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How to Politely Tell a Client I’m Too Busy - Conversation With a Client

May 30, 2023
(updated: Jan 5, 2024)
Max 5 min read

When working as a freelancer, you manage many different moving parts of your business. The problem is that you can have lots of disruptions. One of the main disruptions is a client calling you when you're working on a project, just about to get into a meeting, or doing something else that's important. So now you have to tell the client that you can't talk to them at that moment. But how do you do that? And how do you set boundaries for the commitment?

In this article, we look at the key factors of building a professional relationship with your clients and how you can tell a client you will call them back. We will also detail how Indy can help you with your freelancer business to make the most of your time.

Understanding the Client's Perspective

When it comes to understanding and dealing with these scenarios, you need to consider not just your own opinion, but also the client's perspective. Most people have a busy schedule, and understanding how that impacts their decision and opinion is critical to responding to the situation. Here are some of the key aspects that you need to think of.

Empathy and putting yourself in the client's shoes

When it comes to ending conversations, think about how the other person feels. Empathy is one of the key skills when it comes to building relationships. Many award-winning business authors talk about how empathy is an essential business skill.

So perhaps you need to think about how your conversation partner feels at the time. They might be panicked because they've got a deadline looming and need to speak to you about moving a project forward.

Or perhaps there is a future event they need to discuss the arrangements for, and they've got caterers there who need to talk to you. Whatever they're calling you for, it's going to be important to them. And that is the critical aspect to consider.

Recognizing the client's need for prompt responses

While the client is undoubtedly thinking that what they've got is important, you might not have time. That doesn't mean you can't set an expectation for a prompt response. So you should recognize they need something quickly and consider when you can provide a response.

For example, you might be in the middle of an important project and need to delay the conversation gracefully. You might say you are unavailable for the next hour, but you will respond later.

It might also be a good idea to mention that it will be great talking to them later when you can focus on their request.

Balancing availability and workload

You must set expectations on your availability and ensure you've got enough time for your workload. Ideally, you should have enough time that there is a little slack in your schedule so you can have an interesting conversation when a client calls.

Remember, there's no right or wrong answer to this. However, you might say that you don't take calls between 10am and 2pm and are free for disruptions outside these hours. Those four hours might be when you're most productive.

Effective Communication Strategies

Numerous communication strategies can be critical for success. Here are some of the skills you will require to end a conversation gracefully.

Prompt initial response to acknowledge the client's inquiry

The first thing to do is provide a prompt initial response to acknowledge the client's inquiry. They might have approached you at a party or networking event, or you might have been caught while out of the office.

It is critical you recognize that the client is important and they have something significant to deal with. Doing this quickly, whether in person or via email, is important. Most clients expect a response within a couple of hours when it is email.

Express gratitude for the client's interest or request

Remember to always show gratitude for the client contacting you. Tell them it is great talking with them at all times. Remember to watch your body language when you're talking about this and show that you're positive and honest.

Clearly state your current workload and commitments

Now you need to state that you're currently not available. It could be you're working on something that can't be interrupted, or you're just about to go into a networking event or another meeting.

Giving them a reason why you can't talk to them at the time will turn an awkward conversation into something that is accepted by the client/customer.

Offer alternative solutions or timeframes

You now need to talk about the opportunity to speak with them later. Try using the line "It will be a pleasure talking to you later" and then give a rough indication of a timeframe. Offer them a chance to say when they will next be available. You might want to offer them a video call later on.

However, there might be a time when you can instantly respond to their query because you know you don't have the answer. You might suggest they need to have a casual conversation with someone in a different department. That way you won't need to deal with them later on, and they can get their answer.

Reiterate your commitment to providing quality service

Whenever you're going to reject your client's request, you're going to upset them. So you might need to highlight that you're going to talk to them later and that it is important to deal with their query.

When you end a conversation, remember to end with a positive note such as it will be great talking to them later.

Setting Expectations and Managing Client Relationships

Part of the process of ensuring you can balance client needs and your business' workload demands is to set expectations with the client. So here are some options for you to establish expectations with your customers.

