What to do about “I Can’t Afford It”

What to do about “I Can’t Afford It”

My client (let’s call her Jane) was having a great sales conversation with a potential client for her Big Leap Programme and it was clear to both of them just how much this lady would benefit from working with her. But when she asked “would you like to book your first session?” the client said: “Oh, I would love to…. but I just can’t afford it at the moment”. And Jane’s heart sank – not because she needed the sale (though that’s always nice too), but because she could see just how much this new business owner would benefit from the increased confidence and stronger mindset this programme would give her.

So Jane asked me “what should I do when that happens?”

And you know, when someone asks me that, if I’m honest, it’s not really a very easy question for me to answer.

You see, while I can give you some advice about what to do when a client says “I can’t afford it”, it is also a bit like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted (to use a uniquely British proverb) and then chasing the horse around the field for half an hour – you’ve probably got a 50% chance of eventually getting her back in the stable – but wouldn’t it be so much easier if she had never got out in the first place?? 

Woman holding credit cards

So that’s why my first piece of advice in dealing with “I can’t afford it” is to encourage you to commit first and foremost to mastering your sales conversations so that you simply don’t hear it as often.

So that’s where I’m going to start – with the prevention rather than the cure.

How to Prevent “I Can’t Afford it”

1.  Connect with your Value 

A large part of the dynamic in a sales conversation is to do with the energy between you and the client. And so it doesn’t matter how good the rest of the conversation is, if you are not 100% convinced of the value of what you are offering, and the value of the transformation in relation to what you charge, the client will always pick up on it. After all, if you don’t believe it why should they?

So if you don’t feel connected right now with the value you bring then that’s the place to start and there are a number of very practical things you can do to get connected with the difference you can make and the value of that to your clients. One place to start is by asking yourself the hypothetical question: “If this client knew with 100% certainty that she would get the outcome she is hoping for from working with me, what might she be willing to pay?”

2.  Communicate your Value 

Once you’ve got in touch with the value – on a really deep, internal level – the next step is to learn to communicate that value really clearly to your potential client. You need to be able to clearly articulate the benefits of working with you, and the impact that will have on their life, business, relationships or happiness. The decision to work with you might be the best decision they ever make – but if you can’t help show them what’s possible they might never get to find out.

3.  Follow a Structure 

Having a structure to your conversations allows you to really get to know the client, and to know the exact moment to present the value of your work, and in such a way that the client really hears you and “gets” the difference you can make. When you learn to do this really well you will be much more likely to hear a “Yes please!, when can I start?” rather than an “I can’t afford it”. And this why the “7 Steps to Yes!” system is at the core of all my programmes. If you want to start practising this yourself you can sign up for FREE here: Get the “7 Steps to Yes!” training.

How to handle “I Can’t Afford It”

So OK, what if you’ve done all of that to the very best of your ability and the client still tells you they can’t afford to work with you, then what? 

While there is no magic bullet I can give you to turn it around if you haven’t communicated the value clearly in the first place, here are a few suggestions of things you can do, and if you handle it well you’ll be able to turn that “I can’t afford it” into a “Yes please” about 50% of the time.

1.  Don’t let it be the end of the conversation

First of all, don’t let your heart sink and just give up and end the conversation. “I can’t afford it” doesn’t automatically mean it’s a “No”. If you really are committed to serving your clients in the highest way possible then make a decision right now that you will never again let those words mark the end of a conversation with a potential client. Instead always make a point of asking at least one more question to dig a little deeper into what is really going on.

2.  Find out what the true concern is 

When a client says I can’t afford it they are usually saying one of two things:

1.   I really would love to work with you, but I haven’t got the money


2.   I’m just not convinced of the value but I like you and “I can’t afford it” feels more comfortable than saying “No”.

So your job is at this point is to establish which of these it is. You do that by asking them directly whether the money is the only thing stopping them, or whether there is anything else that might be causing them to hesitate. 

If you’ve developed a good connection by this point then your client should be happy to share what is really behind their “I can’t afford it”.

3.  Address the real concern

There are all sorts of reasons that are nothing to do with money that might cause the client to say they can’t afford to work with you. It could be that they haven’t fully seen the value in working with you, or there is some concern or confusion about your service, or some emotional resistance on their part (nearly everyone fears change on some level).

