instead. Keep in mind that just because a client isn't right for you doesn't mean they're wrong for someone else. Pay it forward and pass them on.

3. Wish Them Well

Take the time to wish them the best in their business and journey. Just because they're the wrong client for you doesn't mean they're a bad person by any means. Everyone has their own story and struggles, so wish them well before you send them on their way.

Save Your Energy

Use Canned Email Responses!

Pro Tip! Creating a canned email response allows you to thoughtfully draft this email once. Then anytime an ill-fitting prospect shows up, you can quickly reply with your thoughtful response without wasting your energy or second guessing yourself.

Here's a sample of what that response might look like.

Hi {First Name},

Thanks so much for your interest in my work! Unfortunately I'm not available to take on your project, but here are some recommendations of other talented designers you can contact.

{insert 3-5 recommendations here, preferably of similar quality and skill level}

Wishing you all the best!


Now that you've discovered a kind way to say “no” to those clients that don't fit your idea of a dream customer, I hope you'll find it that much easier to pass them along. Remember, when you pass on the wrong clients you make space for the right ones.

PS - If you're a designer and this article was right up your alley, I highly recommend that you sign up to learn more about my Balanced Branding course, launching Spring 2018! More on this soon, so stay tuned! 😊