It’s hard to say no to work, particularly when you’re building up a new business. But no matter how tough you may think things are, there are plenty of potential jobs and clients just around the corner. So it’s important to weed out the good ones from the bad ones.

Here are some points to keep in mind:

Beware of whale deals. When you pitch for business, you need to think about what would help to secure the long-term survival of your firm, rather than what seems good right now. Signing a big deal with a major client early on in your company’s life may seem like a dream come true for most start-ups, because the revenue it promises could guarantee your fledgling business’s immediate future. But netting such a big account could actually undermine your firm’s future, by making you unhealthily reliant on one customer, who might also expect a large discount for putting so much business your way. Both may mean your start-up gets off on the wrong foot. Better to build your business slowly with a stable base of different clients.

But avoid becoming a bottom feeder. While it’s often best for a small business with ambitions to grow organically to avoid big deals, it would be wrong to go too far the other way: hoovering up small clients that have been cast off or left by your rivals. These are unlikely to be good customers, because they’re motivated completely by cost. They’re the type who want a Rolls Royce but are only prepared to pay for a second-hand banger. You might think it a good idea to plug some gaps in your business’s work schedule with a few lower paid jobs, but they may not be worth the pain and aggravation they end up causing you. Also, it doesn’t send out a good message to prospective blue chip accounts if your existing client list looks decidedly low rent.

Hold your nerve. No matter how desperate you might feel you are for a job –whether because you think you need the money or because it’s a client you’re really keen to work for – don’t slash your rates. You want to convince the prospect that you offer an excellent service at a competitive rate, not that you’re willing to take part in a limbo competition to win the account. If a client begins the relationship thinking how low will you go you can be sure you’ll be forced to bend backwards further and further as time goes on to keep the account.

Be honest – with yourself and the client. If you don’t want to do a job, then just say no. The realisation either that you don’t like the project or the customer may only dawn on you when your discussions are pretty far advanced, but you shouldn’t keep quiet for fear you will offend them. You’d do more damage if your company turned in work that you wouldn’t be proud of, either because the fee was too small or because you weren’t that committed to the project. Simply tell them you’ve come to the conclusion the work wouldn’t be right for your firm, and perhaps sweeten the medicine by suggesting a few other companies you know that might be better suited for the job.

It can be difficult to find the confidence to turn away jobs that your gut instinct tells you aren’t right for your business, particularly if you don’t have much other work coming in. Sometimes it feels like the phone may never ring again. But that’s when you need to keep your vision of the kind of business you want to build clear in your mind, including the type of clients you want to attract. Stick with it, sit tight and remain positive.