How to say no

Apr 05, 2017

Ah, the dreaded word that no one wants to hear. Is there anything more quintessentially negative than the word “no”?!

Absolutely there is!

The worst thing you can do for your clients, your colleagues, and your ongoing business relationship, is to say yes when you can’t back it up. As the creative industry becomes ever more digital, and we develop more and more ways to share work and communicate with clients, it’s increasingly important to be transparent. You need realistic timelines.

You need realistic deadlines. You need realistic budgets. If you are honest with your client from the start there will be no surprises at the end. Managing their expectations from the beginning will ensure you don’t have to manage unrealistic demands when it comes to delivery.

Don’t get me wrong, saying no isn’t easy. It certainly isn’t easy to hear. You need to make sure you explain exactly why you can’t honour a request or meet a deadline. If you get it right, you can actually use this as an opportunity to grow the relationship with your client. The more open your relationship is, the easier it will be to resolve any issues that arise, and the more likely you are to get repeat business.

To cover yourself legally, and to protect the relationship itself, it is important to be meticulous when finalising a scoping document. Make sure you have the details of what you will achieve in a project written down. Make sure the client not only approves these, but understands exactly what they mean. Use plain language. This makes sure that they don’t feel like they are being ripped off financially, and helps to prevent scope creep.

To keep all of this efficient you should have a set process that you go through with each client. All of your documentation can be template. It should, ideally, be nicely branded and simply presented. Go through the same process for every new project, regardless of who the client is and who from your team is project managing. By keeping the process uniform both you and your clients will know exactly where to look for information, and everyone will get used to referring to the scoping documents if there is ever a dispute.

Armed with some detailed documentation, and an open and transparent relationship, saying no becomes simple.

In fact, it becomes something your clients appreciate and respect. But remember, the conversation never stops at no. A ‘no’ should always be followed by a ‘but’. “No, we can’t realistically achieve it in that time frame, but we can-”. Often, the road block comes from the client not understanding the scope of what they’re asking for.Where you bring true value to your client is by helping them direct their attention and resources to the areas that will be most beneficial to them.

If you have to say ‘no’ because something is out of scope or just a bad idea, do your best to suggest an alternative. At the very least explain precisely why this is a bad course of action for your client, and their business.

Light Creative is a Melbourne-based creative, content, and digital agency.