Saying No After Receiving Deposit

This question was left in comments recently on the subject of saying No to a client gracefully and I thought it was a great one to address in a column.

Dear Jodee,

I wonder what if there’s money involved already – Let’s say you got a 50% down payment for the project that you can’t simply do because you’ve miscalculated your time, skills and effort for the job.  Is it okay to return the payment and say no?  I think it will be very unfair for the client who expected you to work on the project already — as you have wasted time already.


Dear Issa,

In a situation like this, you do have options. Before you tell the client “I’m not the writer you’re looking for,” make sure you have gone over the instructions a couple of times. There are times when a project seems intimidating until you have given yourself the chance to get a handle on it.

If, after reviewing the instructions carefully, you still feel that you are in over your head and that getting clarification or help from the client won’t help, then you should explain that you won’t be able to complete the project and return the deposit. If you know a writer who would be a better fit, offer to introduce the client to that person.

If the issue is one of over-scheduling or that an unexpected event (accident, illness, death in the family) means that you will not be able to get to the project as soon as you had thought, contact the client promptly. Explain the situation briefly and give the client a new date that you can start on the project.

Ask if that time frame would be acceptable, and if so, set a new deadline. As a courtesy, you could offer the client a discount on the price of the project.

Rather than simply tell the client that you are not going to be able to complete the project, offer some alternatives. Make a list of them before you make contact so that it’s easy for the client to choose the one that makes the most sense for him or her.

Your goal should be to deal with the situation right away, while doing what you can to preserve the relationship with the client if possible.

How would you deal with this type of situation? Let us know in the comments section.


3 responses
  1. Terreece Avatar

    Great post Jodee!

  2. Carol Avatar

    Solid advice, Jodee. Act fast and be professional.

    But I’d start by asking if you can get a time extension. You’d be surprised how many clients aren’t obsessed with their deadline.

    If you really can’t do it, I do try very hard to refer them someone. I think that’s a way to show some professionalism in a bad situation. We all miscalculate now and then, but that goes a long way to showing you care and you’re not just dumping them by the roadside.

  3. Issa @ Ajeva Avatar

    This is tough. This is a sensitive issue just because you’ve already made the promise to deliver results in the first place and you have wasted your client’s time already, even if it’s just a day. I think, you can be honest about it and eat your pride.. though you must not expect niceties from your client – OR, you can outsource or subcontract work to help make things easier.

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