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How to Say No to a Project Without Burning a Bridge

Accepting a project you’re excited about is easy. But saying no to one with grace and tact so you avoid burning any professional bridges? That can be trickier. 

Houzz Pro

JANUARY 20, 2021

It’s perfectly okay to turn down work for whatever reason you see fit, be it a disparity between your style and the client’s, a realization that the scope of the project will stretch you too thin, or a gut feeling that a homeowner will be high-maintenance and impossible to please. 

Of course, you always want to be professional and polite in your communications with clients, and should leave out any negative personal feeling about the project or the person behind it. Thank them for the opportunity, and wish them success.

Beyond that, you can decide how generic or personal, cursory or detailed you feel is right depending on how much time you’ve spent together, as well as any other factors like if they’re someone you’ve worked with in the past, or a referral from one of your top clients. 

Read on to find the strategy that best fits the individual situation, then free yourself up for meeting new clients who you’ll mesh with more easily.

Blame Your Bandwidth

It may be the most generic refusal, but that doesn’t mean it’s not legit: the “I’m sorry, but we don’t currently have the bandwidth to take on additional clients” line. 

If you feel compelled to expand further, you can explain that you’ve had some projects get finalized since you met with them. Or say that you’re contractually committed to other work that prevent you from accepting theirs, and that signing up to lead their project would be doing them a disservice.

It’s Not You, It’s Me

The classic breakup line can be useful with clients too. Avoid placing any blame on the client by telling them you regret that their project is out of your specific area of expertise. 

Give a Referral

Just because a client isn’t right for you doesn’t mean they won’t be a fit for someone else. So think on other designers in your network you could refer them to: an established interior designer with a strong, no-nonsense personality could be the right fit for a difficult homeowner. A hungry-for-work newbie might be willing to take on a project with a tiny budget. 

Take a little time to do some design world matchmaking, and the good karma will come back to you.

Short, Sweet…and Honest

In some cases, there’s no need to over-explain. Simply let the client-that-never-was know that you appreciate the opportunity, but you don’t think you’re the best match for the project based on budget, timeline, or aesthetic. Done.

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