Do You Refuse to Work for New Clients?

Do You Refuse to Work for New Clients?

“For that reason, I’m out.”

If you’ve ever watched Dragon’s Den (or its U.S. counterpart, Shark Tank), you’re intimately familiar with that final verdict. It’s uttered by some very successful entrepreneurs when they decide a particular investment opportunity isn’t a good fit.

So how often do you say it to your prospects?

Maybe you should be saying it a little more often.

You know how it goes: Some potential client emails you about working together. Maybe he wants a new website, or some copy, or marketing advice. Doesn’t matter. You and he discuss the work a little further and you realize…

Your potential client is about to make a huge, expensive mistake.

Even if you invested hours, even despite doing your very best work, you know in your heart of hearts that this person is about to waste his money on something that won’t work.

What do you do?

Most people shrug. “That’s what the client wants… not my fault if it doesn’t pan out like he planned!”

But here’s the thing: You do have a responsibility to serve your clients well. If you take on a project knowing that your work and his money will be a complete waste, it’s (in my humble opinion) wrong not to tell this person the state of affairs.

I see it all the time – some people get so excited about their ideas that they can’t see the forest for the trees. They don’t realize the business model is broken, or that the idea sounds fun but just won’t make money, or that there’s a huge gap in the marketing strategy that nearly guarantees a fail.

The money’s just burning a hole in their pockets, because they want to see their idea become reality fast. And they want you to do the work.

You’re the expert. You should know better than to accept the job.

Think of it this way: If he was asking you to invest in his idea, what would you say? Probably this:

“I’m out.”

Sure, turning down a job means losing income, and that sucks. When someone waves $10,000 at you, it sure is tempting to go ahead. You’re already imagining what you’ll do with the money before it even hits your bank account. Victory!

But if your client is making a mistake and you know it, don’t take his cash. Even if it hurts. Turn him down. Pass on the job. You lose the money but you gain integrity points and self-respect for having made the right decision.

Not just for your client, but for yourself.

Granted, knowing when to back out of a bad deal isn’t an easy sixth sense to develop. It takes experience, wisdom, common sense and some forethought, but it isn’t impossible. Sometimes just a few simple questions can turn up red flags:

“And what methods will you use to drive traffic to your new blog?”

“A newsletter? Sounds good. Have you planned your strategy for the coming 12 months?”

“Could you tell me more about your revenue streams? I don’t seem to notice any right now…”

Questions like those may reveal that your client has no plan for his newsletter content (and doesn’t even know how Aweber works) or that he hadn’t considered revenue streams. He thought the money would just start rolling in on its own. And traffic? Don’t you just build it and people will come?

Think about it: Should you take this person’s money and do the work he wants you to do?

No, no, and no. Not without telling him up front that while you’re happy to do the work and be paid for your time, you don’t believe he’ll achieve the results he expects.

He might be mad. He might be offended. He could be insulted. Doesn’t matter. You need to say it.

Because believe me, if this person pays you and doesn’t get the results he’s hoping for from your work, he’ll blame you. Not himself. Not his crazy idea. Not his poor marketing plan or lack of traffic or terrible product or bad service.


So if you’re an expert, use those wits and smarts of yours. Ask questions. Watch for the red flags and problem spots. Point out the issues. Have a little heart-to-heart with your client and tell him the frank truth. Go ahead and let him know his idea could use a little more thought before you work together.

Don’t feel bad about turning a prospect away – you’re only inviting him to do some extra homework to create better success!

Here’s the truth: Most people – especially the ones who respect your expertise and value your counsel – will appreciate your honesty. They’ll be thankful that you told them the truth (and probably wonder why no one else has said anything up to now).

And they’ll go back to the drawing board. They’ll think things through. Maybe they’ll come back to you in the future with a better plan that works. Or maybe they’ll stop right there and be grateful they didn’t lose their shirt.

Now that’s a job well done.


Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. Sometimes I try to point out the flaws in a person’s project ideas, or why I think it might work better another way, but if it’s something I absolutely know isn’t going to work, I tell them why I think that and tactfully (I hope) suggest I’m not the right person for their project. I always wish them luck tho! I can usually persuade them to see it in a different perspective (that’s fancy-speak for “my way”) and we work together to achieve more satisfactory results. So far, that’s worked most of the time.

  2. I’ve been in this situation once. I chose not to work with a client because they were just clearly in over their heads. It was exactly what you described, maybe worse. They were so excited about their “great” idea, and desperately wanted me to make their pipe dreams come true. I felt bad for them, but merely explained why I thought it wouldn’t work, and walked away from the project.

