How to Say No When Clients Ask For More Than You Can Give

There are so many great parts of running a business.  The freedom.  The clients.  The students.  But, there are times when those same things can seem overwhelming.  Especially when you need to say “no” to clients.

I understand that it can be frustrating when a client asks for more than you can give.  I’ve been there.  But, we are professionals which means a professional, thought-out approach.

When you can’t give anymore

As someone who has tried to live up to others expectations & worked until I was on bed rest, I can honestly say it isn’t worth it.  As I’ve gotten older, the gap between what I am willing to give to others & burnout has grown exponentially.  Balance really is the key to everything.

Make-up lesson requests

Whether you do make-up lessons with your clients or not, there will always be a client that asks for an exception to your policy.

Several years ago, I had a client get upset that I would no longer do live makeup lessons for the following year.  I was being “unreasonable” by not wanting to drive over 20 minutes each way to teach her daughter a 30-minute lesson.  Yes.  One lesson.  Turns out her twin brothers that should have moved up to 30-minute lessons each would not be taking lessons the next year.  I used the upcoming makeup lesson policy to encourage her to find a teacher that “better fit their needs”.

Extra help between lessons

I’ve always been of the mind that I would prefer my students to get the extra help in between lessons.  This means I will send video links, audio or websites that help support my students when I am not there.

Years ago I had a client that wanted her kids to have support in between lessons with no involvement from her.  Not ideal, but okay.  Oh, but I also couldn’t use anything online because the kids may click to another site afterwards.  Even implementing child safe settings or web browsers that block ads were not enough.  No photos or videos either since the kids may go into another app.  It got to the point where it felt like she was asking for a unicorn … nice in theory, but probably doesn’t exist.

Trying to say “no” to clients in this particular situation is especially hard for me.

Last-minute requests

Back when I was teaching in the school system, I remember a parent letting me know they were going on vacation for the next month.  Oh, and could I have 4 weeks of schoolwork pulled together for their child to do in the hotel room?  For tomorrow?

Last-minute requests can be frustrating because you want to help.  But, it means giving up on your other plans.  Maybe it’s date night, making a dinner, or getting a good night sleep.

And, that leads to burnout.

Why clients ask in the first place

You have your policies written out.  Why are your clients asking for exceptions?  Or, acting like they have no clue what those policies are?

There are 3 reasons why:

  • They have their own concerns.
  • No harm in asking.  The worst thing that can happen is “no”.
  • Life is busy & if someone can make it a little easier with an exception, why wouldn’t they ask?

I know these reasons don’t make it easier when a client asks you for yet another exception.  But, let’s turn around the script.

You have your own concerns beyond the everyday life of your clients.  Which is why you have policies in the first place.

There is no harm in asking a client for a favour once in a blue moon, right?  For example, maybe you need to end lesson a few minutes early because of an appointment.  The worst that can happen is they say “no”, right?

Life is busy & if someone can make it a little easier for you, why wouldn’t you ask?

We have all asked for exceptions at some point in our lives. 

Why would our clients be any different?

When you realize that they are not trying to make your life more difficult or insult you in any way, it makes it much easier to say “no” to clients.

As someone who has embraced saying “no”, I can reassure you.  The overwhelming majority of your clients will be fine when you decline their exception.  Especially when you explain why.

How to say “no”

The art of saying “no” to clients … while maintaining your client relationship is as easy as these 5 steps.

Take a deep breath.

If you are feeling frustrated because now every single member of the family has asked for the same exception (yes, this really did happen), take a deep breath.

Then, keep taking deep breaths until you feel calm.

Remember.  You are the professional.

Or as one of my practicum teachers succinctly said,  “Someone has to be the adult.  That’s you.”

Do not respond immediately

There are very few things in this life that you need to respond to immediately.

While our society does expect responses very quickly, they get upset about hastily written, responses that (may) insult the recipient even more.

Remember that no one can read the tone of the written word so your words need to be well thought out.

Politely reiterate your policies

One of the best ways to handle frequent requests is to create a template beforehand.  Even better is when you directly quote your policy (that hopefully you have all your clients sign beforehand).

Switching to a new make-up policy or tuition system?  Create an email template when you are not upset so the wording says “no” to your client … but also maintains the relationship.

Remind your client of their options

Hopefully when you created your policies you thought about win-win solutions to common issues in the studio.

Yes, your client signed the policies.  But, they may not remember every aspect of them.

I remind myself that I don’t remember every part of every contract I sign.  Have you looked at bank forms lately?  Yikes!  And, I am the annoying person who reads every line thoroughly & asks questions for clarification.  Yet, I don’t remember every part of those forms.

Oftentimes your client does not need a “yes” to their request.  They just need a reminder of what their options are.

FYI.  It may take awhile before those options really sink in.  In which case, go back to step 1 & take a deep breath.


Let’s say your client emails you back with the option they would like.  Great!

What if your client doesn’t get back to you?  There should be a default option that you will use if your client doesn’t let you know their choice.

For example, I used to record a video lesson so long as I had more than 24-hours notice for a missed lesson.  There was one little problem.  Without any videos from my student I had no real way of knowing needed to work on.  And, I can tell you that close to 90% of those never got watched.  What a waste of my time.

Now, if my clients do not send me short video clips of what their child has been working on beforehand, I don’t have to do anything.  They can text/email/call for help.  But, I don’t have to go out of my way to do something that wasn’t helping the majority of my students anyways.

As an avid reader of romance novels, I have learnt the biggest source of conflict is lack of clear communication.  Many times I have turned page after page wondering how “my” heroine & hero will work it all out.  So many times my husband has heard me tearfully say, “I know it will all work out in the end.  But, it’s at such a hard place for them right now!”

Don’t be a Harlequin romance.

Always follow-up with your clients so everyone knows the exact result of their request.  Each person should know what their responsibilities are.

How to say “no” to clients

Follow these 5-steps to say “no” (in a respectful way) before you reach a stage of overwhelm.  Your clients will respect that you are keeping those lines of communication open with them.  And, chances are they may not have even expected a “yes” … it was a “let’s see what happens if we ask” situation.

Remember how I encouraged you to have email templates ready to go before you even got a request?  Well …

To help you save a little time during the week, I have created a FREE “Client Email Templates” PDF.  They are all designed to keep your teacher-client relationship strong, make sure your client feels heard and make sure you stick with your policies.

FREE Client Email Templates

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