Saying “No” to a Prospective Client

I had to say “No” to a prospective client today.

That hasn’t happened in a long time, and I wrestled with the decision for three full days.

As a business owner, I want to ensure a good relationship with clients.  I want to be a “yes” 100% of the time. But every now and then a project comes along that is just not a good fit for my expertise. In these instances, I believe it better to say “NO” and help them find a better fit than it is to say “YES” and not be able to do them justice in the final result.

Here are three tips for saying “NO” in a way that keeps the relationship positive:

Be Honest about your Reasons

Nobody likes rejection. Hearing “NO” is hard, especially when you’re up against a deadline or are completely frustrated with your own efforts. In my rejection today, I apologized to the prospect, who was asking for assistance in developing a grant proposal for a very technical manufacturing process. I let him know that while I have some experience in the industry, my technical skills were not sufficient to give him the level of assistance I felt he needed, after reviewing the initial proposal.

Find an Alternate Solution

We’ve all heard the statement, “If you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” The prospect had been referred to me by a long-time associate, so both our reputations were on the line, and I’m committed to find WIN/WIN solutions for every issue. I can’t ethically take the project on knowing that I’m not well suited for it, but I certainly can help find someone for whom it is a perfect fit.

I hopped onto Linkedin and did a search for local freelance technical writers with experience in the prospect’s industry. Ten pages of results were returned! I reviewed the first few pages and gave the prospect names and contact info for three people who are far more qualified than me. Hopefully one of them will be available and excited to take on the project.

I had to say “NO,” but I still found a way to say “YES” to assisting the client.

Keep the Doors Open

You have a choice – after you give your “NO” and alternate solution, you have a choice. You can walk away forever, or you can follow up to make sure the solution you suggested was viable. If not, perhaps a second round of ideas will come to you. I just said “NO” this morning, and will follow up with the prospect later in the week to see if I can help in any other way. Stay in touch, and if you can, refer customers – that is one way to stay on the prospect’s radar, and establish a foundation for further conversation.


Saying “NO” is never easy, but when it is in the best interest of the prospect or client, it benefits everyone involved. Give your prospect the gift of integrity by being honest in your reasons for the rejection, finding an alternate solution if you can, and keeping the doors open.


The Dichotomy of Social Media

F. Scott Fitzgerald said, Intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing thoughts in your mind, maintain tension between the two, and be able to function.

Here is the dichotomy of Social Media:

  • Social Media eliminates human contact and thus we, individually and as a people, suffer from isolation.
  • Social Media draws reaction from other humans and thus creates and strengthens our sense of community.

It is true—both are true.

In her book Alone Together, MIT Professor Sherry Turkle says that social media is dumbing down society, creating a society of people that have no idea how to function in a society of people.

Consider the plight of Simone Back, a British woman who posted her impending suicide on Facebook. Her 1,000+ friends held a lively discussion about the appropriateness of her post. One commented: “She ODs all the time and she lies.” None of them tried to contact her directly. Police weren’t notified until someone sent a text message to Simone’s mother 17 hours after her initial message was posted.

Can a Tweet or Facebook post take the place of a hug or a phone call, or save a life?


And Yes.

There is the truth that Social Media draws reaction from other humans and thus creates and strengthens our sense of community.

While I was in treatment for endometrial cancer back in 2009, Social Media kept me sane and in touch with the people and networks I could not physically visit. On the days I spent seven hours in the chemo chair, I posted “chemo day, send me jokes,” and the jokes rolled in all day long, keeping me, the nursing staff, and the six or seven other people attached to IV poles laughing and having a great time, instead of withdrawn and obsessing about the poison coursing through our veins and the proximity of our ultimate demise.

And so Social Media—Tweets and Facebook posts—were my conversations and hugs and kisses for the better part of a year, and played a huge part in saving my life.

It’s been two years since my last day in the chemo chair. I’m beginning to have days in which I no longer associate my life with cancer, days in which I am absorbed in generating business, writing better articles and stories, helping my friends be the best they can be—days in which I actually feel the energy and creativity of the “ME” before I was diagnosed.

I posted the message you see below this paragraph after a recent check-up. In less than 6 hours, there were 85 “Likes” and 57 “Comments.” Since I grabbed the image below, the messages have continued to pour in. Each time my iPhone “dings” to tell me there is yet another response, I smile, pump my fist, and scream, “YES!” as loud as I can.

I am so grateful for the amazing people who surround me, even when I’m not aware that I am in their thoughts as much as they are in mine. I am so grateful that they showed up in force on Facebook yesterday, and reminded me.

Maybe the real isolation inherent in Social Media isn’t isolation from each other. Maybe, for many of us, it is isolation from ourselves—the distance we create between our feelings, hopes, fears, and the community in which we live.

Intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing thoughts in your mind, maintain tension between the two, and be able to function.

