When To Turn Down a Project

Are you constantly putting out fires, because you do business with people who don’t fit the culture of your brand?

A core distinction of (the SEO giant) Moz’s TAGFEE is that “we do not try to be all things to all people.” That is also a core value of our corporate culture. Knowing when to turn down a project is one of the best lessons a business can learn.

When To Turn Down a Project

Knowing when to turn down a project doesn’t happen on the fly. It happens as the result of defining every last detail of your company’s profile (or corporate culture).

Step 1 – Define your Corporate Culture

The leaders of your organization need to establish:

  • what makes your company what it is
  • who you are as a brand
  • who your clientele will be
  • what kind of character and personalities will they have
  • what kind of budgets they should have
  • what the perfect project will look like
  • what kind of results will keep your company above reproach

Without establishing your organization’s corporate culture, you will not be on the lookout for the right kind of clients, so those pesky mischief-makers will waltz through your door, right along with the good clients.

Here at 2C, we call it, LITMUS. It is the verbal expression of our corporate culture. We believe that a big part of being an authentic company, is being true to ourselves. Knowing ourselves well, helps us serve others with honesty and creativity. It also guides us through the process of accepting or turning down new projects.

Step 2 – Test every client & every project against your company profile.

Every week our team puts themselves through the 2C LITMUS TEST to see if we are what we say we are.

We also re-read our “What Our Clients Look Like” list to remind ourselves to be a sieve, not a scoop.

Corporate culture doesn’t happen just because you wrote something down. You have to keep testing yourselves and your clients against your values. Ruts form, when the questions are not asked freshly.

Step 3 – Don’t be Swayed by Emotion

You might think that the clients you turn down will be upset, and your brand will suffer.

I can affirm to you, that if you turn down that business honestly, forth-rightly, and professionally, you will not have a problem. How can I make such a claim?

When I started this company decades ago, I had to learn the ropes. I got a lot of experience from some rookie mistakes. And one thing that I learned, is that a majority of the people you will quote, are just shopping around. They don’t care who does it as long as it is cheapest. Seriously.

We tend to think more highly of ourselves than we should. That is bondage. Once you understand that this is not personal, you are free to make good choices for your company.

Now that you know that…use a sieve!

‘Cheapest’ equals:

  • those who don’t play well with others
  • those who won’t value your expertise
  • those who need their hands held at all times (24/7)
  • those who have no time management
  • disrespectful
  • disloyal
  • distrustful
  • entitled

Step 4 – Let Them Down Respectfully

Let prospective clients know that one of the major values of your company is that everyone involved must have a good time doing the project up front.

If you are listening to your inner voice, you know in your first conversation, if:

  • someone rubs you the wrong way
  • their business sounds creepy or ‘too good to be true’
  • they are going to choose according to price, not value
  • they suggest making you work with multiple board members (too many cooks)
  • they are not even ready to start a project, and want to use you to figure that out

If you hear any red flags in the first conversation, don’t disregard them. Red flags mean that you will have misery, instead of a good time.

Several Ways to Turn down a project

You never want to tell them ‘no’ in a way that speaks of your inability to do the project.

Unless that’s true. If so, being the kind of organization that sends those really big clients to another vetted company, is fabulous. Generous, right?

More often, you will find that it is their budget that poses the problem.

Too small a budget, I mean. In which case, asking for that budget in your first conversation should head this off at the pass. Honestly give them a range of possible costs for a project like theirs, which lets them know you are not a good fit, without having to say so. These prospects generally self-eliminate.

If you feel that it is a character problem, tell them you “don’t do business with…”

You are never, ever, going to change a person’s character. Don’t be the kind of business that dates clients with the purpose to change them so you can marry them. It doesn’t work in business, anymore than in dating. If the character flaw is glaring, you should feel free to mention it.

In our early days, we were hit up quite a few times by people who sell smut and porn. Also, obvious fraud, scams, etc. That does not align with the values of our company. We let those prospects know, up front, that we do not work for companies that don’t align with our values. (That is a good way to word it.)

Some prospects are so far from a good match, that you don’t want to spend any time on them.

Then, give them the general pre-fabbed email response. These are end-of-the-road prospects that will never be a good fit, even if they grow as a company.

We tell them that that they are not a good fit for our company. You are doing a service to this company by not wasting their time (or yours).

Whether, or not, you send them to a vetted outside company for services depends on your inner voice. In our case, we often send them to research a DIY content management platform, like WordPress, or DIY eCommerce shopping carts. In a lot of those cases, that is what they really need. They are appreciative that we cut to the chase and headed them in the right direction.

In Conclusion

Depending on the people involved, turning down a project can result in more respect (and sometimes more leads) for your company!

Recently, a Director of Marketing approached us about a project. It really sounded like an exciting opportunity. All was well, until we met the COO. During our meeting, she was condescending and disrespectful. Furthermore, entitlement was oozing from every fiber of her being.

My Director of Development and I shot each other the “this sure isn’t a LITMUS experience” look. While we shook hands, saying our good byes, we knew that a well worded email was the next step in the process. I took the weekend to respond, not being sure if I would receive a tirade, or not. Instead, as many times is the case, I received a very nice response.

“I so appreciated your quick response when I first reached out to you, and your time in meeting with you last week. It’s often difficult to not bid a project in this market, so I appreciate your aplomb in respectfully declining to move forward with us on a bid. That says a lot about your company. We wish you the best!”

Money isn’t everything. In fact, money is not much in the scheme of things. You certainly cannot buy respect or time with it.

Be the kind of company that prefers to deal in commodities that cannot be purchased with money. You will find that it always leads to a profit!

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