Why Your Company Needs to Learn to Say "No"

“No.” This is one of the scariest words for any business - especially when that business is just getting off the ground.

It might be:

  • “No, I do not want to take them on as a client”
  • “No, I do not want my artist playing that event”
  • “No, I don’t think we’re a good fit at this time” (the ol’ it’s not you it’s me).

There is absolutely nothing wrong with telling a potential client, business associate, investor, etc. “No.”


So why is it so hard to say?

It’s a combination of excitement and desperation that causes new business owners to say “Yes!” to everything. How can you not? You need clients, you need funding, you need to get your numbers up! In many cases the temptation to say, “Yes” is stronger than the temptation to say, “No”.


So what can you do to combat this?


Take Emotion Out of It

So much easier said than done, especially to hot blooded Italians such as myself, but if you want to make better “business” decisions then you need to learn (and practice) taking the emotion out of it.

Fear, for example, is an extraordinary motivator. In the wild it can save your life. In the business world, it can end it (metaphorically speaking - relax). Fear can cause a new business to take on a client that they damned well KNOW will be a nightmare to work with, because they need the money or the name-recognition for their “Who We’ve Worked With” list on their website.

In the long run, it’s not worth it. If you think a business relationship is going to be time consuming and high maintenance, then it probably is. Trust your gut, it’s talking to you for a reason. That’s time and energy that can be better spent marketing to clients that can IMPROVE your business, not just add another notch to its belt (you promiscuous business, you).


"Saying “No” is not about doing more business, it’s about doing BETTER business."


Why Your Company Needs to Learn to Say "No"

Take Inventory

Here’s a fun little exercise for you and your team: Send out a questionnaire to all of the members of your inner circle (if it’s just you, that’s fine) prompting them to rate each client or associate outside of your company that you’ve worked with in the past year on a scale of 1 to 5. Once everyone has filled it out, get together and discuss your findings.

The results may surprise you, or they may be what you’ve long suspected. Either way, seeing it all together, along with the discussions during your review, will help shed light on who you enjoy working with, who you do not enjoy working with, and what they have in common.

Build Your Personas

If you’re an artist you may have read our blog, Who Are Your Fans?, which walks you through the process of finding your target audience (or customer) by building “buyer personas”. Just as a review:

"Buyer Personas are semi-fictional representations of your current and ideal customers along with types of customers you don't want to work with."

So how does that apply to you, your business, and your relationships? Because you should not only be thinking about who you HAVE worked with (see “Take Inventory” above) but who you SHOULD work with and WOULD LIKE TO work with. Who is good for your business? Who is good for your mental health?

Taking time to build out buyer personas that make sense from a financial and spiritual standpoint is a fantastic first step. But it’s all for naught if you don’t make some changes internally that enable you to attract these folks.



Why Your Company Needs to Learn to Say "No"


Hope For The Best, Plan For The Worst

Totally stealing a line from Scott Glenn’s character in The Bourne Ultimatum, but I love it.

From a business standpoint, this means don’t let the exciting thoughts of reaching your #goals prevent you from predicting and preparing for unfavorable outcomes and challenges along the way.

You should expect growing pains with your new found “No” philosophy and you should prepare for them. Can your business sustain a bit of a drought while you cycle out the old and bring in the new? Do you have your buyer personas nailed down? Will this change in philosophy affect the internal structure of your business? Make a list of questions to chat with your inner circle about and see how you hold up. You may find you’re ready to rock!

Saying “No” is not about doing more business, it’s about doing BETTER business. Better for you, better for your customer or client, better for business relationships in general. It was part of our process when we transitioned from a design/website company to a marketing agency (that also happens to be sweet at design and web development). It hurt at times, but it was worth it, and I feel strongly that it can do the same for you.

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Bobby Dirienzo

Bobby Dirienzo

Bobby is the Executive Vice President of 12South Marketing

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