Saying No Is Easier than You Think

I hope your week has been good to you and you’re moving along nicely with the goals you’ve set for yourself. This week I want to take some time to remind you that saying no is okay, and often saying no is the secret to success. Over the years, I’ve learned that saying no is in fact much easier than you may think if you follow a few tips.

My Experience:

Throughout my whole life, I’ve found that saying yes has come really easy for me. I simply just feel bad saying no to anyone who’s in need. If they’re reaching out to me, I want to try and help them the best I can. I’m grateful to be dominantly a yes man. It’s served me well in life, but as a business owner and even while working as an employee it hasn’t been a good characteristic at all. For some weird reason I’m able to control how often I say yes in life, but in business I struggle and have to always remind myself that no is acceptable.

I have a ton of moments in my career where saying no would have served me much better than saying yes. It wouldn’t do any justice to highlight just one. When I worked for agencies, I was the designer that all the project managers wanted to work with because not only did I do great work, I said yes all of the time. When I started out freelancing, I got a ton of projects by saying yes. Many of these projects were too small to even take on, but I wanted to help everyone reach their goals. In my mind, no project or timeline was too small and every dollar added up. As long as I could do the job and felt confident that I was going to get paid in return for my work, I was quick to say yes. Over time I made money, built a large portfolio of client work and was able to bring Julie on board full-time with me. We were at least somewhat happy with the success we were having and felt like we had positive momentum moving along in the right direction. It felt like we were growing. Or were we?

The truth is after two or three years of constantly saying yes to most projects that came our way, we never really found ourselves getting any closer to our targeted end goal. It was very frustrating. We were getting our name out there, but we were not reaching any of our creative or financial milestones. After eventually re-evaluating our strategy and letting go of that version of Greenline, we determined the reason we weren’t reaching those goals was because we weren’t saying no enough.

It was a lesson in understanding that just because we felt busy and were becoming recognized as a studio it didn’t mean that we were succeeding in our core mission. In fact, the exact opposite was true. We were wearing ourselves out with very little to show in return. The hard part about this was we didn’t want to admit it. Through this, I found that you spend so much energy ignoring the small fixes in favor of the larger more complex issues. The reason we couldn’t hire contractors and were not happy about the solutions we were creating was because we were not saying no enough. We looked like a business, but we were not functioning like one at all. We were letting fear get in the way of the fundamental fix of simply saying no to projects and clients that were detrimental to our growth and time.

I don’t blame myself for any of this. I simply didn’t know the dangers of saying yes, but I also didn’t know what to say no to. Like I’ve said in the past I was simply learning as I was going. Which is why I started writing this blog, book and workshop. All are ways to help you learn from my own experiences as a designer, freelancer and business owner. Full of the small things that I wish I knew much sooner in my career. The small things like simply saying no.

What I’ve Learned about Saying No:

  • Don’t complicate it: Saying no to a potential project or client doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact you should make your response as clear and quick as possible. You don’t want to be mean about it, but let them know what your answer is as soon as you can. It’s also nice to let them know why. Saying that a project is not be the best fit for you or your company at this time is acceptable. Fit is important on both sides of the table.
  • Don’t feel bad: I always felt bad when I’d say no to a client in need. However, over time I’ve realized that I shouldn’t feel bad for protecting the most precious and valuable asset to my business, life and personal goals. Time. Nowadays, I often base my decision to say no on whether a project is worth my time or not. I’ll ask myself, “What impact does this project have on my business, life or personal goals?” I can’t feel bad if it’s not worth my time. I’m protecting my business and personal needs. If it’s more beneficial to spend that time working on my funnel, watching Netflix with Julie, or working out, I’m going to do it. You have to weigh it all out.
  • Don’t say no to them: Remember that you’re simply saying no to the request, not to them. If you determine that their request isn’t a fit this time, and feel like you may want to work with them in the future, schedule a time to talk through your expectations and theirs so that in the future things may become more of a fit.
  • They’ll understand: It’s hard to say no. However, if you do it politely and confidently most will respect you for it. Everyone is admired by the person who can stand up and protect their time. It’s a clear sign of strength, courage and shows your determination to succeed.
  • Try to help them: Sometimes you can say no but still help someone by pointing them in a direction. If you can’t take on their project or it’s not a fit and you know someone who may be able to help them, make the introduction. They’ll appreciate it and you’ll feel like you helped. If you can’t help them, don’t feel bad, just let them know that you’re unaware of anyone else who could help accommodate their needs. They’ll find a way to get the project done either way.
  • It’s not the only opportunity that you’ll get: Most of the time we don’t say no because of fear of letting a project go that could be money in our pocket or an opportunity of a lifetime. I can assure you that after nearly ten years of working in the industry, if you’re good, there’s always another opportunity for you waiting in the wings.
  • Understand the big picture: Before you can say no, you need to understand why you’re saying no. To know why you need to have a clear path as to what you’re creating. Once you know what that path is anything that doesn’t help you reach that goal will most likely fall into the no category. Anything that does, will often lead to a yes. Once you understand that, you won’t feel as guilty for saying no.
  • It’s the secret to success: The biggest thing to remember about saying no is you need to say no to the projects or opportunities that are not going help you reach your definition of success. The reason for this is that you only have so much time in your day, week, month and life to dedicate to your goals. Make sure this time is spent focused on the things that matter. Once you do, everything else will slowly follow.
  • Saying no opens you up for better opportunities: The more you say no to projects that aren’t a fit, the better chance you have of working on projects that are a fit. If you say yes to something that you know you shouldn’t have, you’ll never get that time back. There’s nothing worse then having to let go of a really great opportunity because you’re stuck working on something that isn’t a fit in he first place.

My Takeaway:

Saying no is hard at first, but like with anything, over time you’ll get better at it. It’s only hard because we’ve been taught to not say no to people and to always be helpful. Often times we also fear the unknown or let the money determine the decision to say yes or no. I’ve found that since I’ve been saying no more often to opportunites I’ve actually been happier, less stressed, made more money and have had better projects come my way. As a bonus, I’ve also felt an increased feeling of respect for myself. I feel more in control of what I want out of my career and life. And when I’m in control, I’m much more likely to reach my goals as a person, designer, freelancer and company. Sure, because saying yes is easy for me, I still have to remind myself from time to time that saying no is totally okay in life. As long as you do it the right way.

What’s Next?

To ensure that you don’t make some of the same mistakes I did with your own freelance business, I’ve created a download below that includes many of the most common scenarios that I now say no to. I’ve also included the exact response that I use to reply to these opportunities. I encourage you to download this and keep it on hand and start using it today.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject? Do you have issues saying no?

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