What’s the most important skill of a business owner?
This is the fourth post in the series of The Ten Priorities: Laying the Foundations for a Great Business and Life. The fourth Priority is about learning to say No. The introduction to this series on The Ten Priorities is here.
What do you think is the most important skill for business owners to master?
You’re probably thinking, financial management, or delegating, or sales or something like that.
Important skills, obviously, but the answer I’m looking for is this:
Knowing how and when to say NO, clearly and respectfully.
As I’ve talked about in the introduction to the Ten Priorities, the life of a business owner is one where there is never enough time in a day. And so, you have to decide, every day, what to say NO to and what to say Yes to.
Saying NO is hard, much harder than saying YES, but it’s a skill you can learn and get good at. (more about saying No here)
The Big Question of Small Business
Learning to say NO starts with becoming absolutely clear on the Big Question of Small Business:
Why does your business exist, what’s it on this earth for and Why would anybody care?
If you struggle to answer that question, clearly, in LESS than 20 words, there’s a good chance your business will get stuck.
Here’s a few beautiful examples of answers to that question:
From Disney: Create Happiness
From BMW: Create the Ultimate Joy of Driving
From an electrician, I worked with: You’re in Safe Hands
From a Retail fitout company, I worked with: More Bang, Less buck
From an Architect, I worked with: Architecture that Inspires.
Answer the Big Question of Small Business with complete clarity, and you won’t get stuck in your business… I promise you
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.
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.
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.
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.