How to Say “No” to a Project
Saying “no” can leave mixed emotions. It’s scary, risky, and sometimes bittersweet. Saying “no” can also be liberating. Let me explain the first three emotions, which will conclude with liberation. I promise, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
It took me a long time and several career moves to learn the skill of gracefully declining when it came to projects and basic bandwidth. I often was afraid I would never have another sale or business opportunity of value if I turned down a project or a proposal opportunity. That was silly—because in fact, if you are not passionate about a client or you can’t approach a project with authenticity–you are essentially doing yourself a disservice. It won’t advance your career. You won’t receive great referrals for amazing deliverables. You won’t be inspired. But most important, you will never meet the expectations of your client, and that’s a lose-lose situation. The icing? You’ll resent your client for zapping the energy out of you.
Okay, let’s look for the glass half full. We know what not to do, but how do you do it? First, examine why you don’t want to do the work. Is the budget too low? Does the client value your services? Do your visions align? Does the client have a vision? Does your client have realistic expectations? If all of these line up, you will have a long-term relationship that is both fulfilling and will help you grow as a professional. We all want more of these!
If there is more than one red flag, how do you say “no” with style and grace? Here’s a few one-liners that work both in real life and in writing.
- “This doesn’t seem like the right opportunity for me. Thank you for the offer though!”
- “I would love to take this project on, but I just don’t think I have the bandwidth to give you 100 percent of my attention. If I’m going to take on a new project, I want to give it my all.”
- “Thank you for thinking of me. This year my business priorities have shifted.”
- “I do pro bono work on a very limited basis. I’ve slated my opportunities for the year. Let’s catch up in the new year!”
- “I can’t take this project on, but I’d love to refer you to some of my trusted peers.”
- “I wouldn’t be able to complete the scope of this project for $XX, but maybe we can meet in the middle. What are you willing to extract? Perhaps I can tweak my pricing to meet your budget?”
- “I am unable to do this…but I would be willing to do that for you.”
- “I’m not sure I have the skill-set for this project. Perhaps we can reconnect in the future in a different capacity.”
No matter what, be honest and respectful. Don't leave the door open, if you know you do not want to revisit this conversation. As the saying goes...you never want to burn a bridge.
Doing great work is your best referral source. And that’s really what we all want. Honesty with a prospect that, in your gut, you know is not your ideal client, is the best thing you can do for yourself. We all want to be inspired. Give yourself that opportunity. The money will always come, if you do what you love.
Oak St. Social is a boutique social media marketing firm dedicated to elevating unique brands into household names. From brand consulting to copywriting to social media management and campaign development, we are devoted to connecting and creating a community for both big and small brands. We've never met a hashtag we didn't like, either! Oak St. Social combines a deep and well-versed understanding of what appeals to consumers, with an appreciation for how social media drives brand loyalty and consumer spending.