Why business leaders must learn to say no


As a small-business owner, saying yes is the easiest thing in the world. Yes to more clients, yes to more revenue, yes to working more hours than planned, yes to working seven days per week, yes to every new marketing idea… yes to everything!

Over time, though, what might once have been a healthy way to grow a fledgling business becomes a fast track to burnout, overwork, and exhaustion. By saying yes to everything, we leave little to no time for the most important work, and in turn, end up failing our clients, customers and ourselves. By saying yes to everything, we become jacks of all trades and masters of none.

Play to your strengths (and avoid your weaknesses)

According to Marcus Buckingham, author of Go Put Your Strengths to Work, only 17 per cent of the workforce believes they use all of their strengths on the job. That means more than four in five people have potential assets up their sleeve in the form of unused skills, knowledge and/or experience.

By saying no to the work your team doesn’t want, you’ll make room for all those untapped skills to shine. Empower your team to say no, and they’ll have the space and clarity to make full use of their strengths.

Check in with your team every so often to ensure that they’re not saying yes for the wrong reasons and give them a safe space to discuss their workload, priorities, and goals. You’ll only learn their likes and dislikes by giving them a judgement-free space to air their thoughts and concerns.

Saying no for the sake of your clients

Saying no isn’t just important for your team, but it’s critical for building a successful relationship with your clients. Only say yes to projects that will result in a great experience for your customer or client.

With every piece of work you take on, you should feel confident in your competency. You should be confident that this work will lead to sparkling feedback, brilliant testimonials, and repeat business.

If you simply say yes to every job that comes your way, you’ll not only be wasting your time, but you’ll also be wasting your client’s budget. Clients want to work with the very best person for the job, and by saying no to work that you know you’re not the best option for, you’ll simply be proving your respect for their time and money.

Saying no in the right way

Saying no has some clear business benefits, but that doesn’t mean that it’s an easy thing to do. There are a few strategies that can make the process easier on everyone and avoid any bruised egos or unhappy customers.

First of all, it’s helpful to explain why you’re saying no. Turn this into a positive by sharing what you are brilliant at and explaining why the current ask doesn’t fit into your core strengths, rather than focusing the conversation on all the things you don’t do.

Have a list of trusted businesses that you can refer customers or clients to if they’re not quite the right fit for you. This would show to your client that you are a trustworthy operator who honestly wanted the best outcome for them while you continue to build goodwill with the other agency.

By saying no, we remove unnecessary strain on our headspace, so that we can continue to do the things that we do best. We can continue to focus on the work that we’re known for and are confident in, instead of wasting time and energy on work that we’re merely good at. By saying no, we can focus on being great.