Quality Over Quantity - When To Say No To Clients

In order to serve our clients in a powerful and enriching way, we should be running our businesses from a place of passion and confidence, not a from a place of low-energy and negative feeling.

As a business owner or a freelancer, it's totally up to you to make sure that your clients and projects are fulfilling your wishlist and working towards your business goals and visions, whilst also taking care of yourself.

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Boundaries in Business

Setting boundaries within your business helps to build positive client relationships through transparency, trust and clear expectations. When boundaries are clearly communicated and adhered to they alleviate the risk of taking actions re-actively, bad feeling between yourself and your client and burning yourself out mentally.

Just recently I posted a blog about setting boundaries in business, which lays out the benefits of setting boundaries and a 4-step process to help you identify where you may need to set boundaries and, maybe most importantly, practical tips for how to enforce those boundaries.

As the blog is very much related, you may want to read it first: How To Set Boundaries In Business In Just 4 Steps.

Here's Why You Should Opt For Quality over Quantity

As I was writing How To Set Boundaries In Business In Just 4 Steps my mind wandered off on a tangent and raised an interesting theme that I'd like to explore in more depth.

I wanted to take a dive into the minefield of managing the quantity and quality of the work we, as business owners and freelancers, choose to take on with a spotlight on how easy it is max out our capacity and lose sight of the overall vision we have for our businesses. This puts us at risk of under-performing for our clients and then burning out as we try to make amends.

The more quality work you take on, the better quality outcome you will deliver. Both you and your clients will feel satisfied and the more quality work you will attract over time.

It takes a mix of long-term and short-term planning to reach that long-term success.

When To Say No To Clients

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the first thing I always suggest is referring back to your business values and your own vision of success. Remember WHY you chose the self-employed lifestyle, remember WHY your business exists and what success looks like, totally unique to you. This will give you the clarity and perspective you need to make sound business judgements and decisions around the clients you'd like to work with.

When something doesn't feel like it's the right fit for you or heart is just not in it, take the time to explore that feeling and work out what is going on - does the 'thing' feel like it's resisting a current boundary or is it a signal that a boundary needs to be set?

Next, I'll run through three of the most common scenarios I see.


At this point I just want to caveat that this is coming from a general perspective. Only YOU know the nuances of your financial situation. I am NOT suggesting turning away paid work if you depend on it. If you are not financially able to turn away work, I just want you to be mindful and always keep your end goals in sight. If you're struggling to make your numbers work, please reach out to me - I offer free 20-minute sessions over the phone where we can run through your business situation, these can be booked here. Or I've created a short quiz that will help you to identify the challenges in your business. I will personally reply to every completed submission with an email, tailored to you, with some tips and suggestions. Take part in the quiz here.

Scenario 1: Just Starting Out & Saying YES To Everything

Your business is brand-new and sparkling, your energy and enthusiasm are at an all time high and you cannot WAIT to get your first client... But the first client comes along with some work that isn't exactly what you had in mind. You're new to this and you feel like you're not in a position to be picky and turn away work, even if it doesn't make you feel good. Before you know it, another client comes along, they've seen that work you've done and want you to do the same for them...

This scenario is all too common and, forgive me if I'm wrong, but I think we've probably all fallen victim to this to some degree. It feels like it goes against all of your self-preservation instincts to turn down paid work, especially when you're just starting out. And, honestly, you may NEED to initially take on work that feels 'less relevant' just to break ground.

Recognise that these are pivotal moments and it's crucial that you set the precedent you wish to follow and that keeps you on the path that is working towards your goals. It really is about saying 'yes' to the right things and not every thing.

But babe, I hear you. And I understand that you're eager to please, make connections, build a network and build a portfolio. Have faith that you can still do all of those things, just not at the expense of your values. Ultimately, it will take away the time and energy you want to devote elsewhere.

Things you can do:

  • Politely explain what your position - they will appreciate your honesty

  • Discuss whether the project can be adapted to suit you both

  • Recommend someone else for the role

  • Make an effort to keep in contact - so they keep you in mind for more suitable commitments

Sometimes, the client is just not right, and if that's the case you may just have to say 'thank you, but no thank you'. The best thing to do is draw a line and get back to planning and goal-setting to ensure you reach the right people.

Scenario 2: Well-Established & Selective... BUT Can You Spot The Difference?

You've worked hard across a number of years to build up your reputation and client portfolio. Now, you're in the fortunate position to be selective with the clients you take on. You start turning away good work because it's below a certain revenue value (£££) and are now considering a lucrative proposal, but something is holding you back... Is this work taking you away from your original purpose or is it a natural evolution of your business?

Ooooh, tricky isn't it? Only you know what is a good fit for your business and what your business needs, financially, to keep it viable and stable.

When you're propositioned with the choice of turning away your ideal client with a smaller budget in favour of a less-than-ideal project just because of money, you really need to stop and assess what the potential consequences could be.

Can you spot the difference between...

Feeling uncertain because... The opportunity isn't on-brand

Is this opportunity going to take your focus away from what your business has set out to achieve?

Is there any long-term benefits or disadvantages for your business? What does the relationship with this client mean to you and your business?

Remember, if you decide this work is not the one for you, you can still be helpful by recommending or choosing to collaborate with more suitable candidates or stay involved by switching up your role in the project i.e. overseeing or project managing.

Feeling uncertain because... The opportunity is challenging your growth

Are you holding back because this is a new direction for your business? It's a good fit but it's out of your comfort zone.

When you dive deeper, you might well find that the opportunity is a totally organic progression for your business. It could hold opportunity to branch out into a new area, industry etc. Businesses evolve and adapt all of the time and that is a good thing.

You'll need to figure out if your resources can cope with the transition BUT this is exciting! And it's 100% natural to feel cautious but this is just part of the process of growing, developing and flourishing as a business owner. You could be on the verge of a breakthrough!

Scenario 3: Trying To Hit Unachievable Targets

Either down to lack of experience, being overly ambitious OR external circumstances beyond your control (anyone remember the year 2020?), you've set yourself some pretty arduous targets for the year. As the year creeps on, you realise that those targets are starting to look a little out of reach and you begin to panic. You start overextending yourself and take on clients that don't quite fit, you say 'yes' to work you wouldn't normally and you stop enforcing your precious boundaries. You start to feel like you are losing control.

First things first, stop and take a deep breath. You CAN regain control.

It's time to revisit your business plan. I find it good practice to schedule non-moveable time in the diary to do these things

  • A weekly business review

  • A monthly business review

  • A quarterly business review

This might sound like more admin BUT it's such a worthwhile and uplifting activity to undertake. You'll probably be surprised by your findings.

Regular reviews means you can quickly identify your challenge areas and adapt accordingly and celebrate the things you're doing well, spotting new opportunities where you can do more of this.

Reviewing your business keeps you on-track with laser-focus on the work that is meaningful to you. You can pinpoint where you're feeling the pressure and put a plan in place to mitigate this before you reach crisis-point.

If this is you, you might find these blogs helpful:

"What To Do When You Feel Stuck In Your Business"

"How To: Monthly Business Review (Like A Pro)"

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