The Art of Saying “No” and Turning Down Business

The Art of Saying “No” and Turning Down Business

Intro by Skip Cohen

I love this post from the archives of Justin and Mary Marantz’s blog. Over and again I’ve heard stories from photographers who refuse to turn clients down, and it always comes down to one challenge. They’re afraid to turn away business!

Mary hits the reasons hard in this blog post, but what I love most of all is the main consequence of accepting clients who aren’t a good fit – they rob you of your resources. They take up time you don’t have and slowly chip away at your self-esteem because it’s so hard to make them happy and at the same time be happy yourself!

So, in 2018 as you’re working hard to keep building your skill set and marketing efforts, think about the importance of clients, just like your shoes, being a good fit!


By Justin & Mary Marantz

If you want to know one of the most important & transformational skills you will ever learn as a business owner, it is this: the ability & the willingness to say “No.”

This actually needs to be a two-part post, and in the second part, we’re going to talk all about setting your boundaries in the first place & being willing to say no when people try to cross them. But today in this first part, we want to talk about a really tough topic: being willing to say no & turn down the clients and the jobs who you just know in your gut aren’t really a good fit for you… because it makes room for the ones who are. And that it’s worth holding out for those kinds of clients because they are the ones who allow us to do our best work.

The reason for this is simple:

Clients who are a bad fit will rob you of your most important resources.

You will spend all of your time, money, energy, and the way you feel about yourself & your work putting out fires with someone you were never the right fit for, to begin with, rather than creating beautiful things for the clients who are. You will forget about the 19 clients who love you & rave about you and give everything you have to that 1 client (or what Jon Acuff calls critic’s math) who wants you to change everything about yourself in order to make them happy. To bend & mold yourself to their will.

And then you know what, they still probably won’t be happy. Because the truth is, if it started as a bad fit, it will most likely ALWAYS be a bad fit. And if you book the clients who were never really looking for YOU, then sooner or later you are going to disappoint them. They’ll be disappointed, you’ll feel unappreciated and like what you do doesn’t matter. And if you have that happen enough times, sooner or later you will start to hate this thing you once loved. Clients who are a bad fit rob you of your most important resources.

Caption: *Kate & Emmanuel are an example of one our MOST ideal couples ever!

Because of that, Justin & I have been filtering our clients since very early on in our business. And since then, every time we have gone against our gut & taken something we knew we shouldn’t…we have always seen it play out just as we knew it would. Badly. And it always reminds us why this filtering is so important in the first place and leaves us with a renewed commitment to only take those clients moving forward that we LOVE and who love us in return. Because we know it makes all the difference.

Whenever we talk about filtering clients, we almost always get the same common 3 objections. So for today’s Pancake Session, we thought we’d tackle each of those in turn and show how they are actually a reason FOR filtering your clients.

  1. But I….need the money.

The first objection that we almost always get about filtering is, how someone can be expected to turn down work when they really need the money? And we get that, we totally do! We would never ask anyone to do something financially irresponsible in their business, and I understand that mortgages, rents & electricity bills are no joke. But the problem with this argument is that most “bad fit clients” will actually end up costing you more in the long run. Between re-doing things like albums/engagement shoots or giving credits/comp-ing things to help smooth things over, those costs really start to add up. And when you add in the cost of time of trying to make someone happy who is never really going to be happy, that loss really compounds on itself. I think when most of us are tempted to book a job we’re not a good fit for, it’s usually because of the allure of a paycheck. Anytime that happens, we just try to remind ourselves of how quickly that retainer check will be gone….but how that client will be in our lives for the next 1-2 years. And here’s the BIGGEST reason of all that taking a bad fit client doesn’t actually make you money: we remind ourselves of the loss of future business it can cause…which brings me to my second objection!

  1. But I…need to get my name out there.

From the money objection, the next place the conversation usually goes looks something like this: “Yea I totally know what you mean, but I’m just getting started so I really need to get my name out there. Once I go full time then I can really start to crack down on the filtering.” This sounds like such a good solid plan. But the problem with this plan of attack is that we are now counting on “bad fit clients” to somehow go out & bring us good ones. Think about that for a second. It doesn’t actually make sense, right? That’s because if there is one thing I’ve learned in life from having this business it would be this: awesome people tend to be friends with other awesome people. And….the inverse is also true. So if we want our names to “get out there” to the right people, we need to be willing to hold out for the right people to begin with. That’s of course not to say that it can never happen that a good fit client will find you from a connection with a bad fit client. Anything is possible. My argument is merely that if you want to drastically improve your chances of finding more awesome clients, start by looking for clients who are awesome people- not necessarily the biggest budgets or the best details, but awesome people– to begin with. And then make really good friends with their friends. 🙂

  1. But I am afraid of making them mad.

And of course, the final objection we always get comes up anytime we think about telling anyone “No”….we are afraid of making them mad or hurting their feelings, at the sake of our own sanity or well being. And that’s a really important consideration. Even the clients who aren’t a good fit for our need to be treated with kindness and consideration. But the problem is, the objection itself really needs to be flipped on its head. And the reason for that is because we aren’t just filtering for the benefit it brings to ourselves. We’re doing it because it goes both ways. We also think our potential clients don’t deserve anything less than a photographer who is the absolute best fit for them. And if I take a wedding knowing that I’m not it just because I want the paycheck, I actually think that’s way worse than just turning it down. So we just always explain it that way and recommend someone we do think will be a MUCH better fit & what we’ve found is that most people end up really appreciating that we were honest with them to begin with when we could have just taken their money!

I hope that this has helped in some small way to give you the courage to start saying no when you know it’s not the right fit. And if nothing else, I hope it’s given you the push to start thinking about what your “good fit” clients look like in the first place so you can know them when you see them. Figure out who you are & what you want your work to stand for and then be willing to say….I am what I am. Take me or leave me. Love me or hate me. But the people who love me will love me without fail. And the people who don’t weren’t ever going to get it anyway.

And those first kind of people…they’re worth holding out for.

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This article was written by
Justin & Mary Marantz

Justin & Mary are an international wedding photography duo, who travel the globe shooting weddings, teaching, & inspiring other small business owners. Their “Walk Through a Wedding” Workshops have been presented worldwide including London, Australia & The Netherlands. They've authored two books- The Guide to Marketing and the J&M Lighting Guide, presented at international conferences including WPPI and The Dutch Wedding Congress and have been named as one of Profoto’s Legends of Lighting.

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