Why Saying "No" Makes Clients Say "Yes"
Allow me, if you will, to tell you about that ~*~*~*~*~razzle dazzle~*~*~*~*~
You see, during World War 1, allied ships were being sunk constantly. So, in an effort to hide them, the US and Britain decided to use camouflage.
At first, they tried painting their ships the color of the sea so that they'd blend in to their backgrounds. Unfortunately, that didn't work at all.
So instead, they did the opposite: They made these ships incredibly visible. They stood out like crazy.
They called this style of camo "razzle dazzle."
And as soon as they started painting these ships in this way, it became hard for any enemy to actually tell what the heck they were looking at.
What way was the ship headed? Where was its front and back? Is it coming toward us or away? All this became nearly impossible to tell due to the strangeness of the pattern.
And, interestingly enough, this strange pattern led to a lot fewer ships getting sunk.
In this case, doing the opposite of what anyone thought would work is what led to success.
And the same is true when it comes to our clients. Most of the time, we're doing absolutely everything in our power to please them so that they hire us, or keep working with us. We say "yes" over and over, thinking it's the right way to go.
But often, the opposite is true, and saying "no" is actually what makes clients say "yes" to us more often.
Here's what we're going to cover today!
Part 1: Why we're scared to say no
Part 2: Why saying no works so well
Part 3: The different ways of saying "no"
Whether we're freelancing or working at a company
Saying "no" is simply not something we're trained to do. Whether it's saying no to an unfair rate, ludicrous work hours, or pointless meetings, it's not something that most people know is an option.
After all, we tend to think "if I say 'no' then I'm absolutely going to get fired/not get hired."
But who put that idea into our heads? Did our clients tell that to us? Who sent us a memo that says "no saying no?"
That's right. No one did. It's all in our own heads.
So if it turns out that we're the ones who gave ourselves this false limitation
That means we can shatter it entirely on our own, too.
Considering most of us have never even tried to stand our ground and say no to a boss or client, then we have no idea what the actual repercussions are (hint: there are almost zero).
But why would we even bother saying no?
Oftentimes, we're so caught up in saying “yes yes yes” that we don't really know why we'd turn a client down in the first place.
Why should we say no to a low-paid gig, unreasonable work hours, or constant meetings? Don't most employees/freelancers just do what they're told?
Yes, most do…
But the best ones don't.
The best people have clear boundaries and know exactly what they'll tolerate
The best DON'T say yes to absolutely everything. They know they need to adhere to their own values and boundaries to create their best work.
But unfortunately, most people don't ever think about saying no… ever.
That means they say yes to too many things, become exhausted, stay underpaid for decades, and become bitter toward what they do.
Those who say "no" intelligently go further, have more time for themselves, make more money, have stronger careers, have greater health, and are less stressed. Not only that, they're even viewed as much higher-status professionals.
The second a boundary comes up
Everyone's respect for the boundary-setter skyrockets.
Think about it this way… Imagine you had a choice between 2 restaurants: One that you can walk into at anytime, and another that has a 3 month waiting list. Which one has more respect and allure in your mind?
Even if a restaurant requires a 3 month waiting list and hoops to jump through, many people will move mountains to make sure they can fit it into their schedules.
The same is true for us
If we tell a client that we can't start right away, they'll actually be even more excited for when we do start working with them.
If we're clear about our price, they'll be more likely to try and pay us what we're worth.
If we're not the right fit for a project, we can let the client know that. Ironically that will make the client want to work with us more.
If a client asks for incessant, pointless meetings and we say "no" in a firm, but polite way, they'll start making sure you have what you need without needing to attend them.
But how do you go about saying no in the first place?
This is a question that’s been coming up a lot in my private Game Industry Pro course/community, so let's go through a few scenarios.
This isn't an exhaustive list by any means, but these are certainly common occurrences:
A potential client asking for a super low rate:
Let's say we talk with a potential client who we're interested in working with… all seems well, until BAM they tell us they can't pay us/their budget for audio is super low. We can say something like:
"Looking at this project and the fee that's laid out here, that's not going to be possible for me. Thanks for considering me!"
Obviously tweak all of these to your situation. If they walk away, you just saved yourself a ton of hassle and time. But you'll be surprised at how often they come back with a higher offer.
A client asking for unnecessary meetings:
This one comes up a ton. Too many people just don't know how pointless most meetings really are, and if their requests for them start to balloon out of control, this is all you need to say:
"I'd love to attend, but, in my experience, I've found that long, uninterrupted hours of deep work will allow me to knock this project out of the park. As such, I won't be able to attend meetings X, Y, or Z."
"I can't make any meetings next week. Feel free to go ahead without me."
A client asking for excessive hours:
This one is very situational. Sometimes a client is paying you well enough to work extra hours, and sometimes they're not.
If you find yourself in the latter category, you can try a little no-switcheroo, like this:
"Unfortunately, those hours won't be possible for me under the terms we've agreed to. However, if we can increase this month's payment by 10%, I can put in the extra time I need to get it done sooner. Let me know within the next 48 hours if that works for you, otherwise, we'll stick to the original deadline."
See that? We didn't say "no" outright, but instead said "hey we can do this if you give me more of that sweet sweet paper."
"But Akash, you slightly melted truffle on a warm summer’s day" I hear you ask "What if they get mad when I say 'no'?"
Providing you phrase it well, the odds of that happening are basically zero. Like we mentioned, respect goes UP when we say no with any degree of tact.
In fact, they'll likely want to keep you around more as a result. The best clients are paying you not just to do your job, but to do it well, and they know that a solid "no" is the best way to keep the work high-quality.
And if they do get mad after you gave them a perfectly reasonable no? Well, you may have found out that this client isn't one you'll want to work with!
Of course, don't say no all the time
Though it will become tempting once you taste the sweet ambrosia of its power. When you're first starting out in your career, you'll likely say "yes" more often than a professional who's been working in the field for decades. That's totally fine.
But that doesn't mean you have to wait before you can start setting boundaries. The sooner you start doing this, the better off you'll be long-term.
Even if you've never worked on a game before, giving clear "no"s to irresponsible work hours/requests is a great way to start building this habit.
Saying "no" is attractive to clients
When we set boundaries, respect for us goes up, not down
When we say no in a firm, but polite way, then no one will get mad/upset. If they do, they're probably a bad client
You can, and should, start saying no to unnecessary client requests right now - even if you're just getting started in your career
I'm going to start wearing a zebra-striped outfit to see if it camouflages me from my many foes
So while it's not quite so counter-intuitive as zebra-striping a battleship
Saying "no" to clients will yield us infinitely better results than we may be used to.
We can get higher pay, more respect, more time to ourselves, less crunch, clearer feedback, and avoid the overwhelm that most everybody else in our field experiences.
If you're in a situation where you want to say no
But you're not sure how to say it, just reach out to me and ask!
If you're in our Game Industry Pro course/Slack community, then just direct message me there for the fastest response!