Policy: How Architects Say 'No' To Clients

March 12, 2023

Tyler Suomala

Founder of Growthitect

The awkward moment has arrived. You’ve found yourself in a situation where you have to say “no” to your client.

  • Maybe the scope is beginning to creep.

  • Or you’ve just realized they’re not a good fit.

  • Or the timeline they’re projecting just isn’t possible.

  • Or they’re suggesting a design change that you know won’t work.

It’s never easy to turn down a request or give a negative response to a client request. And it’s crucial to maintain a good relationship with the client even when you have to refuse them in some way.

So what’s the best way to say “no” to your client?

Establishing Policies

First, you’ll want to be sure that you have the correct policies established. If you don’t have policies in place, then now is the time. Why? Policies are an incredible safety net for you and your firm. They protect your time, your profit, and your well-being.

They’re simple to create as a set of rules or guidelines to be followed by your team. You can establish policies for your firm that support your business objectives, communication standards, and client relations. For example, create a policy to only take on projects that meet certain criteria or only work with clients who are willing to sign a contract that clearly defines the scope of the project.

Where’s a good place to start? Make a list of the 5-10 most common instances you find yourself rejecting (or wanting to reject) client requests and create a policy that protects your firm for each.

Use “policy” to say “no”

Here’s where the real magic happens. Policies enable you to tell your client “no” without actually saying “no”.

When a client makes a request that doesn't align with your policies, you can lean on your policy.

Here’s how:

  1. Acknowledge the client’s request: “I appreciate your thought process…” or “We’re thankful for your consideration…” or “I understand why you’re asking…”

  2. Clearly and concisely explain your policy: “Our firm policy is…” or “As a matter of policy…” or “Our policy doesn’t allow…”

  3. Offer an alternative: “We can recommend you to some other firms…” or “We’ve found the best solution is…” or “Some other options would be…”

For instance, when a prospective client asks you to work on a project that doesn't meet the criteria outlined in your policy, you can explain that your firm has a policy of only working on projects that meet those criteria. Then you can happily refer them to some firms that may be a better fit.

Why does this work so well?

Again, saying “no” to a client request can feel awkward. But establishing reliable policies are helpful because:

  1. They allow you to maintain a good professional relationship with your clients. By using policy as the reason for refusing a request, you're not making it personal, and you're not attacking the client's ideas. Instead, you're simply explaining that your firm has a certain way of doing things.

  2. They help you avoid conflicts and misunderstandings. When you have policies in place, you have a clear set of guidelines to follow, and you can use them to make informed decisions that protect you and your clients.

  3. They help to keep projects on track and within scope. Shocker! When you avoid things like scope creep, you’re able to maintain the schedule of your original agreement. That means happier clients and more successful projects.


Policies protect your time, profit, and well-being while allowing you to refuse client requests in a way that maintains a good relationship.

So, the next time you have to refuse a client's request, remember that policy is your friend.

  1. Acknowledge your client’s request.

  2. Clearly explain your policy.

  3. Offer an alternative.

Use it to say "no" without actually saying "no."

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