Many business owners are afraid of the word no, so we replace it with “maybe” or “I’ll think about it”. These are all ways to kick-the-can down the road. Why do we do it? For some us, we want to be nice and saying no is just, well, uncomfortable. I suspect that the bigger reason is that we’re so desperate to grow our business that we’ll do anything to make progress. The problem is that everything we do to improve our business a little might be keeping us from doing the things that can help us a lot.
3 THINGS I’VE LEARNED TO SAY NO TO
Meetings with Vendors
If I took every meeting from a potential new vendor I wouldn’t have to pay for lunch for the next year, but I also wouldn’t have time to run my business. We all know a meeting that will “only take 15 minutes of your time” really takes 30 minutes (or more). This doesn’t take into account the time it takes to get back into the flow of your work after the meeting is over.
Look, I’m not saying you shouldn’t evaluate new vendors. What I’m suggesting is that the best way to do this is with conviction and determination. Is cutting your product costs critical to your business right now? Meet with 12 vendors in 2 weeks. You call them and let them know that your business is up for grabs and this opportunity won’t happen again for another year.
As for my current vendors, unless I’m facing a critical business issue that they can solve, my time is better spent on my top priorities. Building a relationship with them has value, but at what cost?
Special requests from customers
If you’re in a business built on customer service, like Ritz-Carlton, then no isn’t even in your vocabulary. But if you’re in a business that relies on efficiency to be profitable, you need to get comfortable with saying no to customers. My favorite pizza shop won’t deliver to my house because I’m one block outside their delivery zone. It’s is easy to think “They’re crazy! They’re turning down a paying customer!”, but by doing so they’re protecting the quality of their service for everyone inside their delivery zone.
I learned to say no to customers the hard way. A new customer for my printer cartridge remanufacturing business wanted us to bill them monthly, even though we billed all of our other customers on an order-by-order basis. I agreed because they had the potential to be our biggest customer, but in the end, we lost them as a customer after multiple billing mishaps. If I had just been honest about our billing capabilities they might still be a customer today. The worst part is that I wasted a ridiculous amount of time customizing their billing, all for the pleasure of losing our largest customer.
Networking is awesome… when you have time for it. Simply showing up at an event, having a drink and chatting with a few people is not a great use of time. If you’re too busy to follow up with people you meet, you might as well be drinking with your college buddies. I’ve found that when it comes to networking, less is more. Attending a select few events that are highly relevant to my business keeps my schedule manageable and gives me the time I need to follow up and make meaningful connections.
THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM
Managing your time is difficult when you’re not sure what we need. Maybe this new marketing will work. Maybe a new vendor can save us money. There are a million ways to improve our business and each of these might be able to give us some small gain. These small gains are good, but they may be robbing us of the opportunity to make BIG gains. We need to be focused on the things that can transform our business, not make it incrementally better. When you figure out what you really need, saying no isn’t so tough.
What have you learned to say no to?