It may feel counter-intuitive, but referring potential clients to companies that operate just outside your specialty or overlap with you can actually be a great way to build your network, develop your brand, and double-down on your strengths.
When someone comes to you for a solution you know your team can't deliver well on, whether due to constraints of time, resources, or expertise, you may be tempted to bid the project anyway.
But the old adage is right: "Honesty is the best policy." That's because dishonesty - even in the form of misrepresenting yourself just a little bit - often comes back to bite you. On the other hand, honesty and humility may not reward you in the short run, but will win you admiration and goodwill that can work for you in the future.
And that doesn't mean you have to send that potential client away empty-handed. The pre-bidding conversation is a perfect opportunity to generate & clarify your reputation and expand into new networking territory. Consider using these kinds of responses:
"We can't do exactly what you're asking for, but we can get you halfway there at a small fraction of your overall cost, which can save you money in the long run."
"We're not experts in the process you're requesting, but we can deliver your solution following this other route. Here are some advantages of our approach..."
"Our specialty is more over in this area. While we can do what you're asking for, it may not precisely conform to your expectations due to [constraint]. The upside to working with us is [client advantage]. Meanwhile, the guys over at [Company X] may be able give you exactly what you're looking for. We'd be happy to set up a meeting with them on your behalf. If it turns out we can't help you this time, please keep us in mind for projects of [your specialty]."
Dialogue like this establishes the kind of trust that can convert today's potential clients (on high-risk stretch projects) into tomorrow's actual clients (on projects your team can knock out of the park). Trust is the currency that ongoing business relationships, repeat customers, and satisfied referrals trades on.Contorting yourself to masquerade as the be-all and end-all of your field may fool a new client into signing with you for a one-time gig, but an underwhelming deliverable following over-inflated expectations will dry up that account fast and close it for good. On the other hand, everyone respects an organization that says what it can do and does what it says. At times, "no, not us," is the wisest response.