When you know what that real concern is you have the opportunity to address it and you will often convert an “I can’t afford it” to a “Yes!” at this stage.

4.  Don’t be afraid to “talk money” 

If you’ve identified that the client really does want to work with you but they don’t have the money for it, then you will serve them best by exploring this with them – with their permission of course.   Sometimes your potential client simply won’t have access to the funds needed to work with you. But with a little courage on your part, and some gentle questioning around priorities, or coaching around resistance, you will be amazed at how often a client who “doesn’t have the money” will decide to reprioritise their spending to work with you, or is able to be resourceful about how they pay for it. But this must always be their choice – no coercion or pressure tactics please.

So next time you hear the words “I can’t afford it”, make sure you ask just that one further question – you might be pleasantly surprised at how things turn out!

Live Q&A today:  How to handle “I can’t Afford it” and “I need to Think About It” – TODAY 5.00pm (UK)

Today at 5.00pm (UK) I’ll be doing a Q&A inside the Selling from the Heart Facebook group (free to join).  I’ll be answering any questions you’ve got after reading this weeks blog – and also doing a deeper dive into the topic.  This will be especially useful for you if you “get” the advice I give in the blog, but can’t imagine feeling comfortable putting it into practice.

Click here to join the Selling from the Heart group so make sure you are in – then come back at 5.00pm (if you don’t see me straight away, refresh the screen until you do).

Fall in Love with Sales Week – coming soon!

If you’d like to learn how to shift your energy and intention around sales so that you can have these conversations in a way that leaves your clients feeling supported and cared about, rather than manipulated, join me on 2nd October for my very popular Fall in Love with Sales week.
Click here for details of Fall in Love with Sales Week

"THE 7 STEPS TO YES" Watch these short videos and start to fall in love with sales

Please leave a comment as I would love to hear your thoughts


  1. Sue on November 30, 2019 at 7:37 pm

    What about the client who is enthusiastic to work with you, but then says your rates are too high (I have this with a company which has recently launched). They are clear that they want my services, and want to get going fast, but say they ‘can’t pay’ my rate (which is not extortionate!). Do I lower my rate in order to secure that piece of business, or would that be setting a difficult precedent?

  2. Laura on November 25, 2019 at 10:15 am

    My issue is when a client enthusiastically says yes and is adamant they have no concerns, you think everything is fine and then they don’t follow up with payment. In the follow up e mail, they then say funds are an issue. Difficult to have further conversation by e mail and they are often not to keen to come back on another call.

    • Catherine on November 26, 2019 at 11:54 am

      Hi Laura
      In my Get More Clients Saying Yes! course I teach you to take payment at the point the client says “Yes”. Clients saying Yes in the moment and then not paying is actually extremely common, and will keep happening as long as you don’t have a process in place for getting prompt payment. It is also not uncommon for clients to say Yes because it feels less awkward than saying No – which is another reason for securing their commitment there and then – because if they actually are not ready to pay it gives you an opportunity to explore that with them – which like you point out, is so much harder to do once you have moved off the call and into email communication.

  3. Michael Shain on August 3, 2019 at 8:24 pm

    Catherine I agree with the process you would go through when a client says they don’t have the money to pay.
    Yet there are often times when a person does not have the cash immediately available at that point in time. eg They could be expecting cash say in a months time.
    Would it not be worth taking some risk by offering reasonable terms and making a payment agreement ?
    Your response would be much appreciated.

  4. Katie on July 6, 2019 at 11:40 am

    Hi Catherine, thanks for that useful post…can I just ask you to expand on ..”perhaps you could ask some gentle questions around their priorities” – I understand what you mean by this, however can you describe you you would word those questions with out appearing overbearing or nosey! Many thanks. Katie

  5. Lorna Campbell on February 1, 2017 at 10:20 am

    Sometimes people are just living on the edge and don’t have the money or ways of getting it, but know they need help. A dreadful place to be and I know.

  6. Louise R on November 18, 2016 at 12:44 pm

    Great post Catherine, lucid and insightful as ever.

Leave a Comment