It can be difficult to say no at the best of times but when you are starting out in the industry it is almost impossible.  You need clients, you need money, you need experience and it’s all topped off with a large helping of wanting to help people – the reason you chose the industry in the first place. Everything conspires to convince you that if someone asks you to train them then the obvious answer is…yes!

But there are definitely some cases where we should be saying no.  Cases where saying yes to the wrong person at the wrong time can be a costly mistake.


When To Say No

There are 2 elements to this:

  1. Knowing your scope of practice
  2. Being aware of your skill level

Scope of Practice

Scope of practice will vary depending on the qualification you have and what was covered in your course(s).  It is important to be aware of it for 2 reasons.  Firstly, because your insurance will generally only cover you for what you are qualified to deliver.  Secondly, because if you are operating outside of your scope there is a much bigger risk that you will provide advice that is not safe and / or effective for the individual concerned.

Your Skill Level

We all have different levels of skill in different areas.  There will be some things that we are naturals at and some things that just take longer.  Having an awareness of our own limitations is great, it’s also incredible difficult as we are inherently biased.  We may believe we are brilliant and can help anyone do anything or have doubts and insecurities that convince us we can’t advise anyone on anything.

In reality when we first qualify we generally start out with a lower technical skill level.  We then increase that with time and practice.  This means that we need experience and adds to the pressure of attempting to work with anyone we can.  However, there is a limit to how many areas we can improve at once and the more challenges that you haven’t dealt with before a client presents with the higher the chance that you should pass at this time.

How to say No

By the time you have gone through the consultation it can feel like it’s too late to say no.  Particularly for anyone who is feeling insecure anyway.  There is a rather panic based narrative running through your head “Surely the decision is down to them. Who am I to turn them down?  What if I’m their only hope?  What if I say I can’t work with them and they give up?  I don’t want to come across rude, or give her the impression she is beyond help.”  This shuts down all rational thought.  You take the path of least resistance. The next thing you know you are trying to work out how you approach 4 different things you’ve not come across before whilst ticking all the boxes relating to what you’ve learnt and your own beliefs about training.  It’s stressful.

There are a few things you can do to help yourself as follows:

1) Change your thoughts

Create and reinforce the belief that a consultation / initial meeting is there for both of you to decide whether to proceed.

2) Set expectations

Use pre meeting communications to set expectations in the potential client so that they know it’s a 2 way decision.

3) Know where your boundaries are

This is a tricky one because sometimes you don’t realise them until you’ve passed them.  Having a review process and practicing evaluating your skils as objectively as possible will help you work this out.

4) Prepare

Think of a few different ways you could say no without being rude or causing psychological damage to the potential client.  Having options available to you will make it all a lot easier.

5) Reinforce

If you struggle to say no because you don’t like letting people down then you may need to come up with a narrative to remind yourself why saying no is the best thing for the person in front of you and you are not being selfish.

A Clear Example Of A Time I should Have Said No

I remember one of my first clients.  I’d recently qualified as a personal trainer and was starting out as a mobile trainer, looking for clients to train in their homes.  The lady in question contacted me as I’d lost a lot of weight rather publicly on ITV’s Biggest Loser, which had also been documented in local press, among other places.  She wanted to lose a significant amount of weight and was hopeful that I could help her do what I had.

I went along to meet her and do the consultation, keen to help her overcome her struggles and move towards her goals.  I don’t recall exactly what her physical limitations were but her PARQ contained a number of different conditions and issues that we would need to work round.  This did ring some alarm bells and I was concerned but eager to help.  She knew I was new to the industry and I explained that I didn’t have much experience with those issues but was willing to try.  She signed up for a pack of 6 sessions.  Without going into details, there were a number of reasons that it didn’t work out.  I didn’t have the knowledge or experience required to provide the help and support she required at that time.  We ended up concluding the relationship after a couple of weeks and I refunded everything.

The Benefit Of Hindsight

Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing and I know now that as a result of going through that experience it made me aware I didn’t want to make the same mistake again.  I know that if faced with the same lady now, 8 years later, there is an excellent chance I could provide the support she needed.  I was just the wrong person at the wrong time.

So, if you find yourself in the tough position I was.  Where you have said yes and, with the benefit of hindsight, realise you should have said no.  The key is to extract yourself as smoothly as possible and chalk it up to a learning experience.  It will probably take you outside of your comfort zone.  Refunding the client may be a financial challenge.  I know, it isn’t as easy as it sounds but the relief when you do so is great.

Skill Development

As I developed my skills, discovered LTB and benefited from the resources and reading about the experiences of other trainers, I was able to use the experience as an example in multiple learning experiences.  I learnt more about communication which gave me the tools to say no or handle difficult conversations.  I improved my skills in technical areas which allowed me to consider how I could have approached things differently from a training perspective.  Increasing my knowledge about nutrition and experiencing working with different people, each with different challenges, gave me confidence.  All of it together resulted in a stronger, more competent, capable and adaptable trainer.  Of course, there’s always more to learn and skills to improve but now I know I have a strong base.  I know where my boundaries are and I know when and how to say no.

(Note: although I now work for LTB I joined originally as a member, as did the rest of the team.  We loved it so much we became a bigger part of it but that doesn’t change the fact that the resources have heavily influenced us throughout our careers)

If you want to develop your skills further then check out the courses available as a member of LTB (all available on the free trial).  If you can’t see what you are after feel free to drop me an email ( to let me know what skills or knowledge you are looking to develop.  I’m always happy to answer questions about LTB resources and see if we are a good fit for you.  I’ll also let you know if we aren’t because I’ve learnt to say no!😉

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