How Saying 'No' in Business Can Lead to More 'Yes'


We’ve all been there: wide-eyed and eager to please at the start of our careers. Somewhere along the line, we’ve been conditioned to bend over backwards, please our bosses and prove our worth no matter how daunting the task. We’ve been falsely told that by always saying ‘yes’, we’d be opening doors to more work opportunities. Do the opposite, and we’ll shut those metaphorical doors.


Bigger Opportunities

It seems contradictory to think that saying ‘no’ can lead to bigger opportunities but it’s possible when it’s done strategically. Instead of picking up every opportunity available, we leave room to select what will truly benefit our portfolios and the projects that align with our goals. When we prioritize our options, we set ourselves up for success and enjoy the projects that we do. We become more desirable when we succeed, which will help us grow in the long run.


Strengthen Existing Relationships

When you first launch your business, building a steady customer base is important so it’s understandable to take on as many projects as you can. Over time, this could inadvertently lead to spreading yourself too thin and overcommitment. For solo entrepreneurs and small businesses, having the responsibility of delivering quality work to existing clients while seeking out prospective clients can be taxing. Sooner or later, it can lead to exhaustion at the cost of delivering quality work and maintaining a proper personal life. To save yourself from the brink of damaging relationships with existing clients, learn to say ‘no’ to taking on new projects and focus on your core clientele. If you do well, you will continue to attract more projects from both existing and prospective clients.


Focus on the Process

In our competitive culture, we tend to be driven by who can deliver the best results the quickest. Being able to produce instant results is great but if you’re too busy chasing results, you risk losing sight of the process. This is not to say that we shouldn’t concern ourselves with deliverables and KPIs. But in the end, it is the process that will teach us how to get those much needed results.

A well-defined process will help you determine what works best for you and your clients. For example, imagine juggling multiple projects on tight timelines but not knowing how to determine your execution plan because you didn’t pay attention to which procedure worked in the past. Focusing on the process will create predictability, and with time, will give you the confidence of knowing how to get the right results.


How to Say ‘No’ Strategically

Here are some quick tips that can help you say ‘no’ in a strategic way:

1)    Slow down and prioritize

Take the time to evaluate each opportunity before making a decision. Be mindful of what decision you are making and why. If there are multiple jobs on the horizon, prioritize which ones are the most appealing to your interests and goals. Then, filter out the rest.


2)    Re-evaluate workload

Consider scaling back or re-arranging work commitments so you can focus on core relationships. By succeeding with your main clientele, they will be able to deliver more business to you in the form of referrals or new projects.


3)    Recruit for help

For solo entrepreneurs and small business owners, it’s easy to get into the mindset that you can do it all by yourself. Sometimes, you have to say ‘no’ to yourself and hire support staff or interns to share the load. This way, you can prioritize the tasks to focus on and succeed together.

Although, there is no given formula to say ‘no’ effectively and gracefully, it is a skill that can be learned over time with practice and patience. Start practicing to say ‘no’ today, and you'll be on your way to unlocking the right opportunities for tomorrow.


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Shirley Lui