How to Say NO to a Less-Than-Ideal Client

You’ve decided. You’ve driven your stake in the ground. You’re clear on what your ideal client mentally craves from you and you are ready to serve!

Forget the less-than-ideal clients! Sure, you could help them, but that’s not the goal anymore. Serving ideal clients is!

…And then you get that email. Or worse, the phone call.

A less-than-ideal client is on the other line, inquiring about your services.

See, they heard about you from one of your former clients. (Ugh. That former client was definitely NOT an ideal client. But they paid… But they were a huge pain… But they paid…)

And this potential less-than-ideal client has already heard so much about you. They’re a pretty hot lead. And they need you, like yesterday. (Note: All soul-suckers needed you yesterday.)

How to Say NO to a Less-Than-Ideal Client, online marketing strategy for creative female entrepreneurs


In short, you say NO.

But it’s not that simple. I know.

You need to save face. You don’t want to burn a bridge. You don’t want to act “too good” for them.

But you also need them to know you won’t be serving them.

But you also need them to know what you do now so they’re better informed and don’t continue to spread your name around as someone that can help other less-than-ideal clients.


With all that considered, here’s how I suggest you say NO:

  1. Thank them for reaching out. You’re always happy to hear from new potential clients.
  2. Make it clear that you won’t be serving them. Don’t lie, though, and blame it on your “busy schedule” or that you’re “all booked up.” This sends the message that you’re not taking any inquiries, when what you need to do is tell them you’re not servicing their inquiry.
  3. Make it clear that you’re happy to refer them to a fellow trusted professional if you can.
  4. Double check that you fully understand what they’re looking for. You must make sure you’re referring someone to them that can actually help. Make sure you get the full scope of work before referring.
  5. Recommend to them a trusted professional you know that can service this request. (Or a platform for them to look on to find someone that’s a good fit.)
  6. If you referred them to a professional you know, ask if they’d like a personal introduction to get the conversation started. You want to facilitate this discussion if you can so the potential client can only ever remember you as extremely helpful and in-the-know, (not “too good” for them or “too busy” to help). Plus, the person you referred them to will be more likely to refer people back to you in the future. Win-win!

Now that you have the outline of what a respectful response would be, draft one for yourself. Prepare it now so when the less-than-ideal client does come knocking, you don’t have to think about it. You simply adjust the canned response, send it, and move on to finding more ideal clients!

Snag my TEMPLATE for this email here.

It’ll help get you started writing and provide an example of what a stellar “NO email” looks like.

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