For a one-syllable word, it can sure be hard to say no. It’s probably up there with “sorry” and “I was wrong”.
No is laden with implied conflict. That’s why we struggle to say it even when we really don’t want to do something, like, “would Sir like to take a look at the dessert menu?” or “can you look after the twins this weekend?”
A badly-placed no can end friendships, relationships and careers. More people have sobbed into their pillows due to “no” than any other single-word utterance.
You get the idea. As humans, we like to keep our opportunities open, in case something doesn’t work out. That’s the main reason we don’t say no.
For a less selfish reason, we’re also afraid of hurting or disappointing others, even if it means stretching ourselves to beyond our capabilities.
In both cases, the damage from not saying no in business situations can be worse than if you’d asserted your boundaries in the first place.
Because, as an entrepreneur, you need to be responsible for every commitment you make. Failing to deliver on a promise because you’re “overworked” and “exhausted” isn’t an excuse. You chose to say yes, so you must be accountable for the consequences when things don’t go as planned.
Being a successful entrepreneur means learning when and how to say no in business situations. Follow these tips to learn how and when to say no – freeing up your calendar and keeping your business relationships as sweet as they’ve ever been.
When To Say No In Business: You’re Not A Newbie Anymore
When you’re starting a business, it’s all about the hustle.
You may not be sure what vertical you want to work in. You could have an idea for an original product or service, or you may want to help clients sell their product or service.
All you really know, in fact, is that you want to get away from that 9-5 job, your desk, your boss, and start making some serious money.
At this point, saying no in business situations can be self-destructive (unless you’ve got so much on, you have no chance of delivering). This is your chance to dive headfirst into the market and see what skills other companies value. You could learn:
- Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO)
- How to make landing pages on ClickFunnels and Unbounce
- Google AdWords, the Display Network and Search
- YouTube advertising
- Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
- Facebook advertising
So, every request at this stage should be seen as a learning opportunity. Get your hands mucky and make loads of mistakes. As you build your skills, you should be able to see where your talents lie and what abilities are worth expanding.
Then, as your agency gets more mature, it’s time to take some of the load off your plate.
- You’ve found your niche and what you’re good at
- Clients are starting to come to you, rather than the other way around
- You’ve established your “speciality” within that market
Taking on a tonne of odd-jobs now, when you’re not scrapping around for money or trying to build a name for yourself (you’ve done that!), is going to sidetrack you.
But people are paralysed by the thought of missing great opportunities. Even if, on paper, the request doesn’t sound “all that”, optimism tells us that it may “turn into something else” or “it could get really big”.
Truth is, it probably won’t.
When you’re wondering when to say no to a client or opportunity, ask yourself this:
Is this in my best interest and the client’s best interest?
What are your stress costs?
Does the request keep in line with your established speciality, or does it require some “extra” skills from you?
For example, let’s say a client wants you to look at their website and optimise all their old content to an SEO standard. This, they argue, will help them bring in leads as people will find their pages on Google.
You have some SEO skills, but you’re by no means a professional. The time and stress of saying “yes” to this request measure as “high”. SEO classifies as “extra skills”.
So: is this in your and the client’s best interests? No. If you do the client’s SEO, you’ll be taking time away from your bread-and-butter work – i.e. generating leads via paid traffic – and you won’t do the job as well as an SEO professional. This means it’ll take longer, will cost more, and there will be more mistakes; making you and the client look bad.
You want to move away from being a Jack of all trades. The longer you advertise yourself as such, the more clients will expect from you. They may even frame their request as “part of the agreement” (in a retainer contract) or as a “favour to a friend” (meaning you’ll be out of pocket!).
In cases like these, saying no is the right thing to do.
How To Say No In Business: Diplomacy Is Key
How you decline a business offer is just as important as saying no in the first place.
I’ve met some entrepreneurs that, under pressure, have said no poorly, and have had to experience the resulting fallout. Sometimes, they ignore the request entirely and hope the problem goes away. Ignoring a client is far less professional than just saying no.
