How (and when) to say “no” in business

By Brittany Taylor

How and when to say "no" in business (and make your brand stronger than ever)

Feb. 5, 2016 

There’s a very overt push in the working world for people—women in business, especially, I think—to say “yes.” It’s one of the rules of improve (actually, that rule is, “Yes, and,” which is not quite the same as “yes, period”)! It’s how you become a go-to person! It’s how you figure out what you like doing!

Yes, but

Yes, but it can lead to you diving into projects without having all the details.

Yes, but it can pressure you to take on work that you know you don’t want to do.

Yes, but it can make you feel resentful of the people who ask you to do it.

Yes, but it can be too much.

Yes, but often you know what you want to do already, and what they’re asking you to do ain’t it.

There are a lot of “yes, but” statements, and they’re just as valid as the arguments in favor of saying “yes.” This is a gray area, guys, which means that we can’t fall into the trap of binaries. I’m all about intentional choices. This is one of them.

Why “no” can be the right answer

I said “no” early this morning on a call with a potential client, and last week, I said “no” to a regular client who makes up the bulk of my income right now. The latter took a lot of effort. The former happened in a split second. In both cases, I said “no” to the exact same request: “Do you do social media management?”

There were good reasons for me to say “yes.” I’ve done it before with great results. I enjoy interacting with people on social media. And perhaps the most compelling reason: Here were two people wanting to pay me money on a regular basis to do this thing for them.

But I said “no,” and this is why:

First, it takes a lot of time to manage an organic social media campaign on multiple fronts for multiple clients.

Second, although I enjoy doing it, I like doing other things more.

Third, the value that I would bring to their social media probably wasn’t worth what I would need to charge for it to make sense for me, financially. It wouldn’t be a smart use of my time.

And fourth, I just didn’t want to. I didn’t start SeeBrittWrite to manage social media. And because I’m the boss, I get to make decisions like that.

After I said “no”—and particularly after I said “no” twice—I felt relieved. There, then was my answer to the fear that I’d made a really big mistake. I was happy that I stood strong against this concept I’d internalized that if someone asked me do something, especially a client or a boss, I was supposed to do it. I was really happy that I wasn’t going to have to come up with an excuse later to get me out of doing this thing I’d said I would do but didn’t really want to.

“No” can be the right answer just as often as “yes” can. It’s not about the cons outweighing the pros, not really. It’s about what’s right for you, and sometimes that comes down to one argument for or against that carries too much weight to be denied.

Should you say “no”? Self-test with 10 questions

But what about you? How are you supposed to make a decision that could result in work versus no work, pay versus no pay, opportunity versus no opportunity? I’m a fan of questions. I like to think about things in depth, so just go with it, especially on this, because this is important.

Before we get to the questions, though, here’s a note on how to use them: Go through the list twice. The first is a lightning round. Ask each question and answer in the next breath. Go with your gut instinct. Write that instinct down. Then, return to each answer and give it a good think. Pull up a chair and talk to yourself about why you instinctively answered each question the way you did. Consider now what you didn’t have time to consider before. Are there benefits you ignored? Are there minuses that might hold more weight? Your answers may change…but then again, they may not.

Onward! The questions:

1. What about this proposition makes it appealing?

2. Can I execute this ask well?

3. Does it fit in with my other services?

4. Would doing this thing help me accomplish my business goals?

5. Are these the types of clients I want to work with in the future?

6. Would I make this a core offering, or am I doing it just because someone asked me to?

7. Will doing this thing open doors for me?

8. Would doing this prevent me from doing something else I’d rather do?

9. Does it make sense financially?

10. Do I want to do it?

Remember, you’re asking these questions twice. Go back up there and do it again. Scoot! Unless this is you, doing it twice, in which case, continue.

How to feel good about saying “no”

I’m a woman, so I can’t say whether or not men feel guilty when they say “no” to a request. From my own personal experience and from the turmoil my female friends have experienced over this quandary, I know that for women, the answer is hell yes, we feel guilty when we turn someone down. I’ve had days-long conversations about rejecting someone politely. I’m not talking about a date, either. I’m talking about a client saying, “Hey, I need this done. Is this something you do?” Yes, really.

Guilt over the big N-O is a thing. The question is, how do we get over the guilt and move forward making decisions that are right for us? Two answers:

One, be honest about why you’re saying “no.”

This is the option I went with in both cases of social media management that I nope-ed my way out of. Something along the lines of, “to be honest, my hourly rate doesn’t make sense for this sort of work. I’d recommend hiring a virtual assistant, a social media management firm, or keeping it in-house.” My client and maybe-client were both appreciative that I’d been frank with them…and we moved right along. No muss, no fuss, no wheedling, no guilt trip, no threats to take their business elsewhere or any other sort of worst-case scenario you can come up with.

Two, be ready with suggestions of who could do the thing, even if that person is not you.

I believe that many of us say “yes” because we fear that saying “no” would leave people high and dry. We do this in business and in life. How many of you have been talked into longer notice periods or longer contracts with bad clients because you’ve felt guilty about leaving when there isn’t a replacement for you? How many of you have said you’ll go a party that you really don’t want to go to because you know the person who invited you would have to go alone, otherwise? I’m calling BS here, guys. This idea of abandonment shouldn’t be on your shoulders, so stop accepting it.

To avoid this side of the “no” guilt trip, first, stop apologizing. We apologize when we do something wrong. Saying “no” isn’t wrong, so stop apologizing for it. Second, recommend other service providers who would happily do the thing.

There, done. Not your problem—not that it ever was, of course.

Saying "no" should be part of your business strategy. This is why |

I really loved this post, Brittany! I bookmarked it to read it regularly. I find it’s hard to say no but if I have something like this to kick me in the butt, it’s not that hard at all. Plus I really like your list of 10 questions.

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