7 reasons to Say No to a Prospective Client

It’s a tough old competitive world out there for coaches. When I run workshops on how to develop a coaching business, the #1 question for everyone in the room is ‘How do I get new clients?’

A neglected question is when to turn a prospective client away.

Here are 7 common situations when it would be sensible to say no:

  1. The would-be client is a young graduate who is unemployed and has returned home to parents who, much as they love them, really don’t want them there. Desperate to get this giant cuckoo out of the nest, the parents decide that coaching is the solution. You agree to a look-see conversation with the potential client, but when this happens, you find that this young person seems to be prepared to indulge their parents by agreeing to the coaching, but has very little motivation of their own. Without motivation, no coaching can be successful
  2. The prospective client is referred by their HR professional. On enquiry you find that there are serious performance problems where the person’s technical ability is being questioned. The client him or herself is keen for the coaching to happen, but how much difference can it really make to the likely outcome? Probably very little. You are a coach not a mentor. This organization may want to be seen to be doing the right thing – before an inevitable parting takes place
  3. The would-be client has heard that coaching is something available at no personal cost because it is being paid for by the organization and it seems to be something that high-fliers enthuse about. But when you have the ‘what are you looking for?’ conversation, the replies remain vague and the more you press, the vaguer they get
  4. The prospective client’s boss asks you to address his or her alleged ‘lack of emotional intelligence’. EQ is not a piece of software that the coach can install in the client’s brain
  5. During the ‘look-see’ or ‘chemistry’ conversation the client displays unusual or frankly bizarre behaviour which could indicate mental health issues. Keep away – this is not your bag
  6. The prospective client talks a lot about the failings of others and how if only they would change everything would be fine. This tells you that their ability to accept responsibility for themselves is low – an essential pre-condition for coaching
  7. A good friend asks you to coach them, for instance on preparation for a job interview. You can never be as candid with a friend as you can with a client. Coaching is blend of high support and high challenge. If you value the friendship say no.

Taking on a client whom you should have refused is truly horrible. Invariably the coaching goes nowhere. If there is a sponsor who is paying, this person is annoyed and disappointed. Reputation is everything in coaching and your reputation will suffer. As the coach you feel incompetent, you lose confidence.

The guidelines here are that you should, without fail, have a no-commitments preliminary conversation with every potential client where you inquire into their circumstances and motivation, asking them what they are looking for. The million dollar question here is ‘If we could wave a magic wand, look into the future and say that this coaching has been successful, what would have changed for you?’ Make it clear that entering into a coaching relationship is a mutual choice and that you may not be the right coach for that client nor that client the right client for you. Regardless of what other people in their lives are telling them, if the client secretly or openly believes that there is no real need to change, then coaching is never going to work. If people have serious mental health problems, they need other kinds of intervention. Where what people need and what you offer is clearly a poor match then suggest other sources of help.

My book Developing a Coaching Business is available on Amazon in print and Kindle formats. http://tinyurl.com/nk6evas