How to Say No Gracefully

It’s hard to say no.

Especially when you’re a people pleaser, like I am.

And it’s especially hard when you have to say no to a prospect or client.

As service professional, you’re wired to say yes to everything — which isn’t a bad thing when you’re just starting out.

But at some point, you need to start saying no. It’s the only way to work your way toward  better, higher paying clients.

The good news is that saying no with grace is a skill you can practice and improve.

Here are a couple of tips to help get you there:

  1. Ignore your sunk costs

When we say no, we’re often conflicted. Maybe we’ve put a lot of work into the proposal. Or maybe we’ve spent a lot of time on the phone with the prospect.

So even when we decide to turn something down, we still hesitate. Because if we say no, we feel we’ve wasted all that time and effort.

But you need to ignore your sunk costs, (i.e. the time and/or effort you’ve already invested).

Our natural tendency is to factor sunk costs into our decision making. But that’s a mistake. What’s done is done. Instead, you should base your decision on what you see today, not what you’ve already put into it.

Otherwise, you may experience deep regret for weeks or months as you continue to work with the client.

  1. Don’t sugarcoat the message

When we need to deliver bad news, our tendency is to tippy-toe around it.

It feels harsh to just say “I don’t want to work with you.” (And no, that’s NOT what you should say!)

However, you do need to be clear.

Don’t sugarcoat what you need to say because it will only breed confusion. You’ll end up having to repeat yourself or give further clarification, which only makes things more difficult.

  1. Use the sandwich technique

While you don’t want to sugarcoat your message, you can soften the delivery.

And a good way to do that is to use the sandwich technique.

The sandwich consists of:

  1. The top slice of bread (a validation of the situation­­)
  2. The meat (the main point you need to communicate)
  3. The bottom slice of bread (a recommendation or referral).

For example, it might go something like this:

Bread: “Maria, I’ve given this project a lot of thought….”

Meat: “… frankly, I don’t think this is going to be a fit. We’re too far apart on the fee [or I’m starting to move away from X type of work and into Y type of work…]. I’m having to make some tough decisions, just like this one. I’d love to help you but, unfortunately, I’m going to have to pass.”

Bread: “However, I have a colleague who’s done a lot of this kind of work. I think he’d be a great fit for this project. Would you like me to connect the two of you?”

Here, you’re being clear and direct in saying no, while also softening the blow.

Saying No Is an Important Skill

Saying no is never fun. But it does get easier with practice.

Usually, people appreciate it when you’re upfront rather than wishy washy.

And it’s much better than taking on a project you don’t want.


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1. Grab a copy of my book for ESTABLISHED writers.

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2. Download a free copy of my book for writers who are NEW TO FREELANCING.

I’ll show you the 3 things you need to do to get your business off the ground safely and land your first paying client faster.  Click Here

3. Join my implementation program and be a case study.

I’m putting together a new implementation group this month. If you’d like to work with me to grow your income quickly with better clients (and become one of my new success stories) … just hit reply and put “Case Study” in the subject line.

4. Work with me privately.

If you’re a 6-figure writer who’s trying to earn more in less time, with less stress, I might be able to help you get there faster than you think. Just hit reply, put “Breakthrough” in the subject line, and I’ll back to you with more details.