Grow Your Tradie Business By Saying No

About the Author: Ashley Thomson
Ashley Thomson

If you’re running a tradie business, does this scenario sound familiar? In the early days of your business, you take any work; you say yes to every job, you learn how to price it, you do the work, maybe make some money or maybe lose some money. You get asked to quote on something you haven’t done before, you have a crack and it’s ok. You buy specialised tools and add new services to your website. The phone is ringing and you’re busy. Great. At some point you check your bank account. Sure, there’s money in there but the amount in the account doesn’t feel like it matches the effort. And if this is what the year ahead looks like, well…

If that sounds familiar, that’s ok. That’s the growing part of “growing pains”. As a business coach, I respect the grind of early stage business owners. You have to hustle in the beginning to get your business up and running and making money. In my time coaching owners of trades businesses, whether electricians, plumbers, builders or landscapers, I’ve never met one who said, “I want my business to stay exactly like this.” Every single business owner I’ve coached has their sights set on a better future.

You know the saying: what got you here won’t get you there. If your vision of “there” is a successful, profitable, specialised business then you need to learn how to say no.

It sounds counterintuitive to say no in order to grow, I get. If someone is offering to pay you, why would you knock it back?

Recognising the Indicators That It’s Time to Say No

Let’s look at some indicators that you need to learn to say no

  • You’re feeling like you’re out of control because the business is growing too fast
  • In managing clients there are more exceptions than rules: it seems like every client has their own special requirements. For example, “We only want tradesperson X to do this job” or “Can you layout my invoice this special way so we can report on certain items.”
  • When scheduling, you have to be selective with which technicians to send to a job because each job is different, and your team are only skilled in certain speciality areas of your trade
  • You have some clients you like working for – they pay your bills on time and respect the work you do – but many other clients are price conscious, they shop around, don’t manage their projects well and don’t appreciate the skills of your team
  • The profitability of a job varies depending on the client, even though it’s the same type of work
  • And the old chestnut: the bank balance doesn’t reflect the effort and risk

As you read those you probably came up with a few other indicators specific to your business. Good. As a business owner you need to be able to look at your business without rose-coloured glasses. My role as a business coach for tradies is to give an objective view of where you can improve and provide advice on how. So let’s do that now.

How to Know What Work to Knock Back

When we’re thinking what to say no to, we’re generally talking about clients. You can have a great client that every so often will have a crappy little job – it’s not going to make you much money but it’s not a big hassle so you’ll do it as a favour. You can also have another client that has reasonably sized jobs but the business is a pain in the butt to deal with.

As a guide you need to critically assess clients based on factors like:

  • Your ability to charge full prices
  • Bills paid on time
  • Risk of bad debts (refer to our article on red flags)
  • Your team’s enjoyment of the work
  • The client’s appreciation for work performed
  • Potential for ongoing work, introductions to other clients/trades,
  • How well they are organised and how they communicate with you

Implementing the Strategy in Your Trades Business

The steps to put this strategy in play are pretty simple:

  • Categorise current your clients and types of work
  • Rank them A-D
  • Start declining D grade clients then move on to scaling back C-grade clients

I know it goes against the grain for some business owners so I’ve included some email templates you can use – see below.

Addressing the Risks

There’s a quote that we often use at Tenfold when coaching clients: “Growth and comfort do not coexist”. Saying no to work might feel risky and uncomfortable. Let’s address some of those risks so you can see how this strategy can help you grow your business.

If I turn down work, my revenue won’t grow
That’s possible, but by focusing on the better clients, your profit will grow. More profit gives you more choice for the kind of work you want to do more of.

Here’s another thing to consider: Research by Heinz/Influitive found that referrals influence 84% of B2B decision-makers. So if you do work for clients who cut corners, haggle over pricing, change scope without consultation, dispute every little charge, and are generally painful then who do you think they’ll refer you to? Other businesses just like them. It’s a fast track to a vicious cycle. No thanks.

What if I need that work again?
Don’t burn your bridges, handle the let down professionally and respectfully. Let the client know you can’t fit it in at the moment so they can wait until you’re available or use someone else this time. See the scripts I’ve provided to make your job easier.

