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Saifullah Usmani
Saifullah Usmani

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How to say "NO" to a client without losing sale | Freelancing as a developer

Hi, my name is Saifullah Usmani. I am a Programmer and a Graphic Designer. I have been programming for almost 5 years now. And I have worked with several freelance clients.

If it sounds like a thing that will add value in your life then consider following my page because I keep creating quality content for you.

The world is full of creative and interesting people. And sometime you unfortunately meet them as clients... You must be thinking, Why am I saying unfortunately? Let me explain.

These creative people come up with what is impossible, never done before, cannot be done by humans, especially by individual, or it is just too broad. These people have no idea about how the tech works. They are living in another world.

NOTE this is not bad. Creativity is good and I appreciate it. The reason I am saying such things is because the realism must also be considered. You are creative but the person on the freelance site is not there to fulfil your dreams but he is there to feed his family. That is why going to freelancers for your creative ideas can cause them issues, and because of rating and stuff they have to live in misery for as long as your project lasts.

Realism is not what got the world at this point. People who think outside reality bring new things to this world. But in this case I am talking from a different perspective so don't mind it.

So now you know that there might be some clients that you have to say NO to so you can save time, avoid bad experience/rating/feedback or doomed freelance profile.

But not all of us have to courage to say NO directly. Especially when it is a person-to-person meeting or a phone call.

I have met these kind of clients who can change the world but cannot pay me. So they offer me shares or percentage in an imaginative company they will build that will yield this much results that will be worth my effort I will do for 10 years straight with no money.

When I was young and had no idea about this kind of client I said yes to one of them. It sounded amazing. I worked. One month passed, seconds passed and he didn't do anything at all. Because he was creative but skill-less. He will give me money, shares, etc and we will be partners. But he cannot pay. I had free time so I didn't think much. Until my father told me and kind of forced me to end this. Which was the best advice I ever got.
My father have saved me from these kind of clients many time. I used to consult him. He is good in sales communication.

So as you have read about one type of client in the above paragraph. Remember when you get them, no matter how fantastic their idea is. Just say no. But How?

How to say no?

Saying no is difficult. But key point is staying respectful and having boundaries.
You may use different methods to say no to different people:

First Method(Setting boundaries):

Example: client say I can only pay $5 for this. You have to do it in this budget and I want you to do it because you got good reviews.
My response:
Sorry sir, I appreciate your words for me, but this budget is too low. I cannot work in this budget. I provide quality work. And if you decrease the price then the quality will decrease. Do you want a low-quality product?
My offer is $25. And I cannot decrease it anymore. Let me know what you think?
What will happen next?
By the way this response will change every time with the condition. So think before speaking.
Next the client might try to force you by saying the platform you are working in don't think that way you have to provide quality etc. Or he say that other people will do it. So be nice and say that I wish good luck with that and I really hope you get what you need. But I cannot decrease my price. So this way the client will increase the budget or leave.
Benefit of this approach:

  1. Increase in budget
  2. Freedom from working under-paid. What I did here I set some boundaries that will stop the client and make him aware of my personal strength and this will make client more respectful while talking to me. Saying yes every time cause loss in respect. When you set boundaries people start to respect those boundaries. You can apply it in real life as well(not works every time so use wisely. Nothing is universal rule, things change).

Second Method(Disagreeing):

My Experience:
When client say to do something you don't want to do no matter the price etc. How to say no to them?
Such as I got a client who offered me money in thousands of dollars. Now note that this can change my life as the country I live in, Thousands of dollar is more than millions here.

he wanted me to build some digital tools for him that was from another field. He offered my that I can take time to learn it, all the things possible etc.

I don't like that field in programming and I didn't choose that as my career. I am a web developer. So now I have to say no to this client. What I did?

I used my method of Disagreeing.
when to use this method: When the client forces you to do something. So When the above method don't work I get onto this method. This is the next step of that method but if you don't want to accept anything at all cost.
How it works?
It is very simple. Remember stay respectful. But be stubborn, just like the client.
Say that I cannot work on this project. Because I didn't choose it as my career, or I don't change lanes like that etc.
This is also setting boundaries but more strict. In setting boundaries we agree if price increases, but here we don't agree at all at anything.
Just say I will not do it. You can go to other sellers who are expert and can do this job for you.
Now the client is not bad. But it is me who don't want to work on this project.

