What to think of when saying no to a client?

Working as a Virtual Assistant (VA) has advantages such as independence. You can organize yourself as you wish and if there is a type of task that you do not like or you do not have time do it, you can refuse the jobs that require you for it. You are not a staff assistant. Contrary, you provide the services you choose, and you can select your clients and missions autonomously.

Yet, being a good VA means making your clients’ life easier. In a sense, you are in charge of taking care of the tasks given to you. Therefore, exceptional oral and written communication skills are highly desirable, as you will need to communicate with your clients regularly. At the same time, being a VA also means often working for several clients. Following the latter, even though there are significant advantages, being a VA also comes with real challenges. For instance, for many people saying “no” can be difficult and it becomes even more defiant when you work as a freelance.

As a VA it can be appealing to say “yes” to every customer or project that comes your way. Nonetheless, learning how to say “no” positively is a critical skill you should work on developing since there are many reasons why it will be in your best interest to decline. For instance, if you already have too much work, the project is not suiting your goals and expectations; the client supposes a great challenge, or you might first evaluate your desire and capabilities.

Some guidelines on how to say “no” to a client?

  1. Take your time and listen to your customers
    When a customer asks you something like taking on a new project or moving up a deadline, take your time. Ask yourself questions regarding your desire, extent, and energy to take on something, evaluating what opportunities are good for you, or, if necessary, how you will answer positively with a no. As a VA, listening to clients is one of the most important aspects of providing a good customer service experience. To keep strong your relationship, you might listen carefully to ensure you understand their needs and questions before answering negatively right away.
  2. Empathy as a first plate 
    Empathy permits you to establish a connection with your clients, it creates trust and mutual understanding. Then, when you need to deliver negative news, you might incorporate empathy statements to demonstrate that you care and will do your best to help your clients. For example, an empathy statement will be the following: “I understand your position, let’s see what we can do to change it…”
  3. Ask for clarification
    Asking for some clarification can help you determine the reason why your clients might be upset about your work and strengthen your relationship. For instance, you can reply to your clients saying: “I am very sorry! Can you please tell me a little more about what you liked better in the older version?” instead of “Unfortunately I cannot help you with this issue, sorry.”
  4. Be honest and lay out the expectations
    It can be tempting to answer positively to a customer’s inquiry. However, it is better to say no and disappoint a client, rather than saying yes and eventually having to give further justifications.Try to not make promises you might not be able to comply with. Is the timeline too narrow, do you not have the competencies or is what they’re looking to accomplish unrealistically? Communicate the client what they can expect from you — and when — and tell them what you require from them.
  5. Reframe the “no” using positive language and offer alternatives
    You can express a clear “no” by wrapping your negative answer into positive content. Some tips to build your positive answer are: to assert your refusal and explain this carefully to your customers, and deliver positive news (there is always something you can offer in exchange). Thus, before you say “no” to customers, think of alternatives that can provide a similar outcome. This way you will transform a no into a yes very politely.

Lastly, to learn how to say “no” you can practice making a list of reasons you are giving this answer and being open to accepting the discomfort that your answer might cause. Learning how to say no positively is a challenge worth facing for many VA’s. Learn how to say no, and you will avoid potential burnout.




Amaresan, S. (2021, October 6). How to Say No to Customers in a Positive Way, According to Reps. Hubspot. https://blog.hubspot.com/service/say-no-to-customers

deBara, D. (2022, July 26). Honest and Direct: How to Say No Politely to a Client | FreshBooks Blog. FreshBooks Blog – Resources & Advice for Small Business Owners. https://www.freshbooks.com/blog/honest-polite-and-direct-how-to-say-no-to-a-client

Lentz, E. T. (2016, February 4). 7 Tips on How to Say No to Customers. Helpscout. https://www.helpscout.com/helpu/how-to-say-no/

(2020a, November 12). 8 Ways to Say No to Customers with Examples. Provide Support Blog. https://www.providesupport.com/blog/8-ways-to-say-no-to-customers-with-examples/

Pick, A. (2022, February 28). When and how to say no to a client. Atera – RMM Software | PSA & Remote Access for MSPs. https://www.atera.com/blog/when-and-how-to-say-no-to-a-client/

(2020b, September 15). How To Say No To A Client. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/theyec/2020/09/16/how-to-say-no-to-a-client/





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