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When Should Your Digital Agency Say “No” to a Client (and How to Do It)

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Many digital agencies have a “client is always right” mindset. It’s great to be customer focused, but directing your entire digital agency to meet every client’s whim is a good way to add stress, dysfunction, and failure to your agency projects.

Sometimes you have to say “no”. Maybe you don’t have the manpower, the hours, or the skills to deliver what a client wants. It’s ok to say “no” as long as you handle it well.

To decide if a client is a good fit for the agency, try asking yourself these important questions:

1. Is it your ideal client?

Before you take on any clients, you need to establish what an ideal client looks like for your digital agency. Do you want to focus in a certain industry? Do you want to only work with companies that are a certain size? What are your red flags or non-negotiables?

Once you have established what an ideal client looks like, you can better determine whether it is a good idea to take on a new client.

There are some fairly universal red flags to watch for that could indicate a client will be problematic.

Clients that are unreliable straight from the beginning of communication are ones to avoid. If you can’t get a response or they don’t make time to discuss the project, it shows lack of commitment and reliability.

Another red flag is a client who has unrealistic expectations or wants to negotiate a price that is way too-low.

2. Have you had success in their industry?

At the beginning of communication with a new potential client, take the time to understand their industry. If the industry is new to your agency, this might be a time when you want to say “no” for both your benefit.

It can be difficult to turn down new business, but taking on a client that you can’t serve properly will only end in disaster. Ask yourself, “have we had success in this industry before?” If the answer is no, reconsider taking on a new client.

It makes good sense for each agency to define the industry or industries they want to pursue. Spreading the agency too thin across too many different industries will ensure that no one becomes an expert in any one area.

Finding a target audience of clients within a smaller pool of industry is the best way to serve them. Once you identify your niche, it will be a bit easier to turn away clients that are outside your realm of expertise.

3. Is the budget big enough?

The size of the minimum budget necessary will vary depending on your specific agency, but it’s best to define what is the smallest budget you can allow.

When times are tough, it can be tempting to take a low-ball offer because some money is better than none. The problem with that mindset is that you could get stuck in low-wage work.

Also take into consideration if their budget is enough to complete the work they desire. This comes back to keeping expectations realistic.

If a client wants you to perform more work, but not pay the premium, it’s time to move on to a different client. If you know of an agency willing to work within their budget restrictions, refer the client.

4. Is their request within the agreed scope of work?

Even if you have clearly defined a project at the start, there will always be clients that want to make changes mid-project. This isn’t a deal breaker, but it has to be handled effectively.

If a client asks you to make major mid-project changes, be certain to charge them for additional services. Doing work for free devalues your agency.

If for some reason you decide not to charge more, at least communicate to the client that you are making an exception for them. Even quote an exact price so they can see the savings they are receiving.

Some friction can be avoided if all terms, like clearly defining marketing strategies you will use, are laid out at the beginning of the project. Outline to the client that anything additional will come with an additional charge.

5. Does it add value to your client?

As an executive to your digital agency, your main responsibility lies with keeping both the agency and clients profitable.

Sometimes what is going to work will not make the client happy, but it will make them profitable. Evaluate all actions with the question, “Does it add value to the client?”

A common thing for clients to do is come to an agency with something they have seen elsewhere and ask for a reproduction. Your job as the expert is to identify the valuable messages from whatever the client brings you, and then mold that into something new that fits the client better.

Sometimes this means saying “no” to the idea the client brings you. Clients have hired you because you are the expert and they value your opinion. Explain your reasoning for the “no” and there is less likely to be friction.

Tips on how to say “no”:

Validate their feelings

No client has ever proposed something because they thought it was a bad idea. Practice empathy when interacting with clients and remember that they are human too. They’re under deadlines and pressure on their end, so be helpful not hurtful.

Validate their feelings by repeating their frustrations, wants, etc. back to them to show you understand. Then explain with facts why you disagree.

Offer an alternative

“No” is a hard word to hear. The client can be seriously hurt by you shooting down their ideas, so it’s important to reframe that “no.” Always offer an alternative. Replace what you “can’t” do with what you “can” do and the “no” will be received much better.

Educate them

A good percentage of misunderstandings and disagreements between digital marketing agencies and clients comes from miscommunication. Keep in mind that a client is hiring your agency because they are not well versed in your area.

Educate your client throughout the project process to ensure they understand the reasons behind all your actions. Coach them on the results their business will receive. Manage their expectations by setting realistic goals.


It might seem counterintuitive to progress to say “no” to a client, but sometimes that “no” is what propels the project forward. A “no” is a great way to avoid wasting time, money, and energy on projects that don’t add any real value.

With simple empathy and lots of open communication, saying “no” to a client doesn’t have to be a negative thing.

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