How To Say No to Clients and Create Clear Boundaries

Say no to bad clients

Everything that I'm about to tell you about saying no to clients and creating boundaries, I learnt the hard way.

I was always so nice and helpful. Not charging for small changes after the contractual obligations were fulfilled. But then, I encountered…. the nightmare client. Long story short – he walked all over me.

You see, from the very beginning, I positioned myself as someone he could walk all over by giving him the price he wanted for the website. The price was cheap and so there was a sense of desperation there from me. And because I was doing things outside the scope without explaining that I really should be charging for it, he kept expecting more and didn't value my service at all.

He didn't see me as an expert and he felt he was running the show even though he had zero understanding of how a website is made or what makes a website successful.

The project was stressful, it went way over scope, and because my workload became too full I had to pay someone to help me finish it. I lost money on this and the guy still wasn't happy. One of the reasons being that I needed to take the competitors off the Google map on the contact page!

Needless to say, this gave me a kick up the butt and I've learnt how to avoid all of these headaches from ever happening again. So here's what I'm going to guide you through:

  1. How to change your mindset so you stop “feeling bad”
  2. How to identify red flags early and say no to potential bad clients
  3. How to position yourself as an expert so that your client trusts your advice and decisions and YOU are running the project, not THEM.
  4. How to avoid scope creep

1. How To Stop Feeling Bad

You may think this is the least important, but I'm staring here because if you don't change your mindset first, then the rest won't work.

After this terrible experience with the bad client, I almost threw the towel in completely because the stress wasn't worth it. I was getting burnt out so I decided at that moment, that no one would treat me like that again and I was going to charge much more. And if they didn't accept that price – I wasn't going to worry, because they weren't the client for me.

I had times where I'd be tempted to do small tweaks once the project was complete…but I had to remind myself of these words from Troy in an episode of Silence is Golden:

Just because you have the skills to help somebody, and they don’t have the budget to pay you accordingly, doesn’t mean you’re obliged to help them. You are not a community service. You are running a business. And you owe it to yourself and everyone around you to run a profitable business.”

I know you're a nice person and you care about people… but when it comes to business, if you're too nice and don't create boundaries then your business suffers and you run the risk of getting burnt out.

The moment you decide you're worth more, that's when the right clients come to you.

OK, so are we ready now to go to step 2?

Good, because step 2 is awesome.

2. How to Say No to Potential Bad Clients

If I look back at my first meeting with the Nightmare, I knew right then. I knew the moment when he complained to the waitress that the “large” coffee wasn't large enough. But I needed the money.

Now I know that if I just said no in the first place, it would have saved a lot of stress and I would've attracted a nice client willing to pay what I'm worth instead because I would have had boundaries in place.

I got this next bit from the Blueprint course and it changed everything. Enter, the Client Scorecard.

This scorecard helps you identify which clients are the ones you should say “no” to.

Here's a simplified version:

Take out a piece of paper or open a Google Doc and let your gut provide the answers to the following questions:

  • Does your client have a realistic budget for their expectations?
  • Are you passionate about this project?
  • Has the client respected your process so far?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, then it’s time for you to exercise your right to say “no” to the client and job.

The scorecard that you get in the Blueprint course is more comprehensive, but one of our members, Noah from Thrive Design, kindly shared his process for this recently:

3. How to Position Yourself as an Expert

This is a trick that I learnt from Troy… Set boundaries even before you meet with the client and you will earn their respect straight off the bat.

So if a client is confused, their team all have differing opinions and there is no clear direction, then you have two choices:

  1. Send them a website worksheet so that they can work it out amongst themselves. By asking them the right questions in the worksheet they won't drag you into a long meeting where you are simply mediating and trying to get everyone on the same page. Once they have a clearer idea of what they want THEN you can have that initial meeting with them.
  2. Pitch a discovery session with them in which you will get paid for your time and also be able to position yourself as the expert. You can get the whole process for a discovery session here. 

OK, now you've onboarded the client, so the next step is simple but will save you many, many headaches:

Have a process. Tell them the process verbally. Send them the process in writing. Don't falter from the process. 

People will follow a process because they know what is included and what's not and you have set their expectations early. And voila! They're not running the project – you are.

Even though it may be in writing in the contract, they may not have even paid any attention to it. So verbally tell them again and make sure they understand before anything begins.

Check they understand:

  • That the project won't start until you receive all of the content
  • That you will only be contacting them once per week with an update. Let them know which day they can expect this contact
  • That you will do two rounds of revisions only and anything outside of the scope is charged by the hour (or they have to sign up to a care plan, if you prefer not to take on small jobs)

Don't forget – It's important that you stay well-positioned even if you've got a good relationship with a client. They might expect that they can call you up and that you'll come and meet with them at the drop of a hat. But it's still really important that they respect your process and that they respect your position in that business relationship.

At the end of the day, processes create trust and it will be easier for both you and the client.

4. Avoid Scope Creep

We ALL can relate to this. When a client changes their mind about the way the project is going or wants you to write the content and expects there to be no extra costs. 

Here's what you do:

I don't need to go into this too much, because I've written a whole post on this which you can check out here. 

Long story short?

All you need is a clad iron contract and to make sure you verbally and in writing let them know exactly what is included in the price. So here's something we prepared earlier for you – you're welcome.

Let's Wrap This Up

To be honest, the nightmare project was a good thing in the end. It taught me how to set boundaries, not just in my work but in other areas of my life too. I realised that you never have to do anything that you don't want to do and that I should stop worrying about what people think of me.

When you know you deserve better… better is what you get… better clients, better fees and less stress!

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Maddie Keogh

Madeleine Keogh is the Digital Marketing Coordinator at Agency Mavericks. She has a background in marketing, copywriting and used to run her own WordPress business. Outside of work, you'll find her at the beach or doing yoga.

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