  3. I’ve been on both sides of this situation before – I’ve taken gigs purely because of the money, and I’ve passed on projects because I knew the end result isn’t what the client actually wanted.

    Even turning clients down and giving them a cordial explanation as to why I don’t think it will work rarely seems to stop them from finding someone else to take their money.

    What do you do in order to help these types of clients see the light?

  4. I have seen a lot of projects, where you knew that it would not work. I advised them not to take this approach, but the client(s) insisted. So my solution was to build a prototype with some of the core features.

    This way they can see and test for themselves. If they still insist on going for it. OK, why give away a good earner. And if they “see the light”, then atlast you earned a bit on the prototype.

    Consultants or implementing experts can be wrong. With a “primitive” prototype, both sides get to see if the idea has any merit.

  5. There’s one major problem I have with this advice. It implies you know better. I don’t disagree with the notion of giving feedback. I disagree with the notion of you advising anyone what you think they should do or assume you think the idea is bad. If we always tell people their idea is bad without them putting it out there, ideas like million dollar homepage and pet rock may never happen. And arguably both did well for their founders. Ideas like this exist everyday too, just rarely talked about. Failure is certainly high but success is not something you can dictate in another person’s idea. Simply put, you don’t know.

    If someone had said making a website that only let’s you write 140 characters to update what they were doing at any given moment before Twitter came along, I promise you a ton of people would diss on the idea. I may not invest my money in some ideas, but its not my job to dictate whether it will or wouldn’t take off. Best we can do it help give more feedback and let the clients decide.

    • Exactly! If I see pit falls I share them and if the idea is totally off the wall and I feel 100% sure they are going to be disappointed I will bring that up as well. But if they are crazy enough to continue, I am not going to be that person who said no to the next big thing. They are the driver. And quite frankly the crazier they are the more I perk up and listen because it’s the crazy ones you wanna work with.

      • @Steve and @Craig – I must say you’ve added what, for me, is a valuable perspective here.

        I believe James’ core message in this article is that we need to act with honesty and integrity in dealing with clients.

        If you’re not fully convinced, probably based on your personal experience/assessment that the client’s idea will “fly”, it would be wiser, and more honourable, to express your reservations, and possibly propose alternatives you consider more viable.

        If she insists on going ahead all the same, then you should walk away: It makes no sense to take on a project you do not believe in, because you’ll find it difficult to give it your best – no matter how much you’re paid.

        Having said the above, your unbelief or lack of conviction will not necessarily make you right about the viability of the client’s idea!

        And so Steve/Craig, this is why the points you’ve made above, are so valid.

        Sometimes we may be limited in our ability to visualize what is possible. It happens to the best of “experts” (a term I’m often reluctant to use in describing myself…he he).

        As a result we may not see what the client sees. At that point, rather than tell her “not to do it”, it would be best to simply wish her well and move on.

        History has shown that sometimes such clients go on to rewrite the rule books…

        Jeff Bezos was once that kind of “client”. Look what he turned into!

        AFTER “doing it” – and achieving runaway success – he famously recalled:

        “Every well-intentioned, high-judgment person we asked told us not to do it,” – Jeff Bezos

        Great discussion here. I’ve gained valuable insights. Thanks to all of you 🙂

  6. Geez, I know exactly what you mean.. The toughest challenge is how to tell these prospects to fix their brand message first before they go about finding someone to market their brand. Think of it this way: Marketing a bad product is like dressing up a pig; no matter.. it’s still a.. pig. Then, they just ignore what you tell them and after a few months, you get this courtesy call saying how you’ve been right all along and now, they want you to fix a bigger mess than it is.

    I often ask prospects how often they are about new ideas.. just to see if they’re the right fit for me as well, personality-wise.

  7. hey James,

    most of the times, when I know/feel the client has no clue what he’s doing with the project, I ask him a few key questions

    this enables the client to re-consider the project and the strategy… as I try to get him to think how to better optimize the traffic-generating method or content project he’s working on…

    It works most of the times (particularly with clients who are just starting out marketing their site, guest posting, running affiliate campaigns, or whatever). So both parties start working together, happily. Win-win!

  8. While it’s decent to point out flaws you may have noticed, it’s really not your responsibility to tell people whether or not to go ahead with an idea, unless you’re actually able to see into the future. That decision is entirely down to them.


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