Get ahead in business by learning to say no

When it comes to work – whether you’re an employee or you run your own business – we seem to have a real problem with saying no. It’s easy to think that to be successful it’s better to say ‘yes’, grabbing hold of every opportunity that comes your way. But have you stopped to think that by taking on every project/client/event available to you, you might actually be damaging your success?

When you’re starting up your own small business it is understandable that you want to get new work in and build up your client base. But as time moves on and your business develops, continuing to say yes to everything means you could be taking on projects, or working relationships, that aren’t right for you. Being happy in your career is surely one of the reasons you chose to work for yourself? But if you’re feeling out of your depth, or held back, then the likelihood is you will start to dread working each day.

Or perhaps these projects don’t pay you what you’re worth, leaving you unsatisfied AND out of pocket. When I started to work for myself I often lowered my prices to fit client budgets, or would end up working more hours than I had quoted for. Looking back now, it made me unhappy to think that I was being taken advantage of and my productivity suffered. It was my own fault of course; I just hadn’t learned how to say no!

So why do we have such a problem with those two letters?

Well, for many it is because of a need to be liked. Or we don’t want to be seen as unable to cope. As a new business perhaps we don’t wish to be thought of as dismissive or not interested. If we say no, we assume that that client will never ask us again.

Well, we need to change our thinking. By saying no to things that are going to hold us back or stifle our skills, we are actually saying yes to the things that will take our business further and expand our knowledge. So next time a project, client or event comes in – ask yourself:

  • Does this project/event offer long term value to my business
  • Is it likely to open up further opportunities
  • Does the pay make it worth my time and effort
  • Is it work/an event that I enjoy
  • Is it the ‘right fit’ for me/my skills

In all honesty, if the answer is no then don’t be afraid to say so.

Saying no probably doesn’t come naturally – I know it didn’t for me. Just remember to be polite and honest. “Thanks for the invite. It isn’t something I’m interested in right now, but please do keep in touch with future events”, for example. Simple, straightforward and truthful.

Remember, you don’t need to be emotional about it, or worry about what people think of you – you just aren’t the best person for the job. And there’s nothing wrong in that.


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