Honesty Is the Best Policy

I recently had a client that wanted me to do a few “simple” projects. This is how he described his projects – simple. He was partially correct.

The first few projects were documents that either required research, product descriptions or how-to explanations, but the last project on the list was a real challenge for me.

He wanted me to create some kind of infographic. I don’t possess any of the software tools needed to do that kind of work, so I did some research. I finally decided to use Canva, because it’s free and easy to use.


I have to stop here and tell you that the client didn’t exactly know what he wanted, but he gave me a brief description. I worked diligently on several images for the infographic. He was very vague, so I used my creativity to come up with different images and styles.

I sent them to him, so he could get back to me and I would correct or tweak anything he didn’t want. I want to add that this project was supposed to have a fast approaching deadline. He waited 2 days to get back to me and rejected all of my samples. I was a little upset with him, because we had worked so well on the previous projects. I listed a series of questions in my email to him about what EXACTLY he wanted me to do.

Clarity of Ideas

Usually my clients have a clear picture in their minds about what they want and how they want it to look. They just don’t know how to get it to look the way they want it to. That’s where I come in. As a virtual assistant, I find a way to make their projects come to live and make them successful.

He was very vague with his answers, so based on what little information he gave me, I started in again to design some samples of work for him. I got the feeling that either he really didn’t know what he wanted or he wanted me to copy someone else’s work and wasn’t sure if I would do that.

I would never just copy someone else’s work. I might use it as a base for my work, but I would never copy something and then just change the labels. A few days went by, I emailed the samples to him and again I got the same reply. Only this time, he was irate, because I was supposed to be a virtual assistant and I should know what he wanted. He told me that in the email.

After I got that email reply, I calmed myself and phoned him. He answered and I asked if it was a good time to talk. He said yes, so I continued. I explained to him what a virtual assistant is and what they can do to help business owners.

I then explained what they can’t do. Mindreading is one of them. I then went over with a polite, but firm voice, the emails he sent me and the samples I sent him. I wanted him to know that I was trying to accomplish the goal, but he was not specific enough. I didn’t want to alienate him, but I did want to emphasize my point.

Virtual Colleague LLC copy

In my business, Virtual Colleague, LLC, I partner with clients, who become colleagues. That’s my slogan, so what the client wants/needs becomes what I want/need. The client’s goals are my goals.

He listened patiently, but then said that he was trying something new and wasn’t sure how to use an infographic and how effective it would be. He thought I could just “whip something up” and it would be done.

I reminded him that I had created several samples, but without his input of percentages, totals, and estimates, the infographic falls flat and doesn’t convey any message.

He let out a long sigh and I realized that I could not continue to work with him on this project. The other projects were very successful, but I simply could not work with him under these conditions and take the blame for things beyond my control.

There was silence on the phone and I wanted to take the lead on this. I told him that maybe he should shelve this project until he had time to think it through. I assured him that no business person should blindly do something, because other businesses were doing it. It just doesn’t make good business sense.

He agreed with me and I told him that because he had already paid for my time, he could use the time for another project. He thanked me and agreed that that would be the right thing to do.

One of the most difficult things to do is to tell a client you can’t help them. This was the first time I ever had to do that, but it was the right thing to do. I usually find a way to do the projects, but I would rather give up a project than do it and alienate my client and others that hear about his dissatisfaction with me.

Have you ever had to refuse work from a client?

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