3 Reasons You Should Say No to More Business

Don't underestimate the power of "no," which can help your business grow far faster than saying "yes" will.
Columnist, American Express OPEN
June 24, 2013

What if you could say “no” to a prospective client and make more money than if you had said “yes”?

I remember a day—not so many years ago—when I thought I couldn’t say no to anything. If a client was standing there with money in hand, I had a near-Pavlovian response: I’d take it, no questions asked. Who says no when you’re growing a business and money is coming in the door?

My inability to say no nearly tanked my business on more than one occasion. It seemed that I needed to get familiar with this two-letter word. Once I changed the way I thought about turning down business knocking on my door, my business improved. 

Increase Profits

Whether you're just launching a business or 10 years into it, the easiest business to get isn’t necessarily the business you want. If there’s a particular type of business lining up at your door, knocking 24/7, it’s time to do a cost analysis and figure out if taking this particular kind of work is really making you any money.

I cut my teeth as a copywriter many years ago and was simply grateful that people wanted to hire me. I was busy seven days a week, banging out great projects left and right, and raking in the dough—or so I thought. It took a few years, but when I finally sat down and did the math—it showed that the hourly rate for my last 15 projects had been (gulp) roughly $7.34 per hour.

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How do you keep that low-hanging fruit from hitting you upside the head? Try a shift in marketing strategy. Revamp your website layout and copy and change the conversations you have with partners that send you business. Make sure it all focuses on promoting higher margin business that makes the time you spend make sense for the fees you charge. And maybe that means saying farewell to a certain product or service you currently provide. But that “no” can make room for you to focus on earning a “yes” on more profitable fruit that seems a little higher up the tree today, but just might be accessible with a strategy ladder.

The power of no: When you say no to the tempting, low-hanging fruit, you allow yourself to focus on earning fees that align with the value you offer your clients.

Get Your Time Back

Remember that project you signed on for that took twice as long and three times as much effort as you anticipated? (Maybe you’re having a hard time thinking of just one project.) When we’re afraid to say no, projects like this can creep in more often than not and leave us standing there wondering what happened to happy hours, kids’ soccer games and family vacations. 

With every project that comes along, I started asking myself one simple question: If this project doesn’t go as planned, will I still enjoy the project? If the answer is no, the project is a no. Having been a business owner in various capacities since 1999, I only have two lists of business experiences: ones I would do again and ones that make me run screaming. Time is the one thing I can’t make more of, and I want to make sure I spend my time doing business I enjoy—and with people I enjoy.

When I started saying no to projects that would make me regret the time I spent on them in spite of a sexy price tag, a few remarkable things happened. First, my days got shorter. I was able to work on the projects I had with deft efficiency, completing tasks and hitting milestones ahead of schedule because I was only working on projects I enjoyed. Secondly, the cash flow took care of itself. When you do great work on great projects for great clients, they tend to send more great clients with great projects your way.

The power of no: You'll start spending time on projects you enjoy and working with people you enjoy. 

Reclaim Your Business

Have you ever had an interaction with a client or customer that made you feel completely taken advantage of? When you’re in yes mode nonstop, it’s easy to let clients ride roughshod over you. But wait, isn’t this your business? Yes, it is. And there’s no reason you should be left feeling like you’re getting short-changed in what’s supposed to be a symbiotic relationship between vendor and customer. If a client is paying you to agree with them or feels that their money buys your unconditional compliance, you’ve traded the role of businessperson for circus monkey.

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The reality is, nodding your head nonstop won’t net you the trusted relationships your business needs to grow and thrive. Think of the people in your life who are nonstop "yes machines." Do you trust them to tell you the truth or do you know they'll only tell you what you want to hear? Your ability to say no when a no is warranted can help you reclaim your business from overly controlling clients. It can also help you build your reputation as an honest partner that’s willing to have tough conversations in the interest of doing better business and achieving better results.

The power of no: Your business relationships will be stronger and based on trust, bringing even more value to the services you provide and making price a non-issue.

Saying no is counterintuitive. I get it. And I'll never claim it's easy. But learning to say no at the right times can keep you from hating your business and hating the people with whom you're doing business. That little two-letter word can help clear out the cobwebs and put you in a position to grow your business doing work you love for people you love.

Read more articles on how to grow your business.

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