I’ve been in business for five years, and I thought I knew how to say no. But I didn’t. Because if something brought in money, I’d do it. Now don’t get me wrong: when I first started out, I was much worse. I’d take on any and every project. If I didn’t know how to do it, I’d figure it out. I’d waste countless hours learning a new skill or industry, and didn’t get paid for the learning curve. I sharpened up and had a few areas of focus. But it wasn’t until recently that I realized I didn’t really like those areas. So I’m learning to say no now.
Why We’re Reluctant to Say No
I think we don’t like saying no as entrepreneurs because it limits us. If we say we won’t do A, we miss out on revenue. And we like revenue, yes we do. Who knows when the next sale will come along after this? Maybe we’ll just take this one job to make some money. Then that’s it. Promise. But it’s a cycle as hard to break as getting off drugs is for an addict. It’s hard to see the long-term picture.
Getting really specific in a niche can be hard. And it can take time. And while it might go faster if we leave this money on the table, it’s still money.
My husband and his startup have had this issue lately. Companies – major cell phone carriers – have begged them to work on this and that. They’ve thrown money at them. They’ve worked on the solutions. But they’ve been diluting themselves so thin, they no longer know what their core product – or even objective – is. He realizes this now, before it’s too late.
It’s a challenge to step out of what you’ve been doing, even when you don’t like it. After all, the more of it you do, the more experience you have. After graduating with double Bachelor’s degrees, I could only find work as a secretary. I’d worked as one through college, so it made sense at the time. But the more I did it, the easier it was to find more of the same work. Until I said no. Now look at me.
How to Break the Cycle
It’s important to recognize why you continue to take on work you don’t really enjoy. Is it really about money, or are you too afraid to start off in another direction? Maybe you really like a client and don’t want to burn that bridge. Understandable. From here, make a plan about how you’ll start saying no. You’ll first need to be saying yes to the right things. If you’re a software developer and want to get into children’s apps, start building them! Once you have a product you can promote, you can say no to that tedious programming you hate.
For me, I started looking for writing projects I really wanted. No spammy “how to make millions on the internet” articles that paid $3. Good ones, in areas I’d enjoy writing. I found some, and that made it easier to start saying no.
Share with us what you want to start saying no to, and what you can’t wait to start saying yes to!