When Entrepreneurs Should Say "No!"
Entrepreneurs are hard-wired to face the world with a big “yes!” Our passion and drive keeps us moving forward, chasing new opportunities, meeting new people, taking on new challenges…saying “yes!” But saying “yes” too often can sap your time and energy and distract from the core work you need to focus on. Too many “yeses” can leave you feeling over-committed, unfocused, burnt out, and depleted.
Sometimes you just have to say “yes.” For example, networking is crucial for an entrepreneur and you don’t always know the value of a potential contact before you sit down with them, so it’s usually a good idea to say “yes” to networking opportunities.
But sometimes it’s equally important for an entrepreneur to say “no.” It’s okay…really! Saying “no” isn’t a display of negativity. It’s a positive action that you can take to protect yourself and your business and avoid getting distracted by tangents.
Here are some situations, opportunities, and people to which you might want to consider saying “no:”
Difficult clients. Yes, every dissatisfied client is an opportunity, but sometimes it’s also a time suck. You cannot please everyone and satisfy every request, and trying to will just drive you crazy and take up time better spent on work that will make more of an impact on your business than turning around one client’s bad experience.
Someone else’s priorities. While no entrepreneur is a silo that stands alone, ultimately it’s up to you to make the decisions and not habitually defer to others. Sure, you should listen to requests and suggestions—from clients, your team, your mentors, your investors—but, ultimately you cannot build your company solely in response to the whims of others. While it may seem easy to just say “yes” to please the clamoring party or squeaky wheel, you cannot lose sight of your own priorities.
When boundaries are unclear. If you don’t know exactly what you are agreeing to (if you’re not sure what a “yes” answer really means), or suspect that this one “yes” might lead to escalating requests, then say “no.” It’s important as an entrepreneur to keep your boundaries solid and to limit your involvement as necessary.
In our particular business, there are many early-stage companies looking for help and guidance prior to getting funded. I receive frequent requests to meet with or answer questions from these contacts. It is not in our business model to work with companies prior to funding, but I’m still happy to give these folks a bit of assistance to get their businesses off the ground. But, while I am happy to give some time and offer some advice to these companies, I am very careful to make my boundaries clear and articulate the parameters that limit my involvement.
If excitement outweighs value. Sometimes it’s hard to say “no” when we want to say “yes.” When entrepreneurs are confronted with a new exciting opportunity, we are eager to dive in and be on the cutting edge. New ideas, new products, new technology. But, again, what’s in it for us? How does this exciting prospect relate to your core business? If it doesn’t, then you don’t need to go there right now.
If there’s no reciprocity…ever. It’s good to do a favor for others without expecting anything in return. This is altruism at its finest and, yes, even entrepreneurs act in this selfless way sometimes! But if there are particular people or organizations always asking for favors and never giving anything in return, it’s okay to stop saying “yes” all the time.
Before you say “no” (or “yes”), think about the value of any request or opportunity. It’s okay to take some time to evaluate rather than jump into a commitment you’ll regret. How will it help you and your company? Will it help to build or maintain an important relationship? Will it help you to raise funds? Identify your current and long-term goals and see how this particular request fits into achieving your goals. If it doesn’t, then say “no,” at least for now.
Saying “no” takes practice, but it’s an important exercise for busy entrepreneurs. The more you say “no,” the more you free up your time to say “yes.” And remember, even when the tables are turned, that a “no” is not a rejection or a personal affront; it’s a valid response and a valuable entrepreneurial tool.
What do you say “no” to? Let us know in comments below or contact Early Growth Financial Services if you’re ready to say “no” to managing your own finances.
David Ehrenberg is the founder and CEO of Early Growth Financial Services, a financial services firm providing a complete suite of financial and accounting services to companies at every stage of the development process. He’s a financial expert and startup mentor, whose passion is helping businesses focus on what they do best. Follow David @EarlyGrowthFS.