How to Say No to a Client Without Burning Bridges

how to say no to clients

Landing a coaching client is no easy feat. So why would you ever say “no” to a potential new client?

As it turns out, not every client is an ideal person to work with. But what’s the best way to turn them down politely (and without burning bridges)?

Let’s explore why you should turn someone down and how to say no to a client, including three email templates you can swipe.

Why Would You Say No to a Coaching Client?

If you know someone is not a good fit for you, it’s better to say no to them than fire them as a client

But as coaches, it’s easy to get caught up in the false belief that “any” client is better than “no client.” To get someone to say yes, you may be tempted to lower your prices or bend backward to please them.

Yes, you’ll get your client and generate some revenue in the short term, but you’ll risk your integrity and waste resources by working with a client who isn’t for you. Your effort in an ineffective coaching relationship takes valuable time and energy away from your other clients and business initiatives. Plus, if a client is a mismatch, they will probably be dissatisfied too.

A bad business decision doesn’t just affect your coaching practice but your personal life, too. Working with someone you aren’t aligned with can cause burnout, affecting every area of your life.

Last but not least, saying “yes” to every prospect, regardless of how they fit with you or your business, will also do your other coaching clients a disservice. If you’re spending all your energy on clients who are bad news, it’ll be much more challenging to show up fully for your other clients.

It takes guts and grit to turn down a source of revenue for your own business when you can tell they’ll be the wrong fit. But remember that, ultimately, you want to help people achieve their full potential, and you can’t do that if someone’s holding you back.

When (And How) to Say No to a Potential Client

Want to know what red flags to look for before you say yes to potential clients? Here are some signs a client is a bad idea.

1. The Scope of Their Needs Goes Beyond Your Coaching Specialty

Let’s say you’re a personal development coach who’s built a signature coaching program around building healthier life habits that encourage self-growth. What should you do if someone reaches out to you for help overcoming anxiety?

If you don’t have enough experience with a prospective client’s needs, you’ll struggle to help them achieve their goals. While it’s a good idea to expand your skills and knowledge, it shouldn’t be at the expense of your new clients.

In other words, if you’re unsure you can fulfill a customer’s request, it’s better to be upfront about it. Always listen attentively to what the client needs to ensure that working together is a win-win for both of you.

2. The Client Crosses Your Boundaries

Boundaries are essential in any relationship; this is no different in a coaching relationship. Maintaining your professional boundaries means not taking on clients out of a sense of obligation. Saying no when necessary helps you prioritize your own well-being and effectiveness as a coach.

If you notice a prospective client crossing your boundaries during the discovery phase, that’s a sign you shouldn’t take them on as a coaching client. If they don’t respect your boundaries now, what’s to say they’ll respect them once they’re paying clients?

Crossing boundaries can manifest in several ways, but here are just a few examples:

  • Requesting to contact you urgently or outside of your usual methods (for example, insisting on communicating on Messenger when you’ve made it clear you only use your email address)
  • Showing up late to (or completely ghosting) your discovery sessions without a valid reason
  • Making inappropriate comments (such as flirting)
  • Scope creep: requesting additional support that falls outside of the scope of your service
  • Asking intrusive and personal questions about your life that are unrelated to the coaching process
  • Attempting to establish a relationship with you outside of the coaching context

3. The Client Doesn’t Value Your Coaching Services

There’s a time and place to offer lower prices for your coaching services. If you’re still new to the business and want to gather some testimonials, there’s no shame in starting at a lower rate. 

But once you’ve proven you can get results for your coaching clients, you can command higher rates! Your ideal coaching rate will vary depending on the income you want to generate and the results you can provide.

Someone isn’t necessarily a bad client if they give you pushback on your rates (so long as they do it respectfully.) But accepting lower-paying clients will stop you from having the energy and space to attract higher-paying ones. 

You’re the one who decides what rates are worth it to you. For example, taking on a lower-paying client is worthwhile if you believe you’ll get an amazing case study out of the experience. 

But if a client shows signs that they don’t value what you do as a coach, this may cause trouble during future sessions. They may not take your advice to heart or may not learn to trust you.

Here are some signs a client doesn’t value your coaching expertise:

  • They belittle your services or try to frame what they need as “small” (I only need a bit of help; this won’t be that hard for you, etc.)
  • They haggle on a price you’d already agreed on.
  • They make comments about several other coaches not being able to help them in the past.

Your dream clients who value what you do are out there. Give yourself the space to welcome them and skip those who don’t value you as they should.

4. You’re Fully Booked

Being fully booked isn’t a red flag — quite the opposite! But it’s a valid reason to turn down a new client. 

If you think a prospect could be a good fit, you can start a waitlist and reach out to them again when you have some openings. Having a backup of potential clients is one of the best strategies to grow your own business and potentially raise your prices in the future.

Plus, being booked out or having limited spots for your coaching packages brings an element of scarcity into the marketing of your services. It communicates a high demand for your coaching programs, so your clients shouldn’t wait too long to commit if they want to work with you.

