Seek to Serve: as published in Forbes

As published in Forbes

Not all business is created equal. Especially if you’re starting out with your coaching practice, turning away clients may feel counterintuitive.

However, as members of Forbes Coaches Council imply below, it’s the professional thing to do. In the long run, turning away clients who aren’t a fit for you is actually something that helps scale your business and best positions you and your clients for success.


From left to right: Kristin Constable, Susanne Biro, Virginia Franco, Julia Katsivo, Tom Rubens, Michelle Tillis Lederman, Venessa Marie Perry, Judi Lhee Alloway, John O’Connor. All photos courtesy of the individual members.

1. Use Radical Candor 

No need to overthink the conversation. If you use the radical candor model, of bringing a high level of care along with direct and clear observations, you will likely find the sweet spot that will leave the client feeling cared for and clear as to why you may not be the best coach for them. If you have a coach in your network that you feel may be a good fit, make a connection. Everyone now wins! – Kristin Constable, Winning Defined By You

2. Seek To Serve 

The goal of business is to serve others. Thus, sales should never be about us trying to “get” business, but rather about us informing others how and when we are ideally suited to help. When I am not the best person for a client, or coaching is not the best solution, I am honest. And in the spirit of service, I aim to make an introduction to others who might be. This is just good business. – Susanne BiroSusanne Biro & Associates Coaching Inc. 

3. Manage Expectations From The Get Go 

It’s important to begin by obtaining permission to mutually speak up if during the course of the conversation either party deems the other is not a right fit. Follow it up with “there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all” discussion when it comes to coaching practices. Once this expectation is set — being honest is much less painful. – Virginia Franco, Virginia Franco Resumes

4. Reiterate What The Individual Is Looking For 

When I assess a potential client and confirm that I’m unable to work with him/her, I turn to my mental rolodex and make a few suggestions and even warm introductions. To ensure that the potential client doesn’t feel dismissed, I reiterate what she or he is looking for and why I believe the suggested person is a better fit. The individual gets a solution, a connection makes a sale, and I’m happy. – Julia Katsivo, Julia Katsivo

5. Lead By Example 

I strive to consistently model and teach the ability to engage in difficult conversations while remaining in integrity with my core values. So, I would point out that I don’t believe we are a fit and why. I would then give her a chance to discuss her reaction. She will leave the conversation with a lesson, and a clearer picture of the right coach for her particular needs and style. – Tom Rubens, Tom Rubens Coaching

6. Offer A Freebie And Follow Up 

I suggest to many clients to do what’s free first before investing. I often get on a call, help where I can for 30 minutes, and suggest some work, exercises and research they can do on their own. With coaching, much of the work happens with them. If they are not clear on their desired outcomes, then the coaching will never be successful. Then I tell them to keep me posted. Time will tell me a lot. – Michelle Tillis Lederman, Executive Essentials

7. Be Clear On Your Area Of Expertise 

Many coaches make the mistake of trying to be a jack of all trades and don’t want to turn away business. Be very clear on your area of expertise so that if a potential client comes along that doesn’t fit, you can convey that in a very clear, direct way and refer them to several other people who may be better suited to meet their needs.  – Venessa Marie Perry, Health Resource Solutions, LLC

8. Make A Comparison To Help Explain 

Inform your potential client that those of us in the coaching process all have our own expertise, industries and fields. Coaches have specialties like doctors. You wouldn’t go to a brain surgeon when you need antibiotics for the flu. Keep a Rolodex of fellow coaches that could best serve your client and refer them out to your colleagues. – Judi Rhee Alloway, Imagine Leadership LLC

9. Give Them Something Of Value 

You can give them small things in small doses — a bit of kind advice, an article, a contact, a suggestion, a compliment. No charge. Then refer them to someone or some source that will help them. You didn’t abruptly say no, but you can say you are not the best fit for them in this situation. It’s non-confrontational and easy. – John O’Connor, Career Pro Inc.

About the Author

Susanne Biro is a coach to C-suite and executive level leaders. She is the founder of Inner Life Leadership, an app for business professionals who want to reach an unprecedented level of personal understanding and corresponding leadership (and life) success. Susanne is an author, executive development program designer, facilitator, Forbes & CEO Magazine contributing writer, and a TEDx and keynote speaker.

For over two decades, Susanne has worked internationally with senior-level leaders in some of the world’s best companies. Whether coaching one-on-one or authoring, designing, and delivering leadership programs, her passion is the same: to help leaders reach their next level.

Susanne can be reached at 604.864.5408 or via email at



Our world has changed, rapidly and in unexpected ways. As the crisis hit, I offered and held pro bono sessions with leaders from around the world. And I want to continue to do what I can to help. As a result, I now offer hourly sessions to ensure leaders everywhere can quickly get the perspective, clarity and focus they need to lead themselves, and therefore others, well during these challenging and uncertain times.

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