How to Politely Decline a New Client by Phone, Email, and Text

Sean Lund-Brown

When the prospect of adding a new client to your list presents itself, the excitement that usually accompanies it isn’t always there. Several factors may require you to turn down a client, and doing so can be overwhelming, frustrating, and maybe even a little bit scary at times. When you’re growing your business, you never want to say no to money. Even in the busiest of times, there are no promises that the same influx of revenue and demand for what you provide will remain intact from day to day.

Another reason refusing to contract with someone new can be difficult is because the individual or entity believes that you are exactly who they want for the job they need to be completed. Plus, nobody ever likes to be told no. The ideal way to get through the situation of declining a new client by phone, email, or text is by doing so politely, with kindness, and professionally.

If the idea of turning away a new client is too much for you to handle, or if you just don’t have time to go through the many prospective clients that you have waiting in the wings, Smith.ai can help. Partnering with a live virtual assistant will put the responsibility in our experts' hands, and we know how to respectfully tell new leads that you’re not willing or able to take on the additional work at the present time.

Before you decide whether you want a specialist to do the job for you, or if you think it’s something you would like to tackle on your own, find out more about why you would want to turn down a client, how to do so without blemishing your reputation or making anyone angry, and several methods for saying ‘no’ either over the phone, in an email, or through text messaging communication platforms.

Why would you turn down a client?

You’ve landed on this page because you’re struggling with the process of turning away customers, but the reason why you're here might be different for you than for the next guy. 

The most obvious reason that you would refuse to take on another client is that you can’t. Meaning you don’t have enough hours in the day or people on your team to handle the extra work. Explaining this to a person that’s interested in what you have to offer is arguably the easiest. You’re not saying no to them, you’re saying you can’t, and they aren’t going to feel as though you’re attacking them or treating them unfairly.

When you’re utilizing the features available through Smith.ai, our 24/7 answering service can handle these initial phone calls, texts, and emails for you, and you will never have to deal with saying no. The potential client will speak with a friendly, live receptionist, and as long as you tell us that you’re not taking on any new clients, we can pass that information along for you.

That being said, know that there are many other reasons why you will want to turn away leads that come in, and these always aren’t quite so straightforward.

  • The client is too demanding, rude, or unpleasant.
  • You can’t agree on a price for the services they want.
  • The person is a referral and not a good fit for what you want from your client base.
  • There is nothing you can do to meet their expectations.
  • Your gut tells you it’s a bad idea.

Remember that telling your clients no is a business decision, not a personal one. It feels like it sometimes, but you have to do what’s best for your company, and you can’t let the feelings of guilt or fear have any influence on what you choose to do.

Why is it important to know how to turn down clients?

Do any of the scenarios mentioned above sound familiar? Chances are, whether you’re new to your profession or if you’ve been around a while, you’ve experienced at least one of the circumstances. What did you do at that moment? Without having to go through the motions of turning down clients previously, you may have frozen up and ignored the proposal, simply said no or nothing at all and cut off communications, or you might have taken on the extra work when you were not really interested in it.

All of these actions are no good if you’re looking to build your brand and your reputation. Completely ignoring someone who’s trying to interact with you will leave a bad taste in a client’s mouth, and they’re sure to tell others about it. Shutting out clients with no explanation is a surefire way to have them badmouth your business. Taking on the extra work means other areas in your career or personal life will suffer.

Perfecting a plan and putting it into play when necessary to politely decline a potential client over the phone, through email, or by text is an essential piece of a successful enterprise. After you’ve done it a few times, it will become second nature. The clients you turn away will remember the positive experience and may even become future customers when the opportunity presents itself.

Turning down a client with kindness

Now more than ever, perhaps, it’s crucial to be kind to anyone you come in contact with. You could crumble an entire company after one rude comment with how quickly and easily a message can spread on social media and through other channels. Remaining optimistic, upbeat, and polite is the key to preventing an utter disaster for your name.

When your communication with your potential clients is done by email, through text, or over the phone, it can make things a little more challenging. You can’t express yourself through body language or with a smile. The person on the other end has to understand and sense your authenticity based on how you talk over the phone or in writing. 

Several vital phrases are interchangeable between all three modes:

  • “Thank you so much for considering (me, my company, our services), but it’s not going to work out on my end.”
  • “I really do appreciate your interest, but I don’t have the time right now.”
  • “I don’t think I’m a good fit, but I know someone that may be able to help you.”
  • “I’m so glad that you came to me, but my schedule is already filled up.”
  • “I’m really sorry, but I’m not taking on any new clients right now.”
  • “I wish I could make it work, but I don’t think I’m the right person for the job.”