Other times, they decline the request and immediately become defensive.
Note: there’s a big difference between explaining your choice to say no and defending it. Instead of saying “I can’t do this because I’ve already done this for you and I’m too busy”, explain why you don’t think the business offer is in your client’s best interests.
Here’s how to say no in business without wrecking a beautiful client relationship:
Clients make requests because they trust you and your work. They also don’t think of it as “burdening” you, but as allowing you to make more money. Feel flattered that they’ve made the request, and thank them. Thanking the client doesn’t mean you have to say yes.
Make It Clear You’re Saying No To The Request, Not The Person
Entrepreneurs are afraid to say no in business as they think the client will take it personally.
Like you, clients should have been in the game long enough to know that rejection isn’t personal. However, there are ways to make sure everyone’s happy about your decision to say no.
Thank the client for thinking of you when they made the request. Tell them that you admire the work they’re doing, and make it clear you’d be up for more opportunities to work with them in the future.
Communicate effectively and don’t sound defensive. That way, the client won’t be inclined to get defensive in return.
Tell The Client Why It’s Not In Their Best Interests
As I said before, perhaps SEO/ClickFunnels/coding isn’t your strength.
Perhaps you just don’t have time.
Explain to the client why their request isn’t in their best interest (without making it sound like you don’t know what you’re doing). If you can, suggest someone else for the job and tell the client why that person/company would be better equipped to help. For example, it would end up being quicker and cheaper for the client in the long term.
Don’t Stumble If The Client Gets Pushy
It may be hard to say no, but it can be just as hard to hear it.
Some people don’t like to give up quickly, so they’ll start pushing you until you crumble.
Be confident in your choice and stand your ground. With breaking the rules above, learn to be just as pushy as they’re being. Restate your reasons for saying no, and don’t say anything like “I’ll sleep on it” or “give me a few weeks”. They’ll be on you like a pack of dogs.
Learn to say no in business with the same passion as you’d give a yes.
Swallow Any FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)
If a client wants you to do something, they’re going to make it sound more pleasant and less time consuming than it actually is.
Learn to read between the lines and see if the request works for you or not.
If you’re really unsure (tired, busy, etc.), sit on the request for a couple of hours before you make any huge decisions. Then, if you honestly think that the request aligns with your goals and values, say yes.
If you wake up the next morning and still think “no”, listen to your gut. You may have lost the opportunity to work with this client (for now), but you’re opening up the chance to work on your business the way you want to.
Conclusion: The Real Winner Is Consistency
If you want to reach the top 10% in your chosen niche, you have to have laser-focus and consistency.
Saying yes to every little request, no matter how much it detracts from your centre-focus, is the No.1 way to becoming average. Yep, average and that’s it.
Let all the distractions around you fade to grey and concentrate on solving one problem better than anyone else.
For me, it’s generating high-quality leads with an outstanding contact rate from paid Facebook traffic. Of course, I use other skills to become the best, but I use those skills on my own terms. And, because my efforts are focused towards one specific area (generating leads), my SEO, Facebook, copywriting and funnel-building skills all integrate. I spend less time doing a lot more, with much higher profits.
You don’t have to be a “yes man” to be a leader. In fact, “yes men” are generally looked on with disdain. Establish your boundaries, learn how to say no in business (and life!) properly, and you’ll find that clients will respect what you choose to do all the more. Seriously, everyone can benefit from a well-chosen “no”.
Flexx Digital is a PPC agency that uses the Pay Per Lead model – no retainer contracts.
If you want to find out more about this Pay Per Lead model, and how we run the business, check out my free case study.
Inside you’ll find how I:
- Severed ties with retainer contracts once and for all
- Moved away from local businesses
- Started working with national B2C companies
- Land high-ticket clients
- Found the verticals we work in
- Consistently generate leads of the highest quality
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