4 Ways to Say No for the Health of Your Business


As business owners, we LOVE to say yes to our clients. “YES, I’d love to help you with your birth!” “Yes, I can absolutely come help you with breastfeeding!” And saying yes whenever you can is a great way to build your business.

But if your business is going to survive, if you are going to avoid burnout, you also need to know when and how to say “no” to clients.

Some examples, all drawn from my own experience:

  • Your client has chosen not to take a childbirth education class, but has so many questions about birth that your prenatal visits end up going 4-5 hours. Each. And now they want an extra one, too.
  • You include in your birth package a one hour postpartum visit to process the birth and answer questions. When you arrive, mom asks you to scrub her bathtub and vacuum the floors while she takes a nap.
  • You’ve already booked 4 births with due dates all within three weeks, and someone comes to ask you to take them on as well.
  • Parents really would love to have a doula, but they’ve only budgeted $75. Can’t you please do it?

In all four of these situations, the client is pushing the boundaries of the business, and the doula needs to be able to say no in a professional manner that doesn’t alienate the client.

Some techniques to use when you do need to say no:

  • Say no by saying yes. In the first situation, the doula needs to set boundaries on her time. The doula could say something like “It sounds like you could really use a childbirth class. We don’t have time to cover all of this in our prenatals, but if you’d like to add on a private childbirth class, that would be $XXX. Or I can refer you to some great classes in the area.”
    This is saying yes to what the client wants (extra time teaching about birth) while preserving what the doula needs (sleep and payment for more work beyond what is included.) This is easier if you manage the client’s expectations in the interview, by explaining the time involved with prenatals and that they do not replace a class.
  • Say no by communicating more clearly and sticking with the contract. In the moment, this is such an awkward thing. I’ll admit that I had a hard time not giving in on this one. I explained to my client that as our contract stated, this was a postpartum visit to talk and process, not postpartum doula work (which is a service I don’t even offer!). I explained that I could refer her to a postpartum doula who could help her instead. In retrospect, communicating more clearly up front could have cleared it up before it got really awkward. Now I talk about that in the interview and when scheduling the postpartum. For example, I’ll call or text and say “When would be a good time for me to come by and talk about how your birth went and how you’re feeling?” instead of “When would you like me to come do your postpartum visit?”
  • Say no by referring on. As flattering as it might be to hear they want YOU, don’t fall into egotism thinking you -and only you – can take everyone who wants to hire you. Best case scenario: you run yourself ragged trying to make it to all those births. More likely scenario: You miss a birth or provide terrible service because you’re exhausted. These things can lead to a bad reputation, which hurts you more long term. Know your limits, and build relationships with people you can refer to when you’re booked. They will return the favor, and the goodwill in the birth community will come back to you far more than greedily trying to do all the births yourself!
  • Sometimes you just have to stiffen your backbone and say flat out say no. Still be kind, but be firm. In that last example, I simply said “I can’t do that, my expenses are too high and I would lose money on the job.” The woman then asked if I could refer her to anyone who would do it in her budget and once again I had to say no. “I’m sorry, but I can’t expect any of my colleagues to lose money on a job, either.”

That last one can be a tough one. It can be HARD to say no when you need to, especially if you are a pushover or sometimes let your compassion overrule reality. What helps the most with this is *practice* – and if you can’t start with clients, start with other people in your life. The PTA president who wants you to do more than you’d like. The neighbor who is always expecting you to help take care of his yard. etc. If you can’t even start there, find a friend of family member who will role play with you. Role play it several times. Role play over the phone, role play in person.Speak firmly, but not aggressively.
Don’t get mired in explaining yourself. Often clients take those explanations as negotiation. Keep it short and simple.
Repeat as necessary.

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