Why You Need to Say No In Order to Grow

Just Say No with a flower box of daisies

As a solopreneur, there’s only so much work I can take on. Even if I work with my favorite trusted freelancers. Even if I work a few extra hours. Sometimes, I have to say no.

But, it’s tempting to take on just one extra project. Or to say “yes” when a favorite client asks you to take on a project that’s not part of your core capabilities but that you could potentially take on.

We tell ourselves that doing these things will help us grow our business when in reality, the opposite is true. As solopreneurs, it’s what we say “no” to that will actually help us grow. Let me explain.

That Extra Project Can Burst Your Dam

Many of us say “yes” to things we don’t have time for—to clients, friends, and even family—without thinking through the consequences. We become women who do too much and are miserable about not doing any of it up to our standards.

It’s hard to know exactly when you’ve gotten to your maximum capacity for doing. Plus, that capacity can ebb and flow over time and is affected by your health and relationships in addition to your work.

So, unfortunately, we find out we’ve taken on too much only after the fact when we crash—hard.

How to Know if You Are Overcommitted

Here are a few signs you’re nearing your capacity or are already overcommitted and about to burst your dam:

  • You aren’t practicing self-care. Yes, a latte can be self-care. But if it is the only self-care you’ve done in months, you need a reset.
  • You are ignoring health issues.  It can be hard to find time to exercise, go to doctor appointments, and other things maintaining our health requires. But the consequences of not doing so is even more costly.
  • You’re not getting critical tasks done. You have a stack of unopened mail you haven’t gotten to, including bills that need to be paid. The kitchen light has been out for weeks. You can’t seem to get to important day-to-day tasks because they seem exhausting.
  • You are working longer hours without seeing results. Tasks that used to take you an hour are taking two. Projects that could be completed within a two-week timeline are taking three. You’re tired and burnt out.
  • You’re skimping on sleep. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” is a nice quip, but it’s a bad motto to try to live by. Your body needs at least seven hours of sleep each day for you to feel rested and be productive.
  • Crying at your desk (or in the ladies room) is the new normal. We all need to have a good cry every so often. But if every so often is every day, that’s your body’s way of telling you things are NOT alright.

When you are seeing these signs, it’s imperative you start to say no.

How to Say No And Improve Your Client Relationships

Overcommitment isn’t the only hazard that comes from an inability to say no. As I mentioned in a recent post over on Hey Orca’s blog, saying yes to client requests can actually be a great way to ruin a solopreneur or small agency’s biggest advantage—their specialization.

Before saying yes to a client that asks if you can do an activity that’s outside of your team’s core capabilities, you need to do a frank assessment. Can you deliver what they need at the same level of excellence as the rest of your work for them? If you can’t answer with a confident “yes,” then don’t branch out!

Your clients are drawn to you by what you do best. Any additional work you do for them needs to be at that same level of competence. Otherwise, you run the risk of ruining their opinion of your work overall and damaging your brand. No client wants you or your team to be learning on their dime. They want to hire you because you presumably already have experience with what they are paying you to do.

And this is where having a network of trusted associates comes in. I know a number of small agency owners and freelancers who offer services that complement mine. I’ve worked on some of their client projects, and I’ve referred my clients to them for other projects. These are all people I enjoy working with and whom I know will give my clients the same level of service I provide. And while I’m not going to have a direct financial benefit from referring client business to my network (i.e. I’m not paying out or asking for referral fees) it pays off when it comes to that client relationship.

How to Get Comfortable With Saying No

Now comes the hard part. It’s one thing to know you need to say no and it’s something else entirely to actually do it. Especially when it’s saying no to a big client. Here are a few ideas on how to approach it:

  • Reframe your “no” as a positive. It can help to reframe how you think about—and present—your “no” as being a helpful statement, not as letting your client down. “I’m honored you’ve asked us to [request]. It’s a little out of our wheelhouse, so I’d love to introduce you to [person] who specializes in that. I’m confident they can deliver on it for you.
  • You’d love to, but you’re booked. Realistically, every solopreneur or small agency only has so much capacity. Use this to your advantage as a way to buy an easy out with a client who may not want to take “no” for an answer.
  • Focus on the fit. Be direct and let them know the project isn’t the right fit for your current staff and their core skill sets. And then refer them to someone else who is.
  • Don’t say no, say “yes, but”. Let them know you’d love to help them. However, since it’s outside your area of expertise, it’s going to take X amount of time, plus X amount of external resources or training or tools, so it may be a better fit for [your referral].
  • Delay the no. If you’re just not comfortable saying “no” on the spot, buy yourself some time by thanking them for the ask, and saying you need to talk it over with the team (even if “the team” is your cat) and you’ll get back to them. Then, you can get back to them through a channel you’re more comfortable using for your no.

The good news is, it gets easier to say no every time you say it. And a client you have a solid relationship with will respect your boundaries and accept that no without it having an adverse effect on your relationship. And in the best case scenario, you’ll be the rock star who introduced them to a specialist that knocked their critical project out of the park.

Have a helpful tip for saying no? Let me know in the comments.

Anything to add?

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