Why saying NO in business is so important

No. It’s just a two letter word – but I think it is sometimes one of the hardest words to say when you are in business! 

You see, we often start our business up with a ‘want’ to help people with their problems. We have the knowledge to help them, and we crave the satisfaction, that euphoric feeling of making people happy. 

We love it so much it almost becomes an addiction! 

Why No is an important word

Saying yes all the time will more often than not find us veering away from where we actually want to be.

I bet you can even think of jobs that you’ve undertaken that you knew at the time you didn’t want to do, but you still did them because you didn’t want to disappoint them, or they needed your help. 

‘I need a birthday cake on Saturday for my 5 year old’s birthday she will be distraught without it’

‘My painter let me down and I need to get my room finished for guests coming this weekend’

‘While you are at it, can you help me with this quick design job too’ 

While we feel obliged to help them out because they would be lost without us, we are in fact often having to make our own compromise and swallow the impact it’s having on our own business or personal life.

As our business starts to grow and time becomes more precious, you start to realise that some work is more profitable than others. Even though you might be able to do the work, some projects involve more resources than others because it’s not quite your ideal way of working. 

While you might be quite happy to help people out as a one off, as it starts to become the norm you realise the unusual work has taken over your business and you have transitioned into what some people might call a ‘busy fool’.  Although you feel like you are working all the time and should be doing great commercially, you are in fact just spinning your wheels and getting nowhere profitably. 

Why being busy doesn’t always mean success

It’s important when running a business that you outline what success looks like – now that can differ from one business owner to another, so take time out to figure out what that means for you. It’s also important to note that this might change from year to year. 

Related content: Business Goals – why bother?

For example – it’s really important for me personally that I build a flexible business that fits around my kids routines, allows me to work part-time but also earns me a reasonable income. I need it all to balance. Now this was fairly easy when it was just me, however as I started to grow the business, with more clients and staff this became more difficult.

However, because I outlined these boundaries, I have prioritised these needs for how I run the business, and the benefits are now felt by the whole team. 

Now, let’s go back to my previous points about being a busy fool – if I need the business to operate as I hope, I need to bring in profitable client work and I need it to operate flexibly. This means our ideal clients are business owners who think proactively about their business, rather than last minute Larry’s! They want to partner with someone long term to help them market their business, rather than a quick fix. 

This means we have had to learn to say ‘No’ to one-off quick projects. 

Not because we can’t physically do it – but because it’s the right thing to do for our business. 

At some point you have to learn to put your personal and business goals first.

Are you ready to build the business that you want? 

Below we’ve outlined a few ways to say No, but still be helpful to the enquiring customer.

5 Ways to say No while maintaining the relationship  

#1 – Recommend an alternative solution 

This is one of my favourites, just because you can’t help them does not mean someone else can’t. Get to know your industry, find out who you can refer business to. Being helpful to your enquiring customer and guiding them to an expert who really can deliver on their needs will mean that they still hold you in high regard. They will view you as someone helpful and still come back to you in future, with perhaps your ideal enquiry or indeed pass on your details to others.  There is no ill feeling, all they want is their problem solved and you have helped them try to find a solution. You are still aligning with your personal desire to help them.

#2 – Outline a pricing structure on your website 

If you are someone who really struggles with talking about price, having a published pricing list will really help you, because it will get rid of most of the No’s before they even speak to you.    

Whether it is on your website, social media, flyer or somewhere else, it gives you boundaries to follow rather bending to their needs or last minute negotiating. Having a price list public helps to educate your potential customers to know where you stand, and if they can’t afford you that’s ok – they will keep looking to find the right solution for them.

On the other hand if they can afford you, cost is quickly dealt with and the client will then spend time getting to understand what you can really offer them, listening to the value and building a relationship with you. 

Don’t be scared of price questions – they can be a great way to attract your ideal customers. 

#3 – Explain you have a waiting list 

If the reason you can’t take a job just now is because you are full, why not start a waiting list. Give them an indication of waiting time, or signal that your next opening is XXX and that you will add them to an email list for updates moving forward. People just want to know where they stand – if they are time-precious they may move on, but if not they may wait for you.  

Don’t be tempted to squeeze them in as otherwise you may sacrifice on quality of service or personal time away from work. You know this because you’ve done it before!!

Just because you can’t help them now, doesn’t mean you can’t help them in future. 

#4 – Tell them you need to check your calendar or with your team

There is sometimes a pressure to give an immediate answer. Don’t fall into this trap – give your brain time to catch up with your emotions and your desire to want to help!

By taking time to rationalise your decision, you can articulate clearly if you can or can’t take the job on and why. By clearly outlining this, they will understand your decision rather than taking it as a personal rejection. Just don’t leave it too long to go back to them. 

#5 – Ask for something in return 

When saying yes to any client transaction it needs to be a win:win situation. If the project you are being asked to undertake exceeds normal working operations, increase the price to reflect that. If they value the job high enough they will pay for it and you will feel fairly compensated. 

There is a tendency to sometimes feel this is unfair, but you have to quantify the impact undertaking this job will have on you or business. If they say no you have nothing to lose – if they say yes, you are at least getting the benefits of it. 

Summary: Why saying No in business is so important

Every decision we make in business needs to be made with an eye on the bigger picture.  

Every time we say ‘yes’ to the wrong situation, we are disadvantaging ourselves from reaching our goals. This is often hard for us to realise, as we are so focused on helping people solve their problems.

Our business goals will not be reached by working hard, it’s only when we start to work smarter that we will start to see the difference. 

Are you ready to start putting yourself and your business first?

Five easy ways to say ‘No’ while maintaining a relationship include; recommending a solution, creating a price list, putting a waiting list in place, buying yourself time and asking for something in return.


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