Throughout the course of doing business, you'll be faced with many difficult decisions and sometimes have to turn down opportunities, marketing, and even potential clients because they do not align with your business or your goals for your company. It's important that you learn how to say 'no' when it's appropriate for your business. It's also important to be gracious when making a rejection of any kind.
Possibly the most important part of saying 'no' is knowing when to be firm and when to leave the door open to further negotiation. Do you want to do business with this person in the future? Does this company align with your brand? Or is the a brand or business that does not fit your audience at all? These are some questions to ask yourself before you determine what kind of 'no' to deliver.
Delivering a firm 'no' does not mean delivering a rude 'no' to an inquiry. Be polite and honest. As soon as you've decided that this opportunity or request is not a good fit, let the other party know. State the reasons that you do not believe this person or company is a good fit. If you have a suggestion of another professional that might better meet their needs, share that information. The person on the other end of your conversation will be happy to receive a referral if they are truly a better fit. This is especially the case if you are their first inquiry or they did not initially see the difference between your service or product and that of another provider. A firm 'no' might begin... "Thank you for your interest in our company/service/brand. We appreciate your offer for a partnership/opportunity/order. Unfortunately. We are unable to accept your offer due to (reasons that make sense for your business). We recommend that you contact (other awesome professional who is a better fit) at (her information here)."
Delivering a 'not right now' leaves room for future collaboration. This kind of no is appropriate if you're not yet large enough to meet the needs of a potential customer or deliver on the results of an opportunity. For example, if a large national magazine wants to publish an article about your baby product and you're still a small company, you might not be able to meet the product demand that would result from that exposure. However, it's a great opportunity that you want to take advantage of in the future. If you have a timeline, provide that to the other party so that they can adjust. Perhaps they can even schedule marketing or another opportunity now, even if your partnership that will take place a long time in the future.
Delivering a soft 'no' leaves room for negotiation. If the inquiry comes from a good fit, but the price or other terms are not right, let the person know. They may be able to change the terms of their offer or request to meet more of your needs in order to facilitate an agreement. A soft 'no' should be very polite and leave room for the other party to make a better offer, or a counter offer. Your message might say, "Thank you for your interest in our company/brand/service. We appreciate your offer for a partnership/sponsorship/order. We are unable to accept your offer due to (reasons that you've already identified). If you can meet us halfway with (concessions you want), we would be able to accept your revised offer."
When you receive an inquiry and you're not sure how to respond, make a list of the benefits and the drawbacks for your company. If the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, but you're still unsure, try negotiating. Draw out your goals and make them clear to the other party. If the drawbacks outweigh the benefits, determine whether you'd like to work with this person, brand, or company in the future and deliver the appropriate response. The other party will probably appreciate your candor, even if they really wanted to make the opportunity work.