The answer may be just a click—or a phone call—away.

The Core of All Things

“Building relationships is the core of all things,” my friend’s Facebook post said.

She’s so right.

And sometimes tearing them down is the only way to move forward.

Like when you switch off the broadcast stations that promote dissonance and spew grossly distorted stories, or leave the abusive boss or spouse, no matter what happens next. Like refusing to listen to the voice in your head that beats you bloody for insignificant things, or closing the book on those who say they are your “friend” but do more to take you down than lift you up.

Everything revolves around our ability – or lack thereof – to create, nurture and transform our relationships.

Transformation isn’t easy. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it’s downright ugly. And sometimes, unless you are a Marine, you have to leave the casualties behind.

We grow and shift and change every day. The things and the people that once “fit” no longer do. So we have to choose: stay stuck in what is comfortable because we know it so well, or step out with courage into the unknown.

I’ve made some pretty noisy exits in my life – and I’d wager you have, too. The good news is I’ve learned to forgive myself for being human, and commit to staying on the high road next time.  Here is the formula as presented by one of my teachers, Burt Goldman, “The American Monk.”

Burt’s Five Steps to Happiness:

  1. If you like a thing, enjoy it.
  2. If you don’t like a thing, avoid it.
  3. If you don’t like a thing and you cannot avoid it, change it.
  4. If you don’t like a thing, cannot avoid it, and cannot or will not change it, accept it.
  5. You accept a thing by changing your attitude toward it.

Pretty simple, don’t you think?

Technology no substitute for the Human Face

I give thanks, most days, for the hearts and minds of the folks, way back in the 40s and 50s, who envisioned and created the first computers.

I give thanks, most days, for the ease with which I can contact friends in Florida, Australia, and Lebanon, through Facebook, LinkedIn, and text.

I give thanks, most days, that I have opposable thumbs for texting and lightning-fast fingertips for straight keyboarding.

And yet, something in my soul screams every time I get a text rather than a phone call, or an invitation to a “virtual” meeting rather than a physical gathering. Something in my soul shrinks when I turn on my Kindle, as much as I love it, and something in my soul enlarges when I pull a book from my shelf and sit down to read ink on paper.

Technology has enlarged the world. Technology could destroy it.

Charles Dickens summed it up in 1856, when he stated his sense of the “new technology” of the telegraph (italics and boldface mine):

O! what a thing it is, in a time of danger, and in the presence of death, the shining of a face upon a face!  I have heard it broached that orders should be given in great new ships by electric telegraph. I admire machinery as much as any man, and am as thankful to it as any man can be for what it does for us. But, it will never be a substitute for the face of a man, with his soul in it, encouraging another man to be brave and true.  Never try it for that.  It will break down like a straw.

What do you think? Was Dickens correct in his assessment of the “threat” of technology?  Your comments are welcome!

Just for today:  Encourage another to be brave and true – face upon face.

Bob’s Brilliant Marketing Tool

There were over 300 cars in Bob’s funeral procession – the sort of line you would expect for a dignitary or superstar, not a retired tool-and-die designer and small business owner from Detroit. The postman who delivered Bob’s business mail every day for twenty years wept openly. Bob was the only person on his route that greeted him by name, and always shared a smile, a joke, and a cup of coffee.

What made Bob and his business successful wasn’t his skill as a draftsman. He was talented and exact, but so were his competitors. It wasn’t his “convenient” location or the rates he charged – they were industry standard.

What made the difference was Bob. He had a way of letting you know you were important to him, whether you were his client, his neighbor, or his mailman. He didn’t have any 21st-century doodads – no iPod, Blackberry, cell phone, not even a brochure or website. He was so interested in the details of people’s lives – their kid’s names, family birthdays, hobbies, favorite restaurants – that everyone called him a friend. He was so precise and responsive his name was #1 on the “must call” list of all his business associates.

That’s marketing at its best.

There is no question that planning, research, and statistics hold a foundational place in a strong marketing program, but the most brilliant item in your marketing toolbox – the one that makes the most immediate and lasting impact and drives people to come back for more – is you, and what you put into your relationships.

Admit it – at least once in your life, you’ve chosen to buy from one person over another because you liked them and trusted them, not because of their slick brochure or cool TV commercials. And while we’re being honest, admit that for the most part, people who buy from you probably use the same criteria. The most brilliant item in your marketing toolbox cannot be outsourced for production, it can only be developed from within your own heart and mind.

It’s all an inside job.

So what would Bob say about marketing in these unusual times?

  • Be courageous. Be genuine, helpful and upbeat.
  • Share a smile, a joke and a cup of coffee with everyone you meet.
  • Encourage those who need a boost.
  • Give great applause to the smallest victories, and remember this truth: “The most effective marketing does not chase. It attracts.”