Right! Time for another Summer Short – and this time, it’s a topic voted for by my Instagram audience: What to do when people come to you for services you don’t offer. Off the top of my head, I’d say in most cases, this type of scenario boils down to something being off with your messaging. But let’s take a closer look.

This is something many of us will encounter at some point, maybe even several times, especially if we have been through a pivot with our business. I know from first-hand experience that the services and products we offered when we started can look vastly different a year or two later, as we hone in on what we enjoy, what we’re great at, what our audiences want and need. Times change and our brands and businesses are not static – they can’t be if we want them (and us!) to not only survive, but also thrive.

I’m going to use myself as an example: I started my solo business journey just over five years ago at the time of recording this, after years and years – 14 years to be exact – of working for and with other people. In all of those roles, I was expected to do all kinds of different design work – and although I was, and still am, good at that too (omg I am so humble, aren’t I…) but my heart was always in design management, strategy and brand identity. I was a design generalist, but I hated it. I was privileged enough that many of my existing clients wanted to follow me as I took the leap from co-ownership into my independent business – naturally they were going to continue contacting me for the services they were used to getting from me. And so even after I branched out on my own and made the decision to follow my heart and focus on brand strategy and identity design, people were reaching out to me for everything from business cards and flyers, to books, annual reports and even website design. Did I turn them away? No, not to start with – because we all need to make enough money to pay the bills, right?

Yet, five years later: here I am. I’m spending… I’d say at least 90%ish of my time doing the work I love the most. The remaining 10%? I’m working on it! How did this shift happen? Well, I did two things:

The first thing I did was to gradually stop talking about the work I wanted less of. I didn’t care how fab that annual report turned out – it did not go in my portfolio. It did not go on my Instagram feed. I only showcased the kind of projects I wanted to do more of. I tweaked my messaging; only promoting the services I wanted to offer.

After a while, things slowly shifted. As I started to build my reputation as the go-to person for brand identity, more and more people came to me for… brand identity. Go figure! This did not happen overnight, I want to be very clear about that because I think that kind of overnight change is unrealistic and out of reach for so many of us. After a while, I started getting booked out with dream projects. First it was for one month, then two, then three… Only when that stream of dream projects felt steady enough and I had set up a waitlist did I slowly start that second step: politely turning away work that didn’t fit my ideal project description. It took me around four years to get there – so it was a gradual transition. The first thing that I publicly let go of was web design, I discontinued that service… I think it was in January 2020. Heck, it was only after a particularly sweary encounter with powerpoint last month that I decided never to touch that shitty piece of software ever again. It’s a process!

It’s hard to turn people away, especially if you’re a people-pleaser like me. But at the end of the day, who benefits from you doing a half-assed job because you don’t enjoy it? No one benefits. No one. Besides, you don’t have to be rude about turning people away. And here’s my third insider tip: before you start saying no to less than ideal projects, make sure you have good people in your network that you can refer those enquiries on to. Because those jobs you hate? They’re someone else’s zone of genius. So that way, everyone wins: You get to stop doing work that makes you want to curl up and die, your client still gets the help they need – from someone who is probably better at it, and definitely way more enthusiastic about it, and you help support another business owner by sending business opportunities their way. Win, win, win!

And this is how you can break it to your clients too: by focusing on the positive and highlighting the benefits to them. To give you an idea, here’s the copy I used to break up with my web design clients:

Dear Client,

I am writing to inform you of a change to my service offerings. Due to recent shifts in my strategy and business model, I will no longer be offering web design and/or website maintenance as of the 1st of January 2020. There are several reasons for this, one of them being that I am unable to keep up with the rapid changes to technology, and best practices for security and accessibility within this field – and I don’t want to offer you as a client a sub par service. 

However, I do not want to leave you stranded – so to ensure you are in the best of hands, I have teamed up with the amazing [service provider] to offer you a seamless transition. I’m happy to set up a joint meeting to discuss how they can best serve you moving forward. You are of course welcome to choose another service provider too; rest assured that I will be on hand to help with the transition regardless.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Our other business collaborations remain unchanged, and I look forward to offering you continued support as you continue to build your brand.

Best wishes,

You’re free to swipe this copy and edit it to suit your circumstances if you want to. Keep it polite and to the point, and from a perspective of doing what is best for the client, and chances are you’re not going to upset anyone!

So to summarise, here are my top three tips for what to do when people come to you for services you don’t offer:

1: Get clear on the work you do want to offer and tweak your messaging accordingly, and stop talking about the products and services you don’t want to offer

2: Once you are ready, start to politely turn away opportunities that aren’t a right fit, and notify any existing clients of changes that affect them well in advance

3: Make sure you have a network of skilled experts that you can refer those enquiries to, so that your clients know you have their best interests at heart

I hope you’ve found this helpful, and that you feel confident enough to start focusing on doing the work or selling the products you’re truly passionate about. If you want to dive deeper into this topic, I welcome you to join the conversation over on Instagram – find the post about this episode and jump into the comments, slide into my DMs or share your thoughts in a story. If you do the latter, please tag me so I can join in on the fun!

Until next time,

Petchy xx

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