If you’re a business owner you will eventually encounter this uncomfortable situation, saying the two scariest letters you’ll ever have to with a client…

N. O.

Saying “no” to a client can put you in a really awkward, sticky situation. It’s almost never fun but there’s definitely some great ways to help things go over a little more smoothly.

Here are my 4 BEST tips for saying “no” to your client without coming out the bad guy!

1. Let them know you want to help!

Sometimes just affirming that you’re on the client’s side and want to do everything in your power to make this an awesome experience for them can help disarm them! This doesn’t always mean that everything they are asking you to do is “reasonable” or “within bounds” but letting them know that you’re on the same page in terms of reaching a final goal of them being satisfied can go a long way.

2. “It’s not you, it’s me!”

Bad break up line? Maybe. But this is actually a great way to diffuse a sticky situation. You can’t ALWAYS accommodate everyone’s requests but the last thing you want is for your client to feel badly, or like an annoyance for asking. Being able to foster an open line of communication with your clients allows them to trust you, open up at their session, be vulnerable and emotional in front of the camera and build a strong bond with you that will lead to years of repeat business. Don’t ruin all that hard work by embarrassing them for even thinking to ask. Make it clear that you cannot honor their request due to your *own* limitations, but that you appreciate them feeling comfortable enough to ask!

3. Tell it like it is!

You’ve probably heard in the past, “and don’t justify your choices, it’s YOUR business!” And in certain situations this is true. However, there are some instances in which a brief explanation of why you can’t do ask your client is wishing can help the situation. In many cases our clients simply do not understand what they’re asking us to do. If you politely explain that RAW files, are unedited digital negatives that cannot be printed or viewed on many devices and are not a deliverable product, many clients will be much more accepting of why you can’t hand them over.

4.. Offer something else!

One of the most helpful things you can do when saying “no”, is to provide a reasonable compromise, substitute or “consolation prize” so that your client doesn’t end the conversation feeling deflated or empty handed.

Does your client want extra images you don’t have to provide (that got scrapped or deleted, or are not up to par?) Try offering them additional black and white edits you didn’t previously provide, or a free print of their favorite existing edit.

Does your client want you to suddenly become a light and airy photographer when you’re wholeheartedly dark and moody? Offer a revision in which you lighten the contrast a touch and bump the shadows a tad, still staying true to your overall style but a bit less extreme.

Is your client asking you to discount your session 50%? Try offering them less time/digitals for their lower budget so that you’re customizing the package rather than cutting your value in half.

Most of all, try to find a middle ground between being absolutely unsympathetic to their requests (even if you think they’re ridiculous at heart!) and getting walked all over. The customer is not ALWAYS right, but there is definitely a “right” way to go about saying no!