Learning to say No (nicely) – as a Virtual Assistant.
As a Personal Assistant, our usual status is to say YES to things:
- Yes, I can book a table;
- Yes, I can get that report updated;
- Yes, I will make sure your expenses are in on time
But the underlying foundation of those YES answers are that no one makes unreasonable requests because the company structure dictates that there is always an overarching structure to refer to. As a Virtual Assistant, you make the rules – so if you can’t enforce them, chaos ensues.
A few things I’ve been asked recently:
- Can you scrape data from my LinkedIn profile to send email marketing to them?
- Can you fabricate an invoice from a dummy company for my accountant?
- I’ve got a piece of work I need done for 8am tomorrow, I’m sending it now (at 5:55pm)
- Can you come on site and help with my seminar, it’s only for a few hours?
I have absolutely no intention of doing any of these, some of them because they are illegal and some because I just don’t want to.
To quote Steve Jobs “Innovation is saying No to 1,000 things” – so even if you could pull a rabbit out the hat, it will always be at the cost of something else. Time spent with your family, your sanity, your fitness, your mental energy… I’m really aware of the impact saying Yes to something I don’t want to do has not only on my business but on my personal life too.
But how do you say No (nicely) as a virtual assistant, without annoying the client?
Don’t say an outright No – but delay the Yes
If you can’t do a piece of work by their deadline, it’s often better to say what you can do rather than what you can’t. “I’m sorry I can’t do it for 8am but I can get it to you for lunchtime tomorrow”.
Their lack of planning does not constitute an emergency on your part! They will have known this needed doing well in advance of the night before, I don’t have that much sympathy when someone just hasn’t bothered to give me the work.
Educate as to why that’s not possible
A lot of the time the more outrageous requests we get aren’t someone trying to be underhanded, they are simply a client who doesn’t understand what they are asking you to do.
So in the examples above where they’ve asked you to supply fake invoices or scrape data, it’s illegal. Explain that, and explain how they will get caught, so it’s not just you being a stickler for the rules, there are serious consequences.
In the example where we get asked to go on site – I explain why I don’t do it. It means that other clients suffer or I have to get cover for the inbox during that period of time, I would essentially need to charge them double my hourly rate just to break even on it. Add in travel time and it suddenly becomes less attractive… I can however recommend some excellent temps who we’ve used a few times – and I don’t have to get suited and booted. It’s a win:win!
Suggest an alternative
The client suggesting we scrape data simply wanted a way to get all his LinkedIn contacts buying from him – we were able to suggest a few onsite ways of selling directly on LinkedIn and also a way of getting LinkedIn contacts to opt in properly to his email marketing lists.
Sometimes there are jobs which I just don’t want to do – soul destroying sales calls spring to mind! I hate doing them, everyone in my team hates doing them. We don’t do them.
However, we do have a company that we use for sales calls, we simply refer the client to them to work directly with – the client is happy because they have a solution; we’re happy because we don’t need to do the calls; Maxine is happy because she gets business. We don’t even get a referral fee, but a few VAs will give you a kickback on work referred – it might be a simple one-off fee or even 10% of the first invoice.
Delay the answer
Sometimes clients put you in a tricky spot and you need a bit of thinking space… You might need to weigh up the impact saying yes will have. You might need to check with other people whether they are able to help in order to achieve the task.
“Can I get back to you on that?” gives you a bit of time to figure out whether or not you can say yes, and whether or not you want to say yes.
Make sure you do get back in touch though!
Finally: Just say it!
In all those situations above, if I hadn’t said no, the client was going to end up unhappy… and probably me too. Saying Yes to impossible tasks isn’t doing the client a favour, it’s simply using up time they could have spent getting a solution in place.
Saying No upfront is often the best way of handling tricky requests.