Establishing clear communication channels

The first thing you want to do is to have clear communication channels. Many people limit communications through set channels such as through phone calls, emails, or text. Be sure that you list how you like people to contact you.

Providing regular updates on availability

You should also provide regular updates on your availability. If, for instance, you want to focus on your work in the mornings and wrap things up which require high levels of attention in those first few hours, you might want to note in emails that you're only available for a phone conversation in the afternoon.

Alternatively, you might say you're not available on a Friday afternoon because that's when you go to networking events. If you have a future event that will make you unavailable, remember to detail these to important customers.

Offering suggestions for efficient communication

Remember to communicate the best ways to contact you. You might prefer to talk to people face-to-face, so the client can offer to invite you to their office to discuss the workload.

Or perhaps you want to take requests only from emails sent to your work email. Be sure to list these preferences.

Emphasizing the importance of planning ahead

Remember to tell your clients that they need to have their plans laid out. They can't provide you with last-minute work where you are pushed for time or workloads might be against you.

This is one of the most critical steps, and many business owners and managers do this. It isn't normally malicious—everyone has busy lives and many people run out of time.

Balancing Client Satisfaction and Workload

Part of the responsibility of your work is to balance customer satisfaction with the workload you have. Most of the work done here is related to work management and not to small talk or serious conversations with your clients.

Here are some of the factors that you need to think about.

Prioritizing urgent and important tasks

The first thing to do is prioritize your work so you're getting the urgent and important tasks done first. It takes just a few minutes every day to look at your schedule for the next few days and determine what needs to be done first.

Some people think they can do this once a week, but there are going to be times when the priorities of the work change. For example, a client might have their website go down and need their IT team to sort this out. Therefore, your work has to be put on hold.

However, by taking a few minutes every day, you can adjust for changes.

Delegating tasks when necessary

It is important to realize that sometimes you need help, whether this is because there is a significant amount of new work in or because deadlines are looming. Therefore, you should be able to reach out to those in your network and try to delegate some of the work.

Communicating realistic timeframes and deadlines

You need to be realistic when it comes to deadlines and timeframes. If you know that a project could take you three to four hours and you can't talk until after that, agree to a timeframe after that. Remember, giving a time that you will never meet will not respect the other person's time. It will also annoy them.

Negotiating deadlines based on workload and priorities

Another important skill you need to have is the ability to negotiate deadlines with clients. They might want a project completed sooner than you can offer. However, you can always speak to them and explain that you can't do it until you've completed another task.

Negotiating deadlines is key to success. It might be interesting to respect their body language. If they don't look happy, you will need to compromise on the deadlines.

How Can Indy Help?

Indy understands that working with clients can be full of periods when there is lots of work and time when there isn't much work at all. Something that can throw a schedule is when a client makes an unexpected request. Using Indy, you can use templates to keep in contact with the client and gracefully exit a conversion when needed and agree to a meeting later. There are also other features Indy can help you with including:

  • A CRM tool that allows you to store the contact details of key clients including names and their contact information.
  • Indy University - a set of useful tips and resources, including excellent communication templates that allow you to navigate the tight corners of a freelancing career.
  • Project organization tools, including a calendar, that allow you to manage your workload which can include times when you're going to be at networking events, completing work, or being available for conversations.
  • Facilities for a workspace where you can have a group conversation with all those involved with the project.

Indy has both a free and paid plan. The free plan has all the features of all nine tools that are available to freelancers to be used for up to three contracts a month. The paid plan allows you to use these tools an unlimited number of times and includes AI assistant, powerful automations and cross-tool integrations to streamline your workflow even more..


Whether you're working hard or you're in a meeting with a client, there is always the chance that you could be interrupted by another client. Knowing the key conversation-ender strategies that can help you rearrange the conversation with the customer for a better time can help you create a better business process.

And when you need help creating those workflows and email templates, you can use Indy for free. Give it a try today and work on taking your freelance business to the next level.

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