WomensNet News

Saying “No” is Good for Business

February 24th 2023

Given that growing a business requires customers and clients willing to pay you money, you may assume that saying “yes” regularly is essential for success. “Yes” can mean more customers, more sales, and more business opportunities.

The Downsides of “Yes”

As women, many of us have been taught that saying “yes” is the right thing to do. It is generally expected. Saying “no” may be seen as rude or impolite, or could suggest that we are difficult to get along with. In many circumstances, saying “no” brings up fears of being judged for declining an invitation or opportunity. So, sometimes woman err on the side of saying “yes,” even when they really want to say “no.” 

While this can certainly reduce the potential for negative backlash down the road, such as by agreeing to sit in on a meeting or to donate a product to a charity auction, those yeses require resources you might have preferred to devote to something else.

Yet saying “yes” can also create problems that interfere with business growth and profitability. Say “yes” too often to opportunities and you could overwhelm your team and create a poor customer experience. If you accept every opportunity that comes along, you could end up selling products or services that are not in your company’s best interests, or that are not as profitable as they could be for you. You could end up serving anyone and everyone, rather than targeting a specific buyer that you know can most benefit from your offerings. Not to mention how saying “yes” to everything in your business leaves little time for anything beyond business, like time with friends and family.

Which is why saying “no” can sometimes help your business more than saying “yes.”

When to Say “No”

But when does “no” make more sense than “yes” for your business? In general, saying “no” is often a better choice if you’re not certain that saying “yes” will make the business better. 

There’s an expression you’ve probably heard, that I originally heard from coach Suzanne Evans, that “If it’s not a ‘Hell Yes,’ it’s a ‘Hell no!’” 

For example, it may make sense to say “no” to:

  • Invitations to meetings. Do you really need to be there? Is your attendance the best use of your time? If you’re not a decision-maker, could someone else just as easily participate on your behalf? Or is this a sales call that you’re being pressured to take?
  • Customers who are unprofitable. Sure, doing business with a major corporation or celebrity could raise your business’s visibility, but if all you’ll earn is exposure, you may want to allow a competitor to lose money on that deal. So say no to work that you’ll lose money on, as well as putting an end to scope creep—when the client wants to increase the work you’re doing at no additional cost. 
  • Requests for price cuts or discounts. There is rarely a legitimate reason to reduce your profits for someone else’s benefit. Even when customers dangle the carrot that “If you give us a good deal on this first order, there will be more business down the line,” know that they have not committed to giving you more business and it’s more likely that you’ll take a loss on this deal and then never hear from them again.
  • Opportunities that would overwhelm your schedule. If you’re already double booked and having trouble fulfilling your current obligations, seriously consider declining—for now, at least—new opportunities that come in. These could be requests for your time, your talents, or your finances.
  • Unreasonable requests. Whether a potential client has asked you to work for free, “to see if there’s a fit,” or you’ve been asked to map out a strategy for the prospect to evaluate, recognize that they are asking you to work for free. Why would you give your expertise away, unless it’s to a cause you want to support?

“No” is useful for setting boundaries that protect your time and energy, both of which you need to run a successful business.

How to Say “No”

People who are uncomfortable with confrontation or negotiation have the most difficulty with saying “no.” They don’t want to make anyone upset or cause a scene, so they say “yes” to keep the peace, at the expense of their best interests or sanity, in some cases.

If you know that declining an opportunity is what’s best for you and your business, here are some ways you might phrase your response to reduce the sting of rejection:

“Thank you so much for considering my company for this amazing opportunity, but now that I know more about what you need, I know you’d be better off hiring a company that specializes in XYZ.”

“Thank you for thinking of us for this, but, unfortunately, we can’t take this on at this time.”

“I’m so flattered that you thought of my company for this opportunity to donate to your special event. Unfortunately, we have already allocated all of our charitable donations for the year.”

“Thank you so much for the invitation, unfortunately I’m not available.”

“I’m so honored that you would be interested in having me as your business mentor, but the time and energy required to grow my business doesn’t allow me time to mentor others right now.”

The key components of these “no” responses is that: 1) you thanked the person for the opportunity, 2) you politely decline their request, and 3) give a reason if you feel like it will prevent the conversation from continuing.

Otherwise, “no” is a complete sentence.

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