How to push back with a client

Man pushing against mountain illustration

I’ve talked about saying no and establishing boundaries with clients before, but it’s easier to do these things before you’ve actually worked with a client (on your website, in your free consults and in your contracts), or when you feel like a current client is being rude or disrespectful.

But in your business, most of the times you’ll have to push back will be with clients who you are already working with, and probably really enjoy! This is much harder.

So how do you say “no” to great clients who aren’t trying to be disrespectful?

Clients are absolutely allowed to ask questions, but let’s say they make a request that you’re not into. This is how I handle these situations:

Client: Can you drive to our office for a meeting?

Some people like face-to-face meetings. My introverted self does not. Also, in-person meetings that require driving really aren’t a good use of my time. I live in the Atlanta suburbs, which means driving to a client’s office can take over an hour depending on the location—and traffic. So if a client requests a meeting at their office that’s just too far away, I appreciate that they want to see me, but I usually say:

“Oooh, I’d like to connect with you guys, but that’s a bit far for me to drive. What do you think about doing a Zoom instead?”

Client: I know you don’t take calls on Fridays, but can you make an exception?

I don’t schedule client calls on Mondays and Fridays, because on Mondays, I’m marketing my business and on Fridays, I like to have uninterrupted, distraction-free time to focus on projects. So when I send my Calendly link, it shows that I have no availability on Mondays or Fridays.

“I’m so sorry. Is there any way we can make Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday work?”

Client: Can you make this pink, and yellow, and orange?

When a client asks you to do something that goes against what you know will be good for them, you have to trust your gut and tell them. Especially if what they ask of you is bad practice. If it goes against your professional opinion, say so. Uphold your standards. It’s okay to push back, give them an alternative solution and explain why. The customer is not always right. Most will be happy that you shared your professional opinion. That’s what they’re paying for!

“These colors don’t align with your branding, but if you’re trying to convey more brightness and excitement, I suggest we do it this way…”

Client: Can you do a few extra mockups?

If your client asks you to something that’s not your process, you don’t have to do it just because they asked. It’s your process for a reason, and you’ve worked hard to button-up and share it.

“My process includes one mockup with a home page and a secondary page. From there, we can go through up to 3 rounds of revisions to arrive at the final design.”

Client: Can you (design this label / fix my business card / set up my email) for me?

Just because they need a service, doesn’t mean you need to do it for them. Even if it’s related to what you offer. Even if it’s quick or easy or you know how to do it. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should!

“Sounds like a cool project, but this isn’t a service I provide. I recommend these folks though…”

Client: We need this by Monday. Can you make it happen?

Usually I can’t accommodate last-minute requests. But that doesn’t mean a client is rude for asking. After all, there may be times when it’s a super fast thing and I can accommodate the request.

“I know you’re eager to get started but my schedule is booked until (blank). I would be happy to start your project then!”

Tips for saying “No”

When you need to push back on a request, here are some tips to help you:

  • Honor their intention.
  • Pinpoint the root of their need. What is the problem? What do they really want?
  • Answer the need with a solution that works for you.
  • Be nice. Yes, you can say “no” and still be nice.
  • Don’t justify. You don’t need to give a specific reason if you don’t want to.
  • Stick to your guns.
@jilllynndesign How to push back with a #client #smallbusiness #graphicdesigner #freelancer #businessadvice ♬ Push – Matchbox Twenty

Can you say “Yes”? Absolutely!

You can say yes to any request you want. Even if it’s something you don’t usually do.

There are times I will happily meet with a client in-person, schedule a call on a Friday, do an extra mockup, and so on. The requirement is that you actually want to say yes. Pay attention to the icky feeling and don’t compromise what’s actually right for you. Say “yes” only if you want to.

Do you need a smarter way to onboard clients? My Client Onboarding Toolkit is a simple, 4-step digital course that walks you through my time-tested client onboarding process. Jam-packed with advice, tools, and templates designed for creative professionals, it’ll save you time, stress and frustration while making you look like the creative rockstar you are. You’ll convert prospects into paying clients with more clarity, sanity, and confidence than ever before. Learn more »

About Jill Anderson

Hi, I’m Jill, a WordPress WordPress designer/developer who partners with talented designers, copywriters, and agencies on their websites, and their client’s sites. I’m passionate about crafting beautiful and innovative WordPress websites focused on clear positioning and positive user experiences. Get my free report, Get Your Website Done: 12 Actionable Steps for Designers, and check out my Client Onboarding Toolkit, a simple 4-step digital course for converting prospects into a paying clients.


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