How to say no to a proposal that’s not for you

Have you ever received a proposal that just wasn’t for you? The price was too high, the vibe was just wrong, but you didn’t want to feel like an idiot telling the supplier that you aren’t moving forward so you just ignore it?

I speak to a lot of people about their business and their website dreams. Only a handful will get through to my quoting stage because I invest a lot of my energy in the process, so I need to know they are a right fit for me before we begin the process.

For me to write a proposal for a website I spend a lot of time researching and getting to know the business. At proposal writing stage my mind is already inside their business, the creative process has begun and the ideas are coming thick and fast. I am cool with the fact that I am not going to win every single quote (I have a consistent 30% strike rate), the one thing that I am a little concerned about is the large percentage of proposals don’t seem to warrant a response.

Why don’t people respond?

I asked the question to some fellow biz ladies and the majority say they respond right away. However, some said sometimes it slips their mind, wasn’t a priority or there was a FEAR attached around letting these suppliers down because they can’t afford it.

Just to be clear, there is nothing wrong with saying no.

As suppliers we don’t take it personally if you can’t afford, if it didn’t feel right or someone else gave a better offer. In fact it’s really none of our business. But what is not nice is realising that our time isn’t respected enough to warrant a simple “Thanks, but no thanks”.

Ultimately the real reason for the rejection has nothing to do with the supplier it’s more to do about you, your goals, your requirements, your needs, your budget, YOUR BUSINESS. As soon as you really get your head around that it makes it a little less yucky.

The best ever rejection I ever received

This is going to sound strange but I received the nicest rejection email ever recently to a quote I submitted. It actually made me feel better than the acceptance I received the day before.

He simply showed gratitude to the time I spent with him, said he had another proposal that was too good to refuse and that he enjoyed meeting me and wished me all the best.

Simple right.

Moving forward, if this particular person contacts me again for a quote, you betcha I am going to quote.

On the flip side, I am also going to remember that woman who I spent hours researching ideas for her business who picked my brain and asked me for a quote, I submitted, followed up and she never responded, not once. She then requested to become a contributor to the magazine. She’s not going to become a contributor to the magazine because her ethics did not align with me and if she ever came to me again I wouldn’t quote for her for the same reason.

How to reject gracefully

Of course it’s one thing saying no, but there are nice ways to say it and not so nice ways to say it.

Here are my tips on how to reject gracefully.

Gratitude – Show that you are thankful for them to take the time to look at the project.

Say No – don’t beat around the bush, make sure you are clear that you’re not progressing.

Reasoning – I really feel reasoning is optional, and you don’t need to go into specifics, but some constructive reasoning will help to avoid the ‘why’ question so you all can move on. If you do give a reason, be honest, because if pricing is an issue sometimes suppliers will have alternative options to suit your needs.

Pleasantries – be nice! You never know if you’re going to potentially work with this person in the future.

For example:

Hi <supplier>,

I really appreciate the time you’ve taken to look at this project. Unfortunately I have decided that due to budgetary constraints I won’t be able to progress at this stage.

I hope one day we can work together in the future!

All the best,

The magic of a follow up

If you’re reading this as someone who sends off proposals just to hear crickets, don’t be shy to follow up!! Send a polite email to make sure they received the proposal and ask if they have any questions. You’d be amazed at how many people just simply get busy and appreciate the reminder.


We all know that sometimes it gets crazy busy, and sometimes when we’ve got a lot of balls in the air, it’s hard to keep up, but mutual respect with any business dealings goes a long way.

Are you a responder? or a non responder? leave a comment below!




5 thoughts on “How to say no to a proposal that’s not for you”

  1. AMEN SISTER. When I was in the freelance web design + branding business, I’ve had my fair share of nonresponders and it’s not a good feeling. It just leaves you… hanging, y’know? Especially when other long-time nonresponder clients suddenly responds and tells you that they want to move forward.

    I find that having a deadline for the proposal and communicating to them once the deadline has passed (even if they don’t respond) eliminates at least a little bit of the frustration :/ But still, would it hurt to receive a quick e-mail?

    Love this post! Totally resonated with it (if not yet evident from the above mini rant!),
    Pam //

  2. Carol Hampshire

    Great post Nicki. Like you, my strike rate is about 30% on proposals I send out. Because I know how frustrating it is to not receive any response, I will ALWAYS respond to every quotation I get from a supplier. Not only do I believe it is good work ethics, but I think it’s rude not to spend a few seconds replying and acknowledging the suppliers time and effort. What goes around comes around :-)

  3. I love this post. I’ve been self-employed for 8 years now and the lack of response still kills me. It shouldn’t be so hard to be polite. A thank you is always well received, even when it accompanies a no.

  4. Hi Nicki,

    I found this post helpful, thanks. I wanted to say ‘no thanks’ to a proposal, but couldn’t find the words. Your post helped me do it nicely and promptly.

    Thank you,

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