Why & How To Say No To A Client

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Saying no to a client is something many of us have difficulty with.

And for obvious reasons…

… saying no may mean we annoy them, they look elsewhere for a VA, and before you know it, you’re one client down.

So, what we tend to do instead – whether we’re booked solid, completely knackered, or due to head off on holiday – is say “sure, no problem” and then instantly regret it.

Until you’ve built up a skill to saying no, it’s quite normal that we all live in fear of it.

But sometimes ‘no’ is exactly what we need to say.

“A ‘No’ uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or what is worse , to avoid trouble.”  – Mahatma Gandhi

Saying no means, you have the time to do a great job for your other clients. It also means you’re able to enjoy the task you’re doing, rather than desperately looking at the clock every five minutes wondering how on earth you’re going to squeeze everything in.

And it stops you from feeling resentful.

Agreeing to take on a client task even though you don’t really have the capacity to do so, will inevitably create resentment toward that client, even if you don’t mean it to (and ultimately even though it shouldn’t, because you did agree to take on the task in the first place).

William Ury – one of the world’s leading negotiation specialists and best selling author – stresses the importance of saying no, for your long-term health and happiness. In fact, in his book The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes, he describes it as one of the most important words in our vocabulary. Though, through his research, he’s found that it’s the one word that presents the greatest challenge to most of us, for these common reasons:

“I don’t want to lose the deal.”

“I don’t want to spoil the relationship.”

“I’m afraid of what they might do to me in retaliation.”

“I’ll lose my job.”

“I feel guilty – I don’t want to hurt them.”

But each of the above can be avoided by learning the skill of saying no positively. Saying no in such a way that keeps the person onside.

How to give a positive No

The premise behind the positive no is quite simple:

  1. Start by being complimentary
  2. Move on to a polite decline
  3. Deliver an alternative suggestion

For example;

A new business opportunity that’s outside of your area of expertise:

“I’d love the opportunity to work with you on this project, but I don’t feel I have the level of expertise you need. However, I know a VA / am a member of various VA groups who may be able to assist. I can certainly pass on your details for them to contact you directly.”

A new business opportunity that either the client or the job itself seems like it could turn into a bit of a headache:

“It’s been great to find out more about your business and the scope of your requirements, but unfortunately it’s made me realise that I’m not the best person to assist. However, I can recommend X who [works in your industry / thrives on those sorts of tasks].”

A client or new business opportunity who is trying to squeeze budgets:

“This sounds like an interesting project, but unfortunately as I understand it, you don’t have the budget available to work with me at this time. I’d be happy to recommend another VA who may be able to help.”

A last-minute task from an existing client:

“I’d love to be able to help but unfortunately I’ve already committed to client tasks with imminent deadlines. If your deadline can be pushed slightly, I’d be more than happy to schedule it in on [X date].”

Whilst essentially all you’re doing is politely declining, you are offering suggestions as to how they may be able to meet their deadline, budget or requirements, which offers value and should minimise any negative impact it has on your business (assuming that was one of your concerns).

Why is saying no so important?

Having the ability to say no to a client or a prospective client, will pave the way to greater happiness for you – whether it be to spend time with your family, go on holiday, practice yoga, or simply have sufficient time for the clients and work you’ve already agreed to – saying no is a vital element of being successful both professionally and personally.

Have you any tips for saying no?

2 COMMENTS

  1. This is one of the hardest jobs that we face and often saying ‘Yes’ when your instincts say ‘No’ takes quie a lot of bravery but ignoring the ‘No’ can cause a lot of grief.
    Execellent article, thanks Sarah.

    • I couldn’t agree more Debby. It’s still something I struggle with, but I’ve found that by changing my mindset toward saying no i.e. realising the negative impact it can have on my professional and personal life, it has got easier and it leaves me with a great feeling of empowerment. Hope it gets easier for you too:)

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