How to Say “No” to Potential Business, and Why You’d Want to

| 18 February 2015

18 February 2015

Jacob Stimpson

A cousin of mine messaged me on Facebook a few months ago. She was interested in having us build a business website for her Mother-in-law. Here’s how our, lightly edited, chat went:

Cousin: Hey Tev! I’m wanting to give my mother-in-law a website for Christmas. I was wondering if you could do it? How much it will cost? How long will it take to get up and running? All that stuff! Thanks!

Me: Sure. A general business type website? Or what?

Cousin: A business website! She’s in business with my Sisters-in-law. Combined they do weddings. My Mother-in-law is the wedding decorator/planner, one Sister-in-law is a photographer and one Sister-in-law is a caterer. They do business separately from each other, but offer discounted packages to use them all for your wedding. Whatcha think?

So probably a home page with buttons for a photography page, catering page, photos of events page, about page, bio’s of all the people who would work the event (like 5 people). It just needs to be very elegant though. My Mother-in-law is a super talented interior decorator/event planner and she’s a little picky about esthetics! Tell me what your thinking. Wish I could sit down with you so we could hash it out. But I won’t be in your neck of the woods until Christmas!

Also, I’d wanna have a link to a Facebook, Twitter and Instagram so that people could follow them on accounts I’m creating.

Now at this point it was obvious to me that this project likely wouldn’t fit our core business model, which is $179/month websites with no setup fee. She wanted to just pay to have it done, when we don’t really do that. We establish a long-term relationship and clients pay monthly. I also realized that, being a surprise, I wouldn’t meet our end-client (her Mother-in-law) until after the site was ready for the big Christmas reveal. So after some thought I replied:

Me: Hmmmm… Weeeeeeell…. Here’s the deal: we’ve really refined our business model in the past few year, and a site like this fits well, but we offer it as a $179/month package, with hosting, maintenance, content updates (like posting blog posts they provide), and support, all included. You can pay a year at a time and get a discount, but I’m not sure if that’s the kind of budget you’re thinking.

Plus, we really want to meet with and get to know any potential customers well, and fully understand their expectations. Some people want us to build their design, and we just don’t do that… Here’s a pretty good explanation of why:

Now where your Mother-in-law is creative, maybe her idea of a design isn’t that bad, but still it can mean many extra hours (and therefore money lost—not to mention frustration, etc) for us, if they decide it has to be “precisely they way they want it” instead of allowing us to do our job.

This is my way of saying, “I hate to say ‘no’, because I want to help you out. But I have to, in order to prevent the rest of my team from hating me if I take on a project that ‘goes to hell’ because I didn’t follow the checklist before taking on a new project.”

Cousin: No, don’t even worry about it!! Seriously, it’s totally fine. Do you have any recommendations for me of someone who could build a website like that for me?

I was of course happy to provide some pointers and recommendations.

If you can’t tell from the conversation, the takeaways are this:

  1. Stick to your core business model: stick to your pricing, stick to your processes.
  2. Don’t get excited about a new sale or new opportunity and allow emotions to move you away from #1.
  3. Don’t take on customers you don’t know (obviously applies more to some industries than others).
  4. Be gentle, kind, understanding, but firm, when you say “no.” And a little humor never hurts.

We’ve learned these lessons through our mistakes. Clients that have cost us the most money, anxiety, and hassle, have always been ones we didn’t get to know very well. It’s not to say we don’t like working with them, just that if we’d gotten to know them better, we’d have determined that they need a different level of service than our typical customer. That arrangement would likely include a much higher monthly payment, or payment on an hourly basis, so that we can be sure we’re compensated for all of our time and effort.

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