Learning to Say No in Business

Just because we can say Yes to a customer doesn’t always mean we should

We’re told the customer is always right and we should give the customer what she asks for and remember that the customer is king and that if a customer wants to pay us money we should not get in the way of that.

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Sure… that’s all very well, as far as it goes but too often I think we get tempted to go after the wrong customers, just because they hold out the promise of money and business for us.

I did an introduction session with a potential client a few months ago, against my better judgement. I shouldn’t have. Although the client signed up at the end of the session for a 6-month engagement and we got underway properly a few days later there was something wrong. More or less from the first week, I started to feel that the sessions were not developing a good rhythm and I felt that we were getting stuck.

Awkward moments

By the end of the month, it had become clear to both of us that it wasn’t working and we stopped our work. It was an uncomfortable and awkward moment for both of us. I felt I had to apologise and refund most of the money the client had already paid me.

I had let my need for money get in the way of my better judgement and I’d ignored the little voice on my shoulder that had warned me not to do the intro session in the first place, let alone sign the client up.

You see, the Purpose (with a capital “P”) of my business, the reason I do what I do is this: “I help Small Business owners feel great about themselves and about their business, by making business fun again”.

  • To read a related article I wrote about the Purpose of business (with a capital “P”), CLICK HERE.

The client had been referred to me, but he wasn’t a business owner. He was an employee, the general manager of a Small Business. The owner of the Small Business was someone I had worked with in the past and when he employed this general manager he suggested that I might want to work with him to help him get off to a great start in his new role.

It’s a perfectly good aim for coaching and the general manager was a perfectly coachable client and I am a perfectly good coach, but this is not what I do. I work with business owners. There’s a whole bunch of good reasons for this, and I should have remembered it, and referred this client to someone else who would have been better suited to him.

Silly me

I promise I’ll never do it again (until the next time at any rate). The point is this, we can’t solve everyone’s issues and offer our services to everyone. If you attempt to solve all problems for all clients, you’ll end up solving none of them for anyone.

I sometimes say to my clients, “The most important skill you can learn in business is when (and how) to say NO.” I should have said NO, obviously. I would have saved myself, the general manager and his employer time, money and embarrassment and I could have spent some quiet time at the bus stop getting ready for the next one to come along.

So my question to you is this, “Who should you say NO to? Which bus should you stop running after?” Learning to say NO is absolutely one of the most important steps along the way to building a business that’s fun and that sustains you for years to come… I promise you.

For more resources, and reading on strategies for growing your business follow this link to the first of The 7 Big Questions that all small business owners want answered

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4 comments on “Learning to Say No in Business
  1. Madeleine says:

    Sometimes I, too do an introductory session. With one person, it was clear within minutes that we weren’t a good match, so I gently suggested this to her. Her vilification and rage at me was unexpected but confirmed my feelings. I allowed her to rant for a while then suggested we disengage. Obviously I hit a nerve!

    • Hi Madeleine, yes in that case it sounds like you wouldn’t have found it difficult to say no, and well done. I sometimes can find the little voice on my shoulder quite confusing I have to say, not always sure what it’s trying to tell me

  2. Ryan says:

    I think it takes a level of experience to know where you need to say yes and where you can say no. Once you can back it up I think it is a viable response.

    • Thanks Ryan, yes experience makes it easier to say no… absolutely… and what’s equally important is to get absolutely clear what your business is on this earth for… and what it isn’t here for.

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