What’s important in your method of saying no is to show gratitude so the potential customer knows that you acknowledge them, even if the partnership between the two of you isn’t a very good idea. 

Supplying the leads with alternative options is always a great way to soften the blow of being turned away as well. Instead of feeling hopeless about what the individual came to you for, they can focus their energy on contacting the next company and not worry so much about being rejected.

Turning away customers over the phone

The phone at the office is ringing off the hook, which is a good sign for business, but it’s wearing you out. The next person who calls is at risk of feeling your frustration through your voice, even if you don’t intend to come off so harshly. So, being stressed about it is already working against you, and now you have to tell someone no, too? Knowing what you’re going to say before you even say ‘hello’ helps to reduce the pressure and anxiety from the start.

Be sure always to follow basic proper phone etiquette, such as:

  • Answering within three rings
  • Introducing yourself right away, “Hello, this is (your name), from (the company name), how can I help you?
  • Remain upbeat, cheerful, and smile when appropriate (even if they can’t see you, it comes through in your voice)
  • Listen actively and take down notes when necessary

Mastering these techniques is the first step, and when that’s been done, and you want to refuse a client gently, try inserting some of the phrases mentioned previously. The primary focus should always remain on being positive, friendly, upbeat, professional, and kind, regardless of what is happening around you.

Do you understand the concept but feel as though you’re incapable of handling the duty of being polite and saying no simultaneously? Get in touch with the trained receptionists at Smith.ai. We have a passion and gift for talking over the phone!


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Saying no nicely in an email

Is your regular communication between customers done through email? This makes your job of saying no a little bit more manageable. You can develop a template that expresses everything you want to say, and then if the situation arises again, you can use it, provided that it went over well the first time.

Some of the points to incorporate into your email template are:

  • Start with “Thank you.”
  • Show appreciation.
  • Explain quickly that you can’t do the job with minimal details on why.
  • Offer an alternative if available.
  • Close with another “Thank you.”

Professionalism is something that can be displayed in emails, so make sure to use a business tone while also remaining friendly and encouraging. The Smith.ai experts will filter through your inbox and do this for you if you decide to take advantage of the numerous services we offer.

Explaining your rejection quickly in a text 

Text messaging clients to tell them you can’t accept them as a new customer has pros and cons. On one side, you get to keep the answer short, sweet, and to the point. 

However, you don’t get much of an opportunity to show how much you appreciate them reaching out to you on the other side. You don't want your text message to be longer than a few lines.

Some valuable tips for turning down clients through text messaging are:

  • Respond as soon as possible – dragging your feet to deliver the bad news isn’t an effective way of building relationships or trust, and that could be important if you want to work with the client in the future.
  • Don’t try and justify it – you’re already limited on word count with texting, so making excuses isn’t necessary, and it often makes it look as though you’re not being truthful.
  • Limit your details – you don’t owe the bits and pieces of your decision to the client, so don’t waste space trying to give too much information. If they want to know more, they will ask.

Practice it a few times, and you’ll get the hang of it. Know that, at Smith.ai, we have specialists that are trained in responding to SMS text messages, and we will take the obligation for you to reply off of your to-do list.

Giving your clients alternative options

Learning to say no to clients politely allows you the opportunity to work more with those that you are interested in partnering with, and you’ll spend less time and energy focused on what you don’t like to do. By giving your client another choice, you’re helping out someone else that you know in the industry too, and they just might do the same for you if they meet someone that would fit perfectly with your companies’ strengths, objectives, and values.

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Do you have a list of partners that you already work with? Give it to our virtual receptionist at Smith.ai. Put in a few details about each one, and with the training, knowledge, and skill we possess, our answering service professionals do the work for you!

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We can perform what’s necessary to help you build a resilient brand that’s well-respected, trusted, and chosen because of the incredible customer service provided. Discuss your needs for assistance associated with turning down potential clients politely by phone, text, and email when you set up your free consultation with our experts online. You can also email us at hello@smith.ai or talk with a live client care specialist by calling (650) 727-6484.

Sean Lund-Brown

Sean Lund-Brown is a current Marketing Assistant for Smith.ai. A graduate from Metropolitan State University of Denver, Sean graduated with a BA in Music and an individualized degree in Teaching Vocal Pedagogy.

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