What if I run out of work?
The advice I give to the trades business I coach is to be patient and smart with this strategy. Build up your marketing to win more of the A+B grade work as you let go of the D grade, and then C grade work/clients. It’s a balancing act as you change up the mix of clients and work types.

Does this strategy actually work?
Yes. Did you know that Costco have reported 3,700 SKUs (product items), and revenue of $4.4B. That means they generate $1.2M off every single product they sell. They are very selective of what they sell, saying no to many, many more brands than they say yes to.

Tradies are known for backing themselves. It’s one of the main reasons I love coaching businesses in the trades. In my experience, the businesses that know their worth and back themselves to say no to clients and jobs that don’t align with that are the ones that grow into industry leaders.

Do’s and Don’ts for Declining Work

Do:

  • Be clear and concise: State your refusal directly but politely. Don’t waffle or make excuses.
  • Be professional: Maintain a respectful and courteous tone, even if the client is pushy.
  • Explain briefly (optional): You can offer a brief explanation, focusing on factors like workload or not being the best fit for the project.
  • Express appreciation: Thank the client for considering you for the job.
  • Offer an alternative (optional): If appropriate, suggest a referral to another contractor who might be better suited for the project.

Don’t:

  • Ghost the client: Don’t leave them hanging. A response is essential for professional courtesy.
  • Be negative or critical: Don’t badmouth the client or the project.
  • Burn bridges: Maintain a professional relationship, even if you decline the work. You never know when future opportunities might arise.
  • Make false promises: Don’t offer to hold a spot for them if you’re unsure of your availability.
  • Procrastinate: Respond promptly, even if your answer is no.

Follow these tips to decline work professionally and maintain positive relationships with your clients. For advice on how to apply these tips on your specific business, contact Tenfold.

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Script for an existing client:

Dear [Client Name],

Thanks for offering [your company name] the opportunity to work on [Project Name]. We appreciate your continued business and your trust in our team.

As you know from working with us, we hold ourselves to high standards for delivering quality work in line with your schedule. Unfortunately, after careful consideration of our current workload, we won’t be able to take on this project at this time.


Would you be open to discussing alternative options or scheduling this project for a later date when our availability opens up? In the meantime, we’d be happy to refer you to a few other qualified contractors who might be able to assist you.

Thank you for your understanding. We look forward to working together again.

Sincerely,

[Your Name]

——————–

Script for a referred prospect:

Dear [prospect name],

Thank you for contacting [Your Company Name]. We were pleased to hear that [Name of Referring Client] has recommended us for your [service] needs for [Project Name]. Our team enjoys working on their projects and it’s great to be introduced to other businesses of that calibre.


After reviewing the details of your project, we’ve assessed that our current workload may not allow us to meet your desired timeline or scope. However, we’d be happy to discuss your project further and see if there might be a way to adjust the scope or schedule to make it a good fit for both of us.

Thank you again for reaching out.

Sincerely,

[Your name]

——————–

Script for declining work from a new prospect

Hi [Prospect Name],

Thanks for reaching out and for your interest in [Your Company Name] for your [Project Description]. I appreciate you taking the time to explain the project in detail.

Declining the Project (Choose a reason that best applies)


• Schedule Conflict
Unfortunately, due to our current workload, we wouldn’t be able to dedicate the time and attention this project deserves to meet your desired timeline.


• Project Expertise
While your project sounds interesting, our current expertise lies primarily in [Your Area of Expertise]. This particular project seems like it might be a better fit for a contractor specialising in [Area They Need].

• Safety Concerns (if applicable)

Based on your description, there seem to be some potential safety concerns with the project that we wouldn’t be comfortable taking on without further clarification on permits and regulations.

That said, I’d be happy to recommend some reputable contractors who might be a good fit for this project. Would you be interested in a few suggestions?


In the meantime, we wish you all the best in finding the right contractor for your needs.


Optional: Offer for Future Work
If your schedule allows in the future, and you have projects that align with our core expertise, we’d be happy to explore working together.

Thanks again for your understanding.

Sincerely,[Your Name]

[Your Company Name]