3 Reasons we say “no” to new business – and why we say ‘yes’

One of the most defining qualities for any company is whom you accept and reject as a client.

Why reject any client?

Why would anyone in this hyper-competitive world reject a potential client? Because whom you consider a ‘right’ customer is a reflection your principles, your goals and your reason for being.

How do you know who’s right for you? I’ll start by sharing three examples of business we turned down (or should have) and why.

1)     They said:

“We just wanted to make sure we weren’t missing anything. We’d like you to do a gap analysis for free and come back to us with a recommendation. We might implement it in house, but if you’re good enough, we’ll use you.”



Why we said NO:

It’s not a relationship if all the giving is on one side and all the power is on the other. They were asking us to take the eye off our current clients in order to chase after a vague promise, while giving away our time and knowledge.

Some variations on the theme sound like this: “We don’t have a budget right now, but if you work with us, we’ll pay you out of our profits.”  You may also hear it as “We’re looking for someone willing to partner in our success.” Or “You should work with us because we’re a great name for your business.” I’ve heard all of these over the years, fallen for some, and lost thousands for my good-will efforts.

The “Partnership” Offer

If they say they are “looking for a partner” then ask them, with a straight face, what percentage of their business they want to give you. Then watch them run away, fast.  For an agency, ‘partnering’ is an absurd notion because so many factors in a successful sale are out of your control: product development, manufacturing, sales teams, the distribution, the pricing, the quality, etc.  True story…we were once about to flip the switch on a campaign when the client called and told us the shipload of his products was hijacked by PIRATES. I kid you not. Talk about factors out of our control!
If you can’t control the process, don’t accept the risk.


2)     They said:  “I’d love to work with you but right now I’m so busy I don’t have time to turn around!”

Die Hard Bruce Willis

Why we said NO: In this conversation I simply replied, “You don’t need me.”

Paid advertising is not the answer to every marketing problem. In this case, the person is in a field where word-of-mouth recommendations drive the reputation and business of her firm.  As long as she’s happy with the pace of her work – and she is – then advertising will always be an expense in her mind, not a necessary business driver.


3)    They said:  “I think I can get $5000 approved for the next year.”


Why we said NO: Often potential clients aren’t being realistic about what it takes to create a productive campaign.

With digital platforms, we can estimate the results based on industry norms and give clients a good idea how many people they will reach and how many are likely to convert. If their field is very competitive, the cost is going to be higher. Some companies just aren’t committed enough to see it through, and the end result is usually disappointing.
As much as we’d love to help everyone, it’s hard to deliver satisfaction if the budget is very small. (We’re at a mid-scale for digital. Our client’s budgets range from $35,000 to $500,000.)


So when do we say “yes”?

We say yes when the answer to most of these questions is “yes”:

1)      Do you have a big, interesting problem we can help solve?

2)      Do you want to try new things?

3)      Does your budget align with your ambitions?

4)      Is it a sector where we have a good consumer understanding?

5)      And most importantly, are you nice?


As we said in the beginning, your principles, goals, and reason for being are embedded in these kinds of decisions.  It’s never easy to turn down an opportunity, but by sticking to clients who are a good fit, we’ve ended up with happier clients, a healthy company in its 8th year, and work we are proud of. Isn’t that a story you want to be able to tell?