February 2, 2016 1 Comment Build Your Empire

How I learned to accept that it’s ok to say “no” to clients



Guest Post by Kim Bultsma of Content a la Mode

My first real experience in saying “no” to someone in the business world was when I quit my job on October 31, 2014. I needed a break from 9-5. I wanted to spend better, quality time with my family. I was very, very tired.

So I started my own business, willing to take on about anything that could fog up a mirror. Desperation? Eh, maybe. I’d like to call it “Learning 101”. And learning is what I did. Part of owning your own business is learning to be a really great judge of character.


They are too eager.


One of the first clients I took on was from the fashion world and appeared pretty cool on the outside. I was excited to strategize their social media, sales, blogging, and email marketing.

They were excited, too. REALLY excited. Ecstatic.

No matter how much I suggested strategies to them, they never could stick with them. And so when they started to throw things at the wall to see what stuck, I became incredibly frustrated. They wanted to try everything. EVERYTHING. At 4:30 on a Friday, they would send an email and request we try some new thing for the following week. You know–start it on Monday morning. Whip up the verbiage, sift through their product shots (which weren’t the greatest), design the graphics, write the social media and blog posts, create the email–and have it all done and scheduled to start Monday morning.

Because I quit my 9-5 to do last-minute work on the weekends? Um…no.

I was stressing out. They would send group emails that equated to a conversation that could happen over the phone…but consisted of 15-20 emails, back and forth, with multiple topics and requests but with no real timeframe, thinking through of logistics, anything. So I tried rationalizing. “Here are the reasons why that won’t work” and “This is a great idea, but it needs more time to create the full concept.” But they weren’t hearing it. They wanted me to half-ass it. And we all know whose fault it would be when it didn’t work. Because it didn’t.

I tried giving them an out several times. “You’ll need to buy more time in order for me to complete these items on your list–are you sure you want to commit more money?” and so on. This went on for almost a year. A year. And what it boiled down to was this: I was extremely fearful of saying no. I’m an emotional person–I cry about everything. But I knew myself enough to realize that I was letting my emotion get in the way of my happiness–the entire reason why I quit my 9-5.

So instead of giving them an out like I had tried to do in the past, I simply told them “No.” I told them that they were asking too much of me, they wanted to pay me too little, and I didn’t morally agree with what they were asking me to do. I wish you the best of luck.

And I couldn’t believe how much weight had been lifted off my shoulders.


They mooch.


You know those clients who suck the living daylights out of your brain? They constantly ask you questions about your profession, and then go radio silent until the next big question arises? They are using you for your knowledge and doing it themselves…and you’re not getting paid for it. 

I’m not opposed to giving away some knowledge. Note that I said some knowledge. Actually, I think that education is one of the best selling tools. Give potential clients one free thing to reel them in. If they come back and ask for more, tell them it’s a great time to consider your consulting services, because it sounds like they need some education on how they can do things for themselves. 


They think you’re too expensive.


Now, it’s one thing if you have a lot of people telling you they can’t afford you. That, my friends, might mean you need to re-assess your target market OR identify a better value-add for your products or services–a completely different topic for a blog post! But those few clients who really seem like they want to benefit from you but are dragging their feet in committing need some careful consideration. Do you drop your price? Do you negotiate? How do you say no to someone who has good intentions but just not a lot of money?

The single-handed most important question I’ve learned to ask a potential client is this: What is your budget? If they don’t have one or they say, “Nothing, really”–put yourself on red alert. And remember this: it’s much easier to say no to someone before there is money involved than after they’ve been a client and have started to milk you dry.


They pander off of your emotions.


Coming from the girl who cries about everything, I’ve learned when people take advantage of me. I have learned that I can still be a friendly, personable businesswoman and recognize when someone is trying to use guilt and emotion against me. Sometimes, you just have to be blunt and ask what people mean when they start to point out all of your fallacies. If clients are unhappy with your service–find out why. If you are unhappy with clients–tell them. Be honest. If they can’t be honest back, then the relationship isn’t worth having and you can feel alright about letting them go.


Final thoughts. 


It’s totally easier said than done, isn’t it? But listening to your body, having that “spidey sense” about people who rub you the wrong way, giving yourself some time to think–these all bring about clarity in your business. 

Closing doors will just mean that others will open.

You have to believe that. I’ve let go some good-paying clients this past year. It was scary as all get-out, but I cannot believe all of the opportunities that came to me within hours of letting clients go or saying no to what I couldn’t possibly do. 

Saying “no” will allow more opportunities to say “yes.”




Kim Bultsma is a content strategist who educates entrepreneurs and business owners on all things content. In her former life, she taught high school English and Journalism before heading out into “the real world.” After working as a marketing director for a medium-sized camera store and a content strategist for a marketing agency, she left the 9-5 to spend more time with her family. In her free time, she runs ultra trail races (which takes up much of her free time!). She loves coffee, wine, and good company. You can find her on Instagram, Twitter, and Blab.