When the Shoe Doesn’t Fit: How to Say No to Clients

I'm Madeleine!

I’m a small-town girl from Switzerland, rebel entrepreneur, warrior for freedom and visionary with big dreams. Passionate about: Live music, deep conversations, and desert landscapes.

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Did you know that sometimes, the best thing you can do for your business…is to turn business away?

That sounds a little crazy, I know. How can refusing new business possibly be a good thing?

When building your business and your client list, it can be easy to fall into the trap of saying “yes” to every client that comes your way, even if you know they aren’t the best fit. It can feel counterintuitive, detrimental, or even ungrateful and icky to turn clients down. After all, out of everyone, this client came to you for help! They trust you! They’re excited to work with you! That should be all you need, right?


Ultimately, taking on clients who are a bad fit will end up costing you far more than the extra business is worth. Let’s talk about three costs of signing bad-fit clients, and how you can stop the cycle by learning how to say no to clients when it counts.

What Happens When You Don’t Learn How to Say No to Clients

1. It Can Cost You Time

One of the highest costs of not knowing how to say no to clients is time. When you take on clients who aren’t a good fit for your business, it puts the burden of proof, so to speak, back on you. You now have to work twice as hard to try and prove that your methods work. In my experience (yes, I have made the mistake of taking on clients who weren’t quite ready to work with us!), these clients just don’t get the same level of results that we see with our clients who are in the right stage of business to utilize our program to its highest potential.

What does this mean for you? Well, when clients don’t see the results they expect to see with your program or offer, they end up unhappy. And the last thing you want is an unhappy client. So when you don’t know how to say no to clients who are a bad fit, you’ll likely find yourself having to compensate for that gap by working much harder for them, showing up in ways you might never have to with the clients that are the right fit. This costs you precious time that you normally wouldn’t have to spend on good-fit clients, and even after all that work, the bad-fit client might still end up not receiving the same level of results they expected to gain from your program.

2. It Can Cost You Money

Learning how to say no to clients is not only important to protect your time, but it’s also important to protect your bank account! While taking on as many clients as possible seems like the logical way to make more money, ultimately, it could end up costing you rather than turning a profit.

As I mentioned earlier, when clients don’t receive the results they were expecting from you, they end up dissatisfied and sometimes even angry. Angry clients who feel you didn’t follow through on the promises you made could even refuse to pay you for your services, which can result in you having to chase down former customers to get them to complete their financial obligations to you…and if things really escalate, you might even find yourself caught in a legal battle just to get yourself paid for the work you did. So while it can feel like giving up money to turn bad-fit clients away, not knowing how to say no to clients can actually end up costing you even more money than you made by taking them on!

3. It Can Cost You Your Reputation

The third cost of not knowing how to say no to clients is your reputation. Word of mouth is incredibly powerful when it comes to building a business. Especially in those early stages, client testimonials are crucial to building trust between you and anyone looking to hire you. Dissatisfied customers will likely complain about your services to others in their circle of influence, which could potentially rob you of future clients who would have been good fits! Not knowing how to say no to clients who aren’t a good fit can end up costing you clients who would have seen brilliant results with your program or another offer, and this will end up hurting you more than turning that bad-fit client away would have in the long run.

How to Identify Bad-Fit Clients

Not being a fit is really all about us.

Part of learning how to say no to clients who aren’t a good fit is learning how to identify which clients are bad fits. But a huge part of that process actually is determined by you: by what you’re offering, what stage you need your clients to be in so they can best utilize your offerings, and what mindset you need your clients to have before they begin to collaborate with you.

The best way to determine whether clients will be a good fit or not is by paying attention to the language they use during the sales conversation. Are they using language that victimizes them and sets you up as the solution to their problem? Are they looking for someone to rescue them rather than someone to collaborate with? If so, by taking that client on instead of learning how to say no to clients, you might accidentally be placing yourself on the precipice of something I reference often when it comes to considering whether a client may be a bad fit: the Drama Triangle.

The Drama Triangle: What Part Does it Play in Business?

