Should you ever reject a prospective client? (if so, how?)

Written by on October 8, 2019

An angel appears in a puff of smoke to a man and says to him, "Because you have lived a good and virtuous life, I can offer you a gift: you can be the most handsome man in the world, or you can have infinite wisdom, or you can have limitless wealth."

Reflecting, the man says, "I'll take the wisdom"

"Wisdom is yours," says the angel, disappearing in another puff.

The smoke is barely clear before the man thinks, "I should have taken the money."

Even after a client accepts your proposal, nothing is still guaranteed. 

Both sides still will do their due diligence. They will do theirs: they’ll check their references, check your paperwork and company, check the contracts and so on.

Why is it so very important to make your own due diligence? 

10 years ago, in 2009 I took up my second client: an EU institution of one of the then-newly-minted members of the union.

I had a stunning proposal and I got the contract with flying colors. Everything was great and I got the offer. 

You know that there is a BUT coming our way right? Guess what, you are right.

I had so much trust in the fact that they are a government: I didn’t do my due diligence.


What I noticed after the 3rd month of the project that not only they have a habit of late payment, they are known to be a bit of a bully to their contractors.

It only took me 2 telephone calls to find all of these out. Had I done it right after, it would save me a lot of headache pills (and legal fees).

But Sidar, I’m not a huge company.

How do I do my due diligence?

Due diligence processes of huge companies are also huge.

Tiny companies’ processes are tiny. And your company’s process is, you guessed it, is yours.

You don’t have to hire a private detective but you can utilize the following methods:

  • Online search: You’ll be surprised how much information you can find online about anybody and any company these days. A common mistake is to underestimate this power: i.e: Naah, nobody would write anything, they are a professional company (!). You can also check news about their strategy, product, etc.
  • In-company networking: You can friend a couple of their employees or contractors on LinkedIn and ask them direct questions.
  • External Recruiters: Successful external recruiters know their clients inside out. They are also very willing to connect with you and would be open to give advice.

OK OK, I’ll do it!

How do you know when I should not take the client after my due diligence? 

There are some immediate red flags you should be able to recognize during a client research / due diligence:

🚩 The client tries to change the terms of the agreement after the handshake

They may try to renegotiate your price, statement of work, non-competition, or your contract. This is a signal that the client is not big on its promises.

Do they do this on a consistent basis? Then it probably is not worth it.

🚩 Verified stories of non-payment

Run. Fast.

🚩 The client demands unpaid-overtime

Run. Fast.

🚩 The client suddenly requires commitments you cannot fulfill

Some clients like to ask for clauses like it is your responsibility to ensure a replacement when you are absent, or you’ll need to travel when you can’t, etc.

You may suddenly be very busy.

It is important to stop and let them reflect before the rubber hits the road.

If you can fulfill them, no problem. If not, let them make the choice.

🚩 The client asks something against your values

You can always find a new client and more money. The world is full of it.

You can’t restore your self-respect that easily.

I.e, if you are against guns and you find out you are helping a gun organization indirectly, rejecting could be better in the long run.

🚩 The assignment risks to damage your reputation

You need to protect your reputation like your life depends on it.

Because it does.

There is no way that the project will be delivered on-time and on-budget? Say it so.  You shouldn’t accept a potential stain in your otherwise white shirt.

Do not accept any contract that will jeopardize everything that got you here.

What’s the best way to reject a client?

The tricky part is this: you’ve come so far in the negotiations. No matter how you put it it will be bitter.

That’s why I propose a clear & concise mail written to your counterpart that abides by following rules:

  • It should be kind and courteous. Not burning any bridges.
  • It should be direct and clear. Shouldn’t be interpreted as “you are still up for grabs”
  • It should include why you are rejecting the offer.
  • If you have any contacts that might be of interest: offer them!
  • Thank them and ensure you stay in touch. It is a small world.


I know that due diligence is not the sexiest topic when it comes to becoming an independent consultant. But hey. In Belgium, we say “a horse must graze where it is tethered”. Musts are a must for a reason.

You now know how to do your due diligence.

You know why it is important.

You know what to watch out for.

And I hope you’ll never have to use it, but: if things go south, you also know how to part ways. 

Next Steps

Have you ever rejected a potential employer or client? Why? Hit reply and tell your story! 👇

Want to find out more?

Check out the full guide on How To Become an Independent Project Manager

In this comprehensive guide You’ll learn:
🚀 What you need to be prepared for an independent life
🚀 How to see your self-employed journey as a project and create your customized roadmap
🚀 How to prepare a CV that gets clients
🚀 How to test waters BEFORE diving all-in
🚀 How to get clients and sort out your preparation
🚀 Set the mechanics right from the beginning for a successful, satisfying, long freelance career
And more!

Are you ready? Enjoy the read! 👇👇