When you run a small business, it can be very easy to fall into the habit of saying yes to everything. This is even truer when the small business consists of just you. You're the bookkeeper, the employer, the employee, the salesperson, the strategy person, the worker... you get the idea. Usually, you find yourself in the scenario of "If I don't do it, it won't get done." Thus, you're continually saying yes—to everything—in order to be productive. But therein lies the paradox: saying yes to everything does not necessarily correlate to increased productivity. As a small business owner, you need to be comfortable saying no. Sure, it may sound easy, but gauging when and how to say no isn't always as straightforward as it should be. These tips can help...
Do What You're Capable Of Doing
Whenever a business-related task or request comes your way, ask yourself, "Am I capable of doing this effectively and efficiently?" If the answer is yes, go forth! If the answer is maybe, determine the level of effort that will be required to accomplish it. Is there research to do? Is there a learning curve? If the answer is a definitive no, determine the options at your disposal to get it done. For example, if you're a fitness instructor opening up a new studio and are presented with a lease to review, there's a good chance that that sort of evaluation doesn't fall within your capabilities—and there's nothing wrong with that! Sure you could get through it, but it'd take you a long time (time that you could be making money on) and you might miss something important. So find an expert. (In this case, it's your lawyer.) Recognize the things that you are not effectively capable of executing a task is the first step in know when and how to say no.
Do What's Profitable
If someone comes to you with a request that you deem would be an unprofitable use of your time, you might want to say no. Are there other considerations? Of course. Giving your time for things like mentorship, volunteering and other common goods that don't tangibly benefit your business is admirable and will make your company better. In contrast, though, say you've been chasing a new piece of business only to be strung along over and over. After awhile, taking calls and meetings with someone who's never going to commit is an unprofitable use of your time.
Now Here's How to Say No
Afraid saying no will make you feel like a jerk? Unliked? Unapproachable? Those are certainly valid concerns—except they're not. Saying no shows decisiveness. It shows that you're not out to please everybody. When saying no, don't apologize. (There's a big difference between "Sorry I'm afraid I can't do that." and "I'm unable to do that.") If you've vetted the request at hand effectively, saying no is the easy part.
Offer Alternative Ideas
Saying no isn't all negative. It actually provides you with opportunity. Say you're a digital marketer and friend asks you—for free, of course—to set their business up with Facebook ad campaigns, turn it into an educational moment. Steer them to Facebook's advertiser's support page as well as a few best practices blog posts. How's the old proverb go? Teach someone to fish...
Does saying no feel awkward and counter-intuitive? Certainly. But if you don't know when and how to do it, you're going to burn yourself out. And that's no good for anybody.