The Drama Triangle is a psychological concept, but it can also be useful when it comes to business. There are three roles in the drama triangle:

  • The Victim, or the person who wants to be rescued
  • The Rescuer, or the person doing the rescuing
  • The Persecutor, or the person the Victim needs to be rescued from

Anytime you step into the drama triangle by taking on someone who is a bad fit rather than learning how to say no to clients, you’re likely to end up caught in a vicious cycle where you’re cast as the Rescuer, and they’re cast as the Victim. They are looking for someone to rescue them, and they’ve picked you—and by taking on that client despite knowing they aren’t the best fit, you also choose to take on the role of Rescuer.

This might not sound so bad, especially if you like being a problem-solver. But the issue here is this: because their problems and your solutions aren’t aligned, you’re not built to be their Rescuer. And eventually, as you keep cycling through the Drama Triangle without being able to offer them the solution they need, you will end up in the role of Victim, and the client will end up in the role of Persecutor.

You might be thinking, “Well, isn’t that what I’m supposed to be? A problem-solver?” As CEOs, we naturally fall into the role of offering solutions to the problems that people have, and in some ways, we’re inviting them to take us on as their Rescuer, which would naturally place them in the role of Victim. However, there is a way to fill your role as CEO without getting swept up in the cycle of the Drama Triangle. But how do you accomplish that?

You guessed it: learning how to say no to clients.

Why Saying No is The Most Powerful Thing You Can Do

It’s incredibly powerful when we say “No,” because then we can serve the right-fit clients in an even more impactful way.

It can be so incredibly difficult to learn how to say no to clients. But by refusing to take on clients who aren’t a good fit, you’re not only saving yourself time and money—you’re also saving them time and money. Not only that, but by refusing to step into the Rescuer role, you’re keeping yourself free of responsibilities that would hinder you from serving the clients that can achieve the results you’ve promised them. By learning how to say no to clients and focusing all your energy on clients you know are a good fit for your business, you can be sure that they’ll get the results they’re looking for…and with the full power of your focus behind you, you may even be able to help them exceed their expectations!

But what if you’ve already taken on a client who is playing the role of the Victim? Don’t worry—there is a way that you can step out of the role of Rescuer without leaving your client out to dry. In fact, by learning how to say no to clients who are looking for you to be their savior, you actually can empower them to learn how to save themselves.

So how do you do this? Anytime you have a client who comes to you looking to be “rescued” from their problem, you say no by handing the problem back to them. You refuse to engage in the Rescuer role of the Drama Triangle. You can place the problem back at their feet by encouraging them to unpack the problem with you. While I don’t solve the problem for them, I do like to offer different ways to look at a problem. By talking the problem through with them rather than solving it yourself, you empower them to start untangling the problem on their own. Oftentimes, a shift in perspective is all someone needs to find new solutions they hadn’t thought of before.

If you’re so inclined, you can also offer a handful of solutions and let them contribute by deciding which option would be the best solution for them. By encouraging them to actively participate in the solving of their problem, you not only free yourself from the constraints of Rescuer, you also help them shake off the position of Victim. This is why learning how to say no to clients is one of the best things you can ever do…for you and for your clients!

By Learning How to Say No to Clients, You Can Empower Them…And Yourself!

Now that you know how to say no to clients, even when it feels a bit icky, you can go forward knowing that you’re prepared to serve your good-fit clients better and to empower any clients you have that may want you to play the role of Rescuer.

Next week, I’ll be going into more detail on how to discern whether a client is a good fit for you, so keep an eye on this space! If you want to make sure you never miss an episode, come follow the 7 Figure Freedom Podcast on Spotify, subscribe on Google, or head over to Apple Podcasts. In the meantime, I’d love to connect with you over on Instagram or in the 7 Figure Freedom Club Facebook group so we can chat about what you got out of this episode!

Are you wondering if you’re ready to take the next step in your business? Curious about whether you’re a good fit for our services? Take the free business assessment quiz to find out! And if you want to learn more, you can visit my website or schedule a call with me today. I can’t wait to hear from you!

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