How to Say No

You know those private eye stories that start, "I knew she was trouble the minute she walked in my door..."? Beware, brother, beware! August 29, 2005

I think I know the answer to this, but would like to hear others' opinions of how to handle jobs that you just don't want to do. As a small-time custom furniture maker, it is hard to say no to a job, but I recently had somebody who just made me think I was going to regret doing business with them. She first wanted an estimate for a bed and a three drawer dresser with no more info than that.

I responded that there are so many variables and I would need more info than that to even give her a ball-park estimate. She sent a few pictures and said she wanted a vegan non-toxic finish as well, and that the furniture was for her child. I just had a bad feeling about getting into this job – mainly worrying that her kid would try to eat the bed and end up getting sick. So after some thought I responded that I was too busy to take on her project. How would you have handled such a situation, and do you think I was right to listen to my gut on this one?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor J:
It is not uncommon for any business, especially a custom product business, to refuse work. Most businesses can't be all things to all customers. Every legitimate, reputable manufacturer should have general liability/product liability insurance.

From contributor H:
You were honest and did the right thing. You told her you were too busy. If she persists and still want you to do the job then it’s because no one else will do it either. Another option I use that has worked to my advantage on several occasions is to double or even triple the price, as most people will walk. A well written disclaimer goes a long way. Get it signed separately from the contract.

From contributor A:
I've a bit different take. Assuming you have the time, I'd go visit the lady. By being in her home you will quickly be able to see the quality of the other things there. If it looks good then I'd simply increase the price and do a solid wood set. If she is truly worried, you might tell her about the chemicals in plywood.

From contributor D:
I agree with Contributor A. One thing we know as readers of this forum is that we are all niche producers. This is a reasonable - and growing - niche (low or no toxicity environments). It may not be the niche you want, but a niche it is.

The other thing is you never want to tell a caller no. Always be positive, be prepared to invest a little time and effort, show some enthusiasm - you are on her side, aren't you? I can't count how many first crazy calls I have had that have turned into long term good customers. Once they gain confidence in you, you can get past the odd requests and just take care of what they need. Service is the second half of the work.