The power of saying no when building your business

Everyone will tell you that a positive approach to all aspects of your business is key: but is there a case for saying no as a tool for business success?

Ian Cowley of explores.

When you’re building your business, there’s nothing you won’t do to impress. Gaining customers, suppliers and reputation is imperative and there is often that feeling of, ‘If I say no to this company, they’ll never come back to me again.’

However, there comes a time in a business’ growth where you have to start saying ‘no’. The good news is the effects can be every bit as powerful as all those times you say ‘yes’.

‘No’: to protect to your bottom line

When you start out, the most important thing is to grow your customer base. This means you will often offer preferential rates to attract clients or customers, in order to impress them with the quality of your work. However, these rates are not profitable and cannot be maintained.

Be honest with loyal clients once mates-rates are no longer feasible. You have to make a living. So push back if they are asking for discounts that rinse you of any profit. After all, you still have to pay staff wages and cover the cost of running a business.

The thought of walking away from customers you’ve invested in is scary but you must be prepared to avoid falling into the trap of working for free. In all honesty, if you are a valued supplier, they will accept the new rates. After all, it’s hard to find suppliers to trust and often a false economy to switch.

‘No’: to protect your reputation

Taking on work you don’t have the capacity for not only means you are more likely to deliver a poor result for the new client or customer, but it also jeopardises ongoing work with existing clients.

>See also: Five ways for the UK to top the innovation league

It might seem unnatural to turn down opportunities for your business. However, by saying ‘no’ to projects you simply don’t have the resources for, you protect the reputation you have worked hard to build. This means you can deliver work you’ve already agreed to on time, to budget, without causing unnecessary stress to your staff.

No: to protect your own workload

Place a value on your time. As your company grows, it’s natural that the demands on your time will increase. In order to stay clear-headed enough to make big decisions, you can’t be bogged down by too many tasks. What’s more, you’re also expensive. If you’re spending time doing a job a junior can do, you are wasting money that could have been invested in a more profitable job.

The key is delegation. You have staff, so use them. Don’t automatically do a job that gets directed to you. Instead ask yourself: can someone else do this?

How to say ‘no’

It’s not easy, is it? Here are my top tips to saying ‘no’ in a way that doesn’t burn bridges.

  • Take your time. Don’t feel you have to give a response straightaway. Clients will respect you more if you take time to consider. No one really likes a ‘yes’ man or woman.
  • Be diplomatic. If a staff member requests special treatment that doesn’t benefit the company, you need to be sensitive. You need to let them down gently without reducing morale. It’s worth offering them an alternative that has mutual benefits. For example, if they want to work remotely one day a week but that isn’t feasible, suggest flexible hours so they’re still in the office but able to manage work around other commitments.
  • Be transparent. Explain why you can’t do something in an honest and straightforward manner and this will empower clients to make an informed decision. For example, telling a loyal client that you won’t be able to deliver a job to the deadline they require allows them to decide whether they can extend their deadline.

Further reading: Venture funding – what are the legal requirements?

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.