It’s the worst having to say no to a client (usually) because we want to make them happy and have them walking away with a glowing review. However, there are times when you know you just can’t accommodate a client’s needs, whether it’s due to time, complexity, budgeting, staffing, etc. If you are providing the service you have to be 100% certain you can deliver it. Part of the process of determining what you can or can’t do is having a conversation and asking all the right questions. This sounds obvious, I know, but knowing what the right questions are for what you need is something that can be overlooked. What service do you offer? What do you need from your client to execute your services? Create a list of questions for each person you interact with so you can not only assess their needs but determine where you can improve the experience. In creating them, it forces you to think about what makes sense for you. After you’ve gone through this process, you then have to decide what to do when it doesn’t make sense for you.
The first rule of saying no is being honest. People sense when they are being lied to. Yes, sometimes there are factors that aren’t appropriate to share with clients but you still need to give them an explanation. A big issue I came across working for a venue was space. My client may have really like the venue but if they are looking to fit 300-350 in one room where in reality they would have to be spread across many rooms, so I’m honest. The worst thing is telling a client they can have something and for them to find out right before or during the event that this is not what they thought they were getting. This is an example of just telling them no. “I want you to have the best experience possible, and a group of this size would not be comfortable and difficult to service. It wouldn’t be fair to you or us.”
Which leads to the second rule: Make every “no” a positive response. This is not an oxymoron. What it means is giving a positive reason for saying no. Let what is best for the client be the focus of your discussion of why you are telling them no. They don’t care about your internal reasonings unless it directly effects their event anyway. Keep it simple, to the point and directly related to the client’s needs. Being aware of as many details as your client can give you will also help you know what positives to bring up in your “no” conversation.
The third rule of saying no: Make It a Yes Whenever You Can. It’s tough to say no but there are also plenty of people who don’t want to do more than they have to. Going above and beyond is the backbone for any successful event planner, so don’t assume your client is not going to like an alternative you suggest and always come prepared with at least a few suggestions. For example “I know you are looking to come in for dinner with a group of 50 before going to the show, with an hour set aside to eat. Based on your menu choices, we would require no less than 2 hours to serve this 4 course meal. Would you consider pre-selecting some things which are quicker to serve?” Or “I know you wanted to have an 9 piece band perform, however this will not allow you to have all 300 guests. Would you consider brining in a dj that has a smaller set up or perhaps use a 3-4 piece band?” Listening to your client and providing options is important because if you are thinking “you want to do WHAT? Are you stupid?” is NOT going to get you business. But if the budget is right and you have options to move things along, then you can take what seems like an obvious no and make it a yes. Pre-set appetizers or a smaller band/dj may be acceptable. Just before you tell someone no, make sure that you absolutely have to first.