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#356: Consultants Need to Learn to Say "No"

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, July 26, 2010
I really hate to say "no" to assignments and thus end up taking on a lot of work on that really isn't profitable. I feel like I let myself get "sucked in" to too many small assignments. What can I do?

Learn to say "no." Your value as an advisor comes from providing useful information, not just providing your own services. Given that you want to help but they can't afford to pay your fee for such work, you still want to help. Here are three responses that might help:
  • "I am probably not the right person for this assignment. Let me give it some thought and recommend someone more suitable for you. I’ll make a few calls, check availability and come back to you with a solid referral."
  • "Based on your situation, I can offer a couple of lower-cost options that might work well for you. Perhaps we could consider having the ability to provide a level of on-call support via e-mail or phone for a period of time until you can get the project off the ground. I can certainly support you for a few days (weeks) if this is something you might be interested in.”
  • "Unfortunately, this is not really the size (or type) of project that my firm specializes in. But if you need some informal guidance and would like to ask me a few questions from time to time, please feel free to e-mail me and there will be no charge."
Tip: Learn to say "no" in a respectful, honest and constructive way is an essential skill for consultants. Remember — a flat "no” is more difficult to accept than being offered a few alternatives. In the end, the alternatives might not be acceptable options for your client, but you went the "extra mile” by providing the client with an honest response and some potentially feasible options. In this regard, you are still providing value. An excellent book on how to turn a no into a yes is The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes by William Ury, co-author of the well-known book on negotiation, Getting to Yes.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  communication  goodwill  practice management 

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Ruth Conner says...
Posted Monday, July 26, 2010
Many prospective clients offer work that's simply undo-able on the terms they've defined. Always ask yourself whether you are likely to be successful within their parameters. If the answer is no, decline their terms and offer alternatives, even just an invitation to phone you free of charge to chat about their ideas (I've never had a client abuse such an invitation). Remember, a consultant nets greater profit from the work turned down than the work accepted. Good luck!
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