Part of being a successful entrepreneur is saying “no.”
Small businesses are constantly hit with offers from potential suppliers, hopeful partners, and even potential customers. Then there are the constant requests for free help, volunteer work, donations, and even jobs. You can’t possibly do it all. Let’s face it. Being in business means saying “no” a lot.
There are positives to saying no.
What could possibly be positive about telling someone no?
- It keeps you focused on your business. It’s your business, and your butt on the line. Learn to say no.
- It frees up that person to move on to their next prospect. What, you didn’t realize they have a next prospect? Yeah, it’s true, and you probably aren’t the first on their list. So say no so they can move on.
- It lets you focus on projects that are core to your business or your heart. If you said yes to every single thing, you couldn’t do any of them well.
- It makes you realize that you have a target market. If you can’t say no to clients or projects that are a bad fit, you’ll end up scattering your efforts all over.
- It keeps you in business. If you said yes to every donation request, you would go broke. It’s hard to say no to the kids’ Easter Egg hunt, but you might need to.
Twitterer Elaine Helm said it this way, “Saying no is good for you. And for those on the receiving end.”
So when you say no, remember that. You are helping yourself and them by knowing what is right for you and what isn’t.
Finding the words
Here are three steps to find the right words to say no gracefully.
- Acknowledge the importance of the request.
- Turn them down.
- Optional: offer an alternative.
- “Thank you! But I’m sorry I’ll have to turn you down… I just can’t work it out right now.”
- “It would be a pleasure to work with you at some point, but I’m over-committed as it is right now. I’m sorry I’ll have to say no.”
- “Wow, thank you for the offer. I’m flattered, I just can’t fit it in right now.”
I added this way of acknowledging the request, a variation of one I read somewhere.
- “I’m glad that you asked. It’s an important project, and I’m glad you’re doing it. I won’t be able to join, but wish you the best.”
Jon Swanson came up with some good ways to offer alternatives.
- Give them a short burst of your time.
“I can give you 15 minutes to help you figure out how you can not need me.”
- Offer them an alternative prospect.
“I’m sorry, I wish I could do that as well as _______. Wait. Maybe she’s available. May I check?”
Harveymilk had a suggestion for when a request surprises you.
- “interim ‘no’= ‘let me get back to you’. Often gives you the time to get to an appropriate no.”
What other ways can you add to offer alternatives when saying no?
And, just a moment of honesty here. We all struggle with this. Every single one of us. It’s tough to tell people no. Here’s the end of our Twitter exchange on saying no.
- chrisbrogan @BeckyMcCray – very nice response.
- BeckyMcCray @chrisbrogan Now I just need to use it more. :)
- chrisbrogan @BeckyMcCray – oh, we don’t follow OUR OWN advice. That’s silly.
This article is part of the Small Biz 100, a series of 100 practical hands-on posts for small business people and solo entrepreneurs, whether in a small town, the big city, or in between. If you have questions you’d like us to address in this series, leave a comment or send us an email at email@example.com. This is a community project!
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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.