I just did something that I hate doing: I told a broker “No.” Fortunately, I lived to tell you about it.

If you’re a contract trainer, you know exactly what I mean. Brokers aren’t just your friends—they’re your lifeblood, at least as far as income is concerned. The last thing you want to do is make one of them mad at you. Telling them “no” feels roughly like it felt to say “no” to your mama–when you were five.

I’m here to tell you, though, that learning how and when to say “no” may be one of the most important lessons you ever learn as a trainer. In fact, I’ll go even further: Learning to say “no” may even bring you more work. Here’s the when and why of it.

When to say no
There are a number of good reasons you should tell a contractor “no” when they ask you to teach a class. Here’s my short list.

When you’re already booked. This is a common problem, and it’s the one that drives most contract trainers, and brokers, nuts. The class is one you can do, the pay is right, the location is great—but you’re already committed. You may be tempted to try to work both ends against the middle, especially if the class being offered is either more lucrative or more attractive than the one you’re already booked into. Here’s my long-winded response to that temptation: Don’t. Just be up-front with the broker: “Sorry, Mary, but I’m already booked for that week. Yeah, it’s a bummer, but I need to honor my commitments.”

You should then ask, “Is there an alternate time we could schedule it?” As a former broker, I can tell you that schedules are often fluid, and there may very well be an alternative. Let the broker know you’re interested, and give them time to work the client. You may get the class yet.

When you aren’t qualified. Yes, we all want work, and it’s sorely tempting to say, “Sure, I can teach that!” In the end, though, you’ll be found out, and you’ll wind up making the broker look bad. Guess how much more work that will get you!

When the pay is insufficient. As an independent businessperson, it’s your job to keep up with the marketplace. If the rate being offered is way below market, say so. Brokers are your friends, but they’re also businesspeople, and if they can get a commodity at $40 an hour and sell it at $80, they would be crazy not to do so.

Know your worth, then stick to it. If you and the broker have a good relationship, be willing to bend occasionally if they are in a pinch, but don’t be a doormat.

Why these reasons are important
The bottom line for all three of these reasons is trust. By adhering to these principles, you let the broker know that you’re trustworthy.

  • “Hmmm, she’s going to keep her commitment to teach that class, even though the one I’m offering pays more. That means that she’ll do the same with any class of mine she agrees to teach. That’s the kind of trainer that helps me sleep at night.”
  • “I can’t believe he admitted he wasn’t up to speed on that. He knows the market; I’m sure he’s aware of how much that course should bring. Yet he was candid about his abilities in that area. I’ll have to call this guy next week and see if I can scare up something in his area of expertise.”
  • “Boy, that trainer sure knows the market! It’s good to deal with a professional—you always know where you stand.”

Saying “no” indiscriminately can certainly threaten your ability to get work. But saying “no” from a position of well-reasoned responsibility and experience can, over time, enhance your ability to get work. Know when and why to say “no,” and you’ll be seen as a trustworthy professional.

Bruce Maples is a writer, trainer, and consultant living in Louisville who gets lots of “no!” practice dealing with his boys of 17 and 9. You can reach him here .