07305 780643 ellen@ministryva.co.uk

When you’re a small business, a solopreneur you can find that one of the most testing parts of running your own company is saying no.  It starts when the business is new and you’re keen to build up sales, you agree to everything and anyone.

Then what?  The business grows, your prices increase, you fall into a groove of what you’re fabulous at, what work you love to do and the type of clients you work with best.

But…you’re still uncomfortable saying no?  It took me a while to get there but it honestly is one of those things you think is going to be so much worse than it is.  Be consistent and protect the relationships that mean something to you as well as maintaining your professional integrity and you won’t go far wrong.

So, I’ve pulled what I learned and my strategy together now… I hope it’s useful for you.


🖤 Be honest and transparent


When a client makes a request that you can’t fulfill, it’s essential to be honest and transparent with them. Explain why you can’t meet their needs.  I used to then go on and provide them with alternatives that could help but sometimes I don’t do that, that still takes time and energy that you need to protect when you run a business.  Honesty and transparency are the main trait that helps me be a great Virtual Assistant so when I truly embraced that, it was met with respect not conflict. It will help you build trust with your clients and maintain a good relationship with them in other areas of your work also. 


🖤 Use positive language


But also stay straight to the point.  Don’t fluff around it. When saying no, it is crucial to use positive language so it’s clear that you can’t do it, you apologise and still maintain a positive relationship with your clients.  I would usually say something like

“I don’t specialise in that area and unfortunately due to client commitments this month I won’t be able to find an additional time to support you”.
“In all honesty, I don’t have a clue about that, sorry I can’t help this time”. 


🖤 Offer alternatives

So, in some cases I offer alternatives.  For instance, if someone would like me to transcribe video something like otter or rev will do it much faster.  So I give them the option.  People don’t know what they don’t know and you can give options and sign post.

I also have a few key people that I would always recommend such as book keepers or accountants.  Their work comes hand in hand with what I do as a Virtual Assistant but it’s not a service we offer so I’m happy to refer to someone else that I know.

But as mentioned above don’t spend loads of time finding an alternative this is only if you have something ready to recommend.

🖤 Be assertive


So the trick here is to be confident again and make it clear that you can’t meet their request while maintaining a positive tone.

Use phrases like “I cannot accommodate your request at this time,” or “I am sorry, but I cannot help you with that.” By being assertive, you show your clients that you are confident and in control of the situation. 


So, I’ve looked at this from a client/customer point of view but something else I’ve found is hard to say no to is other small business owners.  Usually using the phrase “can I pick your brains” or “can you take a quick look at this for me”. Now there is nothing wrong with doing favours, women supporting women is a wonderful thing.  However, in the past, I’ve found myself spending A LOT of time (none chargeable time) having my brains picked. It takes your focus away from not only client work but time you could be spent growing your own business.

Also, be aware of networking follow-ups.  121s are a wonderful thing, however, they should be 2 sided.  They’re not designed for one person to sell to the other, so build a little rapport first and then be confident to run that 121 to build the relationship and get to know each other.  Not to listen to another Juice Plus pitch!


When you learn how to confidently say no to a client (or anyone else) is an essential skill for any business owner.

Saying no is not always a bad thing, and I think, mostly, beneficial for both parties involved.  Thank me later!