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So, you need to cancel on a client meeting—maybe because your workload’s just too heavy to handle another meeting, or because something else came up. Or maybe you’ve met with them several times before and thus your interactions have become repetitive, if not unproductive.

It’s tricky—especially because the main part of your job is to, well, deal with clients, so canceling on them doesn’t exactly make you look great.

The first thing you have to consider if you ever want to back out on a client is your company’s relationship to them. All clients are important, but some carry more weight than others in your priority list. So ask yourself, where do they fall in the hierarchy? Do they contribute a lot of business to your company’s bottom line? If so, there’s probably no great excuse not to meet with them (unless you’re say, horribly sick or dealing with an emergency). Also, consider your excuse—do you just hate meetings, or do you actually need to reschedule for a valid reason?

In any case, sometimes you need to free up time so that you can manage all the relationships on your list. So, I suggest the following:

1. Turn the Meeting Into a Phone Call

Would they be willing to hop on the phone instead of meeting in person? This may not save you all the time, but it does save you a trip to and from their office—and still shows you’re willingness to connect.

Hi [Client’s Name],

[It’s great to connect with you/hope your week is going well!]

I’m looking forward to discussing [agenda] with you. I know your schedule is usually quite busy. Would it be easier to make this meeting a phone call?

For reference, here’s what I was hoping to talk through in our meeting:

- [Item 1]
- [Item 2]
- [Item 3]

Is there a day and time that works best for you this week? And, what’s the best number to reach you at? If you’d still prefer to meet in person, I’m happy to follow up our call with an in-person meeting.

Thanks in advance for understanding.

[Closing Greeting],
[Your Name]

2. Turn the Meeting Into a Shorter Meeting

They want to make this a 90-minute chat about performance of their account, but you know you can cover everything in 30 minutes. Keep the conversation short (and possibly move it to email or phone) with this template:

Hi [Client’s Name],

[It’s great to connect with you/hope your week is going well!]

I’m so glad you’re interested in discussing [agenda/pitch]. I know you mentioned [their plan], but, unfortunately, I’m [not available then/can only spare X minutes that day] and was wondering if you’d be OK [meeting for coffee/discussing over the phone/starting this conversation over email] instead?

I think we can cover [item 1, item 2, item 3] in the meeting, and then discuss [item 3, item 4, item 5] over [email/phone]. I imagine the meeting could look like this:

  • [Item 1 and time allocated for it]
  • [Item 2 and time allocated for it]
  • [Item 3 and time allocated for it]

Does that schedule look good to you? Happy to allocate more time to a certain discussion if you’d prefer.

Thanks so much,
[Your Name]

3. Turn the Meeting Into an Email (for Now)

If they’re super flexible, and you can easily convey everything in writing, try turning what would be an hour-long meeting into a 10-minute email. Of course, understand that if it’s an important or serious matter to discuss, you may still have to hop on the phone later.

Hi [Client’s Name],

[Thanks for bringing this up/thanks for getting back to me/it’s good to hear from you]

I’m unfortunately unavailable to travel this week and can’t give you the time you deserve to discuss this further.

However, I’m happy to start the conversation now via email if that works for you?

[any more information you planned on discussing]

Would love to hear your thoughts on this. And, if you’d prefer to discuss in person, I’m available [dates] and would be happy to talk more about it then.

Thanks for understanding,
[Your Name]

4. Bow Out of the Meeting Your Co-worker Dragged You To

Let’s say you’re a designer working on a project for a client. You’re not the direct contact—your co-worker, the account manager, is. So, while you’ve been invited to the meeting, your presence isn’t mandatory as long as the account manager can speak on your behalf.

If you want your colleague to handle the pitch without you, it’s key to equip them with everything they need to talk it out and answer the client’s questions. This template should help:

Hi [Co-worker’s Name],

Thanks for including me in the meeting with [Client’s Name] on [date]. Unfortunately, [I’m currently booked up with meetings that day/I’m currently working on another project that I need to give my full attention to/I’m swamped trying to hit an important deadline that day] and can’t make it.

I’ve outlined some of the points we’re looking to discuss below:

- [Item 1/how it’ll impact the client/any revisions or thoughts]
- [Item 2/how it’ll impact the client/any revisions or thoughts]
- [Item 3/how it’ll impact the client/any revisions or thoughts]

I’m happy to discuss these further with you before you meet with the client or send along any additional information.

Sorry for the scheduling conflict, and let me know how else I can help you prepare!

[Your Name]

The reality of working with clients is that you have to deal with meetings. However, it’s possible that they want to eat up all of your calendar when you have other things you need to do. So, rather than completely cancel on them (and risk hurting your relationship), try limiting how much of your time they take—it may only be temporary, but at least it’ll give you some breathing room to get everything done.

Updated 6/19/2020