If you’re in the early days of your business, you can skip this post. It’s not for you.
In the early days, you don’t need to learn how to say no. In the early days of your business, it’s important — for survival’s sake — to say “yes” more often than “no.”
But give it a year or two, and you’ll discover that mastering how to say no — carefully and strategically — can be the best move you can make for your business.
Why no is the hardest word to say
We know that our businesses will succeed if we aim to serve our customers and build our professional networks.
So we say “yes” to anything that we believe will serve our customers. And we say “yes” to any opportunity to build our networks, whether it’s doing favors, making an introduction, or lending a hand.
But with every opportunity we pursue, we tie up our time. Opportunities have a cost.
That’s why it’s crucial that you know how to say no when “no” is the exact right answer.
What’s “opportunity cost?”
Opportunity cost isn’t easy to measure, but it’s a crucial factor in every business decision we make.
It might be hard to gauge, but you must find a way to weave it into your decisions and discover how to say no when the opportunity cost is too high.
Let’s start off by defining it:
Opportunity cost refers to the value of the alternative decision you could have made.
For example, let’s say you own a web design business. You offer a special discount on simple website designs. Doing so means you bring in five new customers this month. Great work!
But you tie up all your time, and you sell it at a discount. Because your time is booked, you can’t take on the big client someone is going to refer to you next week, who could have represented $35,000 in income over the next six months.
When resources are scarce — and by resources, I mean time, money, and energy — considering opportunity cost will help you make better decisions for your business.
Short-term choices and their long-term consequences
We know that our short-term choices have long-term consequences, but we’re not always able to act on this knowledge.
The first step is to be aware of the opportunity costs of the decisions you make. Let’s look at a simple short-term choice, and how it has long-term consequences.
You like ice cream. You really like ice cream.
So you keep a hefty supply of ice cream tubs in your freezer, and after every lunch and dinner, you eat a nice, big bowl.
Long-term result? You might be carrying around more weight than you’d like.
Some business decisions are like that tempting ice cream.
In the short term, they look great! They represent an influx of money, or recognition, or new contacts.
But when you consider the opportunity cost of the same decisions, you might see a different story.
The scarcity mindset vs. the plentiful mindset
Here’s the thing: If we’re completely honest with ourselves, a lot of our business decisions are driven by fear.
We’re like those chipmunks who stuff their cheeks full of seeds because winter is coming, and we have to prepare.
When we operate from this mindset, we believe that we have to say “yes” to every opportunity that comes our way, because tomorrow holds nothing for us.
The opposite of this mindset is the view that there will be plenty tomorrow, and there’s no need to hoard.
Like standing on the edge of the ocean, the future brings new opportunities that lap up to the shore and tickle our toes. The opportunities will come if we are present and ready for them.
In my business and life, I’ve found the plentiful mindset works better.
Holding a plentiful mindset means standing in a place of power. You’re saying, “I believe in myself, my abilities, and the possibilities of the future.”
How to say no (and feel empowered)
I’d like to encourage you to look at the opportunities that come your way this week and consider their costs.
- When you tie up your time and energy, what are you giving up?
- What’s the price you’ll pay for taking advantage of this opportunity?
- What are you walking away from, or making impossible by saying yes?
If you don’t like your answers to the questions above, it might be time to say no.
It might be time to stand in a plentiful mindset, and envision the things you’ll be available for if you don’t tie up your time, money, and energy in the latest opportunity.
No: the smallest and most difficult word
If you’re not used to turning down opportunities, saying “no” will feel very uncomfortable at first.
If it helps, use empowering words that will make you feel great about your decision:
- “This isn’t a fit for me right now.”
- “I have a policy about not doing ___, so I won’t be able to help you.”
- “Thanks for reaching out. I am not currently ___.”
- “I appreciate you thinking about me for this, but I’m not available to help ___.”
What will you say no to this week?
Is this a tough one for you? Learning how to say no — thoughtfully, confidently, and with course — will help you grow as a business owner and a person.
The more often you practice, the easier it becomes.
So … what will you say no to next?