Though it might be tempting to work extra hours and earn more when your schedule is already full, it won’t be a sustainable move. Resist the temptation to overbook yourself. Your quality of life — and the quality of your coaching sessions — will start to suffer if you overextend yourself.

5. They Try to Make You Adapt to Their Process

As a coach, you’re the expert in your own coaching process. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

It’s not a good sign when someone tries to skip steps in your process or get you to adapt to theirs. Maybe they refuse to pay you upfront, even if that’s your policy, because their procedures require them to use net 30 payment terms. Or maybe they don’t like your appointment schedule and want to move things around.

This happens more frequently with corporate clients, especially for consultants. But remember — you’re a business owner, not an employee. You make your own rules. And those rules are set up optimally to help you support each client to the best of your ability.

If a prospect won’t play by your rules, it’s a sign there’s more trouble to come later. Say no and move on.

5. They Aren’t Coachable

Some coaching clients simply aren’t a good fit for anyone because they aren’t ready to receive coaching. Initially, you might think you can convince them otherwise, but if they don’t want to change, you won’t have any luck with them.

Some red flags that show that your potential client isn’t coachable are:

  • Dismissing your professional guidance and insisting on their own agenda, even if it’s counterproductive
  • Lacking self-responsibility and expecting you to solve their problems without taking required action steps
  • Being resistant to change and refusing to implement changes discussed in coaching sessions, despite agreeing to do so initially
  • They act defensive when receiving constructive criticism necessary for their growth

6. Your Gut Tells You No

Imagine you’ve just hopped off a free discovery session with a potential client — and the vibe just felt… off.

It’s hard to pinpoint why you and a potential client don’t have chemistry. But just imagine going through the same thing every time you give this client a coaching session. 

If you cringe at the thought of doing that, you shouldn’t say yes to the client. Chemistry is so important in any coaching relationship! If you’re not on the same page, you’ll struggle to get along with this person and help them attain their goals.

How to Say No to a Client – Free Email Templates to Try

It’s important to be direct when you say no to a coaching client. However, you should still remain polite.

If you’re rude, this person can badmouth you to other people and harm your reputation as a coach. Resist the temptation, even if this person was rude to you first!

If you believe someone else could better help this potential client, you can provide alternatives for them to pursue. This gives them a plan of action instead of leaving them empty-handed. 

Don’t know how to say no to a client request through email? Copy and paste these sample emails and tweak them to your liking.

General Email Template to Turn a Client Down

Use this template to politely decline a client who doesn’t value your services, has broken your boundaries, or otherwise showed they would be more trouble than they’d be worth. In this template, there’s no alternative suggestion because the assumption is that you wouldn’t recommend this client to a friend.

Hi [first-name],

Thank you so much for taking the time to jump on a call with me earlier today. I appreciate the trust you’ve placed in me thus far.

Unfortunately, at this time, I do not feel I’m the right fit to help you with [the client’s goals]. 

Best of luck with all your future endeavors.


Email Template to Offer Alternative Solutions for Your Prospect

Use this template if you have an alternative solution to suggest for your prospect. It’s an ideal email template if you didn’t feel great chemistry during the discovery session or if their needs fall outside of your expertise.

Hi [first-name],

Thank you so much for taking the time to jump on a call with me earlier today. I loved learning more about [what they need help with].

Unfortunately, at this time, I do not feel I’m the right fit to help you with [the client’s goals]. 

Based on our discussion, I believe [name of another coach] could be a better fit. You can contact him/her/them at [insert website, email, or phone number] — feel free to let him/her/them know I’ve referred you. 

I wish you all the best, and it was a pleasure to meet you!


Email Template to Send People to a Waitlist When You’re Fully Booked

Use this template if someone reaches out to inquire about your coaching services, but you’re already booked. You have an optional line you can add if you want to refer this person to someone else. 

Hi [first-name],

Thank you so much for reaching out about [your coaching packages]. 

I’m currently fully booked and no longer accepting new clients — however, I can let you know as soon as I have an opening if you’re interested. Let me know if this is something you’d like, and I can add you to my waitlist. 

[Optional line] I also know a few other coaches who offer similar services. Let me know if you’d like me to make an introduction. 



Build a Successful Coaching Business with Clients You Love

Growing a coaching business you love is only possible if you love your clients! That’s why it’s important to learn how to say no to a client and give yourself the space to attract the right people to work with.

Want to simplify how you communicate with your clients and manage your coaching business? Try Paperbell for free to discover how this one tool can enable you to spend way less time on admin work and way more time supporting your clients!

how to say no to clients

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in January 2023 and has since been updated for accuracy.

By Charlene Boutin
Charlene is an email marketing and content strategy coach for small business owners and freelancers. Over the past 5 years, she has helped and coached 50+ small business owners to increase their traffic with blog content and grow their email subscribers.
November 29, 2023

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