One simple method:

Just say No. But then also add some nice line at the end. Some good wish or compliment to don't sound rude. In phone call or real life say no with a smile. Not like weird smile:). Just use your brain then.

I have given you some idea about how to communicate but this is not supposed to be a cheat-sheet for you. You must use your mind in order to come-up with better ways. I recommend you to learn communication skills and sales communication skills.

Share your methods in the comment.

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Top comments (3)

fizzybuzzybeezy profile image

I like your series Saifulla. You have a good attitude and I like that you are writing about boundaries and offering courtesies to the potential client whether or not there is a deal. Sounds like you are making the freelancing community a better experience for the rest of us. Also, good on your dad for watching out for you. He sounds like a great coach for you. I have a question.

What are the consequences of taking too much time to complete a project when the customer has not changed the requirements? Is it usually discussed in the contract?


saifullahusmani profile image
Saifullah Usmani

Thankyou very much for the awesome words. Yes, my dad is a hero for me in my freelance career.
Well there are multiple consequences for this kind of event. I will give a detailed answer. It depends on the type of client.
Maybe the client cancels the project with you. Maybe he pays for what you have done and leave. Maybe he leaves without paying. Maybe he gives you more time.
The target here is two: one we want to cancel it ourselves. Second we want to continue.
Incase you want to cancel it yourself, then you can do something that may not be bad. For example: refer client to other good source or give him something that will help him, and leave project with good remarks. This way he may hire you again.
But in case you want to keep working then keep reading:
Usually people try to make excuses and this doesn't turn out well. It is not a good idea. It is kind of blaming your mistakes on other people/things/scenarios etc. Your excuses may be true but they don't solve any problem for the client.
So you have to think in a different way. Incase you have a contract. Then the contract must have the terms on what will happen when the project dead-line is delayed. If it is not there, then you can come up with a better way to compensiate it.
The thing is, if the client needs the work done, he will not fire you, because he cannot afforad another developer to take on the project because that will cost him more time. So he will continue with you. But he may leave bad review. or never hire you again.
So you need to give a satisfactory reply.

That reply can be in multiple ways.

  1. You can do him a favor. For example give him a discount or over-deliver etc.
  2. You take the responsibility. By favor I mean do one extra page for him, maybe do good SEO. anything you know that is not in the contract but you can do for him. Do it to compensiate the mistake. It is kind of like a gift that says you are sorry for the loss. By taking the responsibility I mean say something like this: I know that we agreed on this day. And I promised that I will deliver the product on this day but I was wrong. There were some unexpected things that came up in the development that caused the loss of time. I should have considered the time for any unexpected event that may occur during development but I didn't. Do you think you can extend the time? Now the client will say yes or no. So incase of yes you are good to go, but this time no mistake. If no then give the work done to the client and try the above method or just leave it. Your relation with this client is now closed.

Remember leaving the client is not bad. It is sometime necessary. You cannot make everyone happy but you can try. After one try, do not try to convince it again and again. It is not worth it. Now one thing is that you have lost this client. And now you must learn from it. Next time add extra 2-3 days or a week in the dead-line just in case of any bad experieince/error/event etc. This is a good strategy.
By the way, no consequences is too bad. It is just another sale you lost. That's all. Don't stress too much. The life is full of events like this. But you have to learn from them every time. Good luck.
I hope I gave a satisfactory answer. I have a post about how to get the work done on time. Make sure to read that.

fizzybuzzybeezy profile image

Thank you for the insight Saifullah. This has been most helpful. I especially like the advice to take ownership of the slip-up and to offer more as compensation as well as the tip that if the client is unhappy, then write it off as a learning experience and adjust projections for future bids accordingly. I am a "least-likely" freelancer because I like to have certain questions answered before I take the leap. It's a flaw in entrepreneurship I'm well aware of, but also stubborn to overcome, although I am doggedly working on it. You're feedback and ideas help though so thank you again for that! Be well and best of fortune in your career!