Dear Danielle: How Can I Refuse a Client without Getting Into Legal Trouble?

In this episode of What Would Danielle Say?, LH from the United States writes to ask:

Dear Danielle:

I am in the process of starting my Administrative Consulting business and am at the point where I need to develop policies and procedures. I was reading your post of Oct. 23, 2012 (You Do NOT Have to Take the Good with the Bad) about being able to choose which clients you want to work with and having the right to refuse any client you choose. How exactly do you go about refusing a prospective client diplomatically and without setting yourself up for legal troubles? Have you ever had an experience like this? —LH

I asked LH to elaborate a bit more on what legal troubles she was referring to:

I’m thinking, for instance, if I were to say to a prospect that I didn’t think we were a good match for a business relationship because of the type of business they are in. I have not run into this problem and I’m just thinking generally and hypothetically because I know how crazy people can get over the least little thing. I wouldn’t want to end up being sued for “discrimination” when it would be a simple matter of conscience. I hope that as I continue to narrow my target market (I’m still in the startup phase) that problem would be eliminated. But I like to consider all the random “what ifs” just to make sure my bases are covered. I guess you can say I have the “prepare for the worst but expect the best” attitude.  I would love to know your thoughts on the issue.

So here are my thoughts on this:

Basically, it’s a non-issue and you’re borrowing needless worry. Don’t do that. 😉

Let me put your mind at ease. You are not obligated, legally or otherwise, to take on any client who is not a fit for you. As you stated very well yourself, it’s a matter of conscience and ethics.

You can’t do your best work or have a mutually happy-making relationship with any client who foundationally is not a great match for you. It’s for their benefit as much as yours that you decline clients who are not ideal.

You already understand this. I think you maybe just needed some confirmation and validation. Amirite? 🙂

So how this would normally play out is that you present lots of in-depth, educational content on your website so that your ideal clients are drawn to you, recognize themselves in your descriptions and see that you are just the right person who knows how to help them with their administrative needs, goals and challenges.

In this way, your website content also becomes part of your front-line pre-qualification system because it organically helps weed out those prospects who are not a fit at the same time it is attracting your ideal prospects, getting them interested and moving them to the next step.

Next, you have a consultation and part of your consultation process might entail that potential clients complete a form or preliminary questionnaire so you can gather information before you meet and further determine (again, as part of the whole pre-qualifying process) if this is a prospect who fits your ideal client profile.

If they do, that’s when you proceed to meet in a consultation where you ask your questions and talk, see if there’s good chemistry and get the info you need to find out whether this is someone you can help and want to work with or not.

If after going through all those steps, it turns out you don’t want to take that person on as a client, that you’re not a fit for whatever reason, you simply inform them that after considering all the information, you aren’t going to be the best person to meet their needs.

I also like what you also said about it being a matter of conscience. It’s diplomatic and it’s the truth so include that. It let’s them know you’re looking out for their best interests and that it’s nothing personal.

Be sure to provide them with the links to the ACA Directory and the Client Guide so that they can continue in their search. And if you happen to know of a specific colleague who might be a better fit, refer them to that person as well.

Perhaps you’ve discovered they were confused entirely about what you are and do and need another kind of professional entirely so be sure to give them that advice to  aid them in their search. (And if that is the case, it means you need to go back to your website and improve the message because it is clearly not doing it’s job of thoroughly and properly educating visitors about what you do, who you do it for and how you help them.)

Now, ideally, your prequalifying processes weed those folks out and determine whether someone is a good client candidate long before you expend your valuable time in consultation. That is the purpose and goal of having a system of intentional prequalification. This will be particularly important later in your business when you are more established and have less time to spare in what I call “practice” consultations. You will want to reserve your time and energy only for the most ideal of prospects so always be honing and improving upon your prequalifying systems.

This is another one of the places that having a very specific target market is going to make a dramatic difference in your success. When you know specifically the profession and the profile of the kind of client you want to work with, you can create much more extensive, compelling copy to attract them to you and move them through the process of becoming a client. And when you know who you ideal AND non ideal client is, it will be easier for you to recognize the red flags that start waving when you are dealing with a non ideal potential client so that you can head things off before you waste any time in consultation.

I have a couple of products that will help you tremendously in these areas.

I’ve explained the basic outline of consulting for retained clients, but there’s obviously much more to the entire process and a certain methodology to things that makes them effective. You need to know how to talk with prospects, how to set up your prequalifying systems, how to lead the conversation and what questions to ask that will best facilitate moving your ideal prospects to becoming monthly-paying retainer clients.

Breaking the Ice: Your Complete Step-by-Step System to Confidently Lead the Consultation Conversation and Convert Prospects to Retained Clients

Breaking the Ice: Your Complete, Step-by-Step System to Confidently Lead the Consultation Conversation and Convert Prospects to Retained Clients (GDE-03)

You also mention needing to establish policies and processes and I have a product for setting up a lean, mean, streamlined biz mo-chine that both enables you to take better care of clients AND gives you more time, freedom and flexibility for your own life. This guide gives you policies and processes and shares some standards to adopt for streamlining and simplifying your administration and operations:

Power Productivity & Biz Management for Administrative Consultants: The 14 Simple Systems that Will Breathe Freedom, Flexibility and LIFE Back into Your Business and Relationship with Clients

Power Productivity & Biz Management for Administrative Consultants: The 14 Simple Systems that Will Breathe Freedom, Flexibility and LIFE Back into Your Business and Relationship with Clients (GDE-41)

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