Small businesses (and freelancers, of course) have two major problems. One, is where to find new clients. The other, is how to turn clients down.

I can hear you say, ‘Wait, what??’. You’re probably thinking, ‘surely I want to get as many clients as possible, why would I want to say no to any of them?’. And you’d be right – as hard as it is to find new clients, it’s just as hard to say ‘No’ to someone, especially if that someone is offering to pay you money.

So why WOULD you say no? Well, there are three main reasons.

1. Something isn’t right…
Even though you might be getting excited at the prospect of getting a new client, pay attention to the warning signals. They could be as straightforward as the fact that he fired the last designer who worked with him after a month, and is still using that designer’s watermarked logo design. It could be just that you get bad vibes when you sit down with the guy for the initial conversation. It could even be that he sounds a lot like the guys from Clients From Hell.

Whatever the reason, if you feel that something is hinky – don’t sign. It’s far easier to do this immediately that two or three months down the line.

2. No one to talk to
Everything seemed to go OK, the client was perfectly reasonable, and your contract was pretty clear, so you signed. Now, it doesn’t matter what you do – you could be a freelance website designer, part of a content writing team, or a small software shop hired to integrate a new CRM system in the client’s office – you need their cooperation.

You might need them to sign off on a design, or to provide you with access to their server room, or arrange to meet with their other vendors. Whatever the requirements, if you don’t have someone on the other end to talk to, or you keep getting waved off, and being told that ‘it isn’t important, find a workaround for now’, then it’s time to leave. Because when something goes wrong, or doesn’t work the way you said it would – and this WILL happen – it will be your fault.

3. You just don’t have time
The last reason to say no can also be the hardest. You have a client that you get along well with, and you’ve even done projects with him in the past. But right now, you just don’t have the time. You have three deadlines looming, four more projects that need work on, and the kids have just gone on a week-long vacation from school.

Keep in mind, that as much as you’d like to do everything for everyone, if you don’t keep to what you commit to, then your clients won’t be satisfied. And clients that aren’t satisfied are rarely happy about it, and probably won’t come back for repeat business. It is far more professional to decline, and possibly even refer them to someone else who can help them out.