Just recently I received a phone call from a very excited possible client (prospect) who wanted a fun memorial video created for a celebration of the legacy of this Northern Colorado business that her family operated together. As she described the party and her vision for the video she wanted to showcase, I got excited with her. The challenge was that her budget for this was awfully small due to relying on donations to fill in that budget. Not a problem – we’ll do it at that small budget because she can (and agreed to) do most of the research work and asset gathering (people for interviews, photos, voice-over person, etc.).

Two days later we had an hour-long phone conversation that contained a LOT of questions for me, and we were able to settle them all. There was almost an awkward situation that came up which I was able to diffuse because I was ready for it. It’s the age-old question that takes many forms, but goes something like this: “Is there any way we could move some of these items out of your way in order to reduce the amount of work you do?” On the surface, that sounds like a concern for my stress level, but you can see what she’s really trying to ask, right? – How can I spend less money on this project?

Well, we had already reduced the price down to the smallest number I could possibly make it. How could I break that news to her without sounding like a pompous, greedy artist? Simple – mirror that concern for HER stress. I simply told her that she need not worry about whether or not that number on the estimate will change. I told her I’d already calculated the time, equipment, and effort it would take to complete this project, and I’d also discounted it for her since she was a referral from a good friend and former client with us. I then told her to assuage her concerns, I would draw up a contract that contained that same number so that she wouldn’t have to worry about it changing at all.

Now, before you start in with the “that’s a slimy way to approach that” – it’s really not. It IS beating around the bush a little, which is not my typical M.O., but we really need to try to tailor the way we talk by observing the way our client or prospect talks. If they talk to you that way, chances are that’s the way they’d like you to communicate with you. Some people are very direct, so I know that I can be very direct back. Direct – not rude…there IS a difference. And then there are people who speak in vague non-confrontational terms and you have to ask a lot of questions to unravel their riddle, and then translate what you want to say into a vague riddle back to them. They prefer it, and that’s ok.

So, does that mean there’s no real formula for handling these “nos” that you must communicate? Of course not! Everything in life has a general formula to follow – just be sure to tailor it according to that person’s personality, if you can feel that out.

Here’s a list of things you can say when phrasing a “no” in an indirect or direct approach:

  1. Never apologize for your “no”, only explain the reason in a way that shows how you’re helping them:
  • Direct: “No. And the reason I won’t do that is because it will hurt you in the long run. Here’s why…”
  • Indirect: “I respect you too much to do that to you. I think what you’ll find is that if we go that direction, here’s what will happen…”
  1. After briefly explaining the negative aspects of what will happen if they get what they’re asking for, redirect towards the eventual positive outcome and ask for a “yes” (if you can get them to speak positive affirmations on small questions it will begin to change their attitude from negative to positive, as well – that’s a free tip):
  • Direct: “When the project is finished in the way I’ve detailed, you’ll have a chance to review the first draft and submit changes. Does that sound like a good plan?”
  • Indirect: “Hopefully you can see how doing this the way I’ve outlined will be good for us both. I also want to reassure you that you’ll have a chance to review the first draft so that you can submit a change list so that you have total control and can change whatever you’d like to change. Sound good?”
  1. If they still insist, and it’s something you absolutely cannot/will not budge on:
  • Direct: “Well, this is our company policy and if I bend it for you, I’d have to bend it for everyone, and I think we both know that’s not how you uphold company policy standards. Is there something else we can do for you that would allow us to continue this project together without compromising the quality of your video by breaking this policy?”
  • Indirect: “I can see and appreciate how passionate you are about this thing that you want. I want this project to be the best possible project for you which is the only reason I’m so insistent. How can I help you make this the best possible project without compromising on this item, because if I compromise on this, it will affect the quality of your project and I value my clients too much to do that to you. So – what else can I do for you?”

Now, keep in mind that there are some people who will flat-out refuse to budge. In those cases, you really need to ask yourself “Is this the kind of client I want to be working with or will he/she just cost me more time and money than what the project is worth?” It’s also good to ask whether or not you think this person might be so picky and pedantic that they will nitpick and make you work super hard only to turn around and complain about you to everyone. At that point all you’ve created for yourself is a liability that will cost you other business opportunities!

If they won’t budge and you feel it’s just not worth the fight, it’s always appropriate to say “It sounds like we may not be a good fit for you, but I wish you the best of luck as you search for the right company for the job!” You might find that this pushes them to reconsider and become more docile. But if not, that’s ok – you’ve just saved yourself a headache that you don’t deserve!

Whatever the circumstance, I know that the word “no” is scary when you’re trying to get a new client or keep an existing one, but as small business owners/managers it’s important that we learn this concept. There’s nothing wrong with saying “no”!