How can a Virtual Assistant say No without burning bridges?

There are a few reasons why a Virtual Assistant may need to turn down work, but when handled carefully, there’s positive outcome for everybody.

You’ve run your new client checklist, had a first conversation with the client and you realise you’re going to have to turn down the work. How can you do that in a nice, polite and positive way?

Reasons you may need to turn down a client:

I’m just too busy and haven’t got the capacity

  1. Re-negotiate timelines and deadlines

Tell your client upfront you’re at full capacity and may not be able to get to their work for a couple of weeks. You may find the client is completely fine with having to wait. Just make sure you do it at the first meeting.

  1. Referral arrangement

If the client needs help now and you have some trusted VAs within your network, it may be worth introducing them to the client with a view to passing the work to them on a referral arrangement. You could do it informally, where you agree to pass work over, and the other VA invoices the client. Or formally, where the other VA agrees to pay you a percentage of the overall fee (referral fee).

If you decide to go for the referral, don’t live in hope. It’s okay to work on your terms. Make sure your contract is documented, and all the information you need to include is on your invoice.

Contract vs. no contract: What small businesses need to know

The work required is outside your area of expertise

It’s a golden rule never to take on work which is outside your area of expertise. If you don’t have the right skills, it’s wrong.

Be honest and let your customer know what you think your skills gaps are and why. It may be the customer chose you because you’re a good fit and have similar working styles. In this case, it’s entirely possible the customer is willing to offer training.

Training is always a great opportunity for VAs. I recommend you find out how much you’ll need to learn and decide whether you have the time to do it.

The dilemma here is: Will your customer expect a reduced rate whilst you are learning and will you be allowed to use the new knowledge elsewhere?

Whose terms and conditions will you be working under? What’s the difference between a Contract and Terms and Conditions

Not your preferred area of work

You know how much work you can handle and the work you want. You may feel this client would work well with a different virtual assistant, and it would be best to let them know that. You could refer them to another VA in your network.

Example: Sue was approached by a local transport business, 4Wheels Co. The owner would like her to set up a booking and scheduling system for his five drivers. Although Sue has the expertise, this isn’t the type of work she enjoys. It would mean monitoring emails and change requests every day, 6 days a week. Sue liked the client and wanted to help. Sue’s former colleague, Paula, also a VA, enjoys negotiation and diary management and Sue thinks Paula could be the perfect person to work to 4Wheels. Sue arranged an introductory meeting, and now Paula is happily working alongside 4Wheels. The customer is happy, and Sue kept her good relationship with the customer.

Ethics and Morals

No one should take on work which does not tie in with their standards, morals or values and situations like this, although not too common, do happen. You would not enjoy working on a project where you were associated with an issue you do not agree with.

How do you get out of this? You refer the client to ethics paragraph in your business terms and conditions. Be firm and polite but not apologetic.

When interests collide

When working for multiple clients, Virtual assistants need to be careful about conflict of interest. Of course, you are under no obligation to disclose who your clients but what if you were asked to perform marketing services for a local Italian restaurant knowing you already work with another Italian restaurant in the same town. What would you do?

Have you ever turned down work? How did you handle it and what was the outcome?

Did you know your terms and conditions can be specific for every client and project? If you’re outsourcing or referring work, have a chat with me first. I’ll make sure you have everything covered, so you’ll get paid on time.

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