Saying no is one of the most difficult yet liberating things you can do when you’re running a small business. You might want to practice at home, with your kids.
After 30+ years working with hundreds of clients, I can honestly say it’s some of the most sage advice for small business that I can offer. The most effective managers, and the most successful executives, say no a lot. And they do it without hesitation. Without any anguish.
For instance, they politely decline to pursue new business that doesn’t fit their strategic objectives. Even though it might produce a short-term bump in revenues.
They say no to employees and salespeople and suppliers who try to hijack their time.
They don’t tolerate overblown financial projections and long, drawn-out presentations.
They say no to new initiatives that don’t fit the brand or the corporate culture.
They even say no to their their best clients sometimes.
The typical small-business owner, on the other hand, says yes, yes, yes to anything that comes along.
Turning down work is just not part of the program. So in an effort to grow the business and put food on the table, they make a habit of appeasing people.
“Sure, we can do that.” Yes, we can do that too.”
I have to admit, I was guilty of that for many years. It’s a particularly common problem in professional service firms. Because after all, it IS a service business.
We serve our clients. We aim to please.
But an overly agreeable approach is often symptomatic of two glaring managerial shortcomings:
- Little or no strategic thinking.
- A brand that’s not very focused or well defined.
Defining a Brand Strategy means choosing a specialty, setting specific goals, and turning away business that doesn’t fit with your core brand values. If you don’t say no in business, you’ll never have an iconic brand.
The clarity that comes from a well-defined, well written brand strategy makes it much easier to say no when you really need to.
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 the company was, in his own words, “in deep shit.” They had at least 13 new initiatives and product ideas but no direction. No strategic focus. No “gravitational pull,” as he put it.
Jobs killed all but two of the initiatives. One was the iMac and the other was the G4. By saying no, he set the company in a specific, definable direction that’s still paying off today. It’s sage advice for any small business…
“Companies sometimes forget who they are.” Jobs once said. “Fortunately, we woke up. And now we’re on a really good track…”
“It comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much. We’re always thinking about new markets we could enter, but it’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.”
Sage advice for small business: Say no to 1,000 things — in order to get one thing really right.
Peter Drucker believes the only people who truly get anything done are monomaniacs – people who are intensely focused on one thing at a time.
“The more you take on, the greater chance you will lose effectiveness in all aspects of your life.”
Best-selling author Ken Blanchard, (The One-Minute Manager, Gung Ho) says without clear goals you will quickly be a victim of too many commitments. “You will have no framework in which to make decisions about where you should or shouldn’t focus your energy.”
So I guess modern day multi-tasking isn’t the shortest route to success.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “A ‘no’ uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater than a ‘yes’ merely uttered to please, or what is worse, to avoid trouble.” That’s sage advice for small business
As a Creative Director I say no a lot. I say no to ideas that my team presents. I say no when clients make impossible requests at the 11th hour or float their own “creative” ideas in early strategy meetings. (Sometimes, I swear, they’re just trying to get a rise outta me. Deep down they know their ideas are lame, but they want to see how I handle it.)
Here are some good things that come from saying no in business:
• You have more opportunities to say yes to the right customers, at the right time. You can pick your battles.
• You have more time to focus on more important tasks, like long-term planning, strategic thinking and branding.
• Your operation will become more streamlined and efficient.
• You’ll have a better sense of balance in life — between work, home and play.
• Saying “no” expresses how you really feel. You’re not hiding anything, and you’re taking responsibility for your own feelings. It’s more authentic than a forced “yes.”
• Saying no actually increases your value in the market niche you’ve choosen.
At BNBranding one of the goals of our new business development effort is to say no more often. And not just to accounts that are too small, but also to businesses owners, marketing managers and entrepreneurs who might pay well, but don’t share our core values.
As the old saying goes, “values mean nothing in business until they cost you money.”
We need more work, but not just any work. We need to do work that we’re proud to show off. Work that will help companies with a purpose that goes beyond just a fast buck.
We need clients, but not just any clients. We need clients who we’re genuinely happy to help, and are honestly grateful for it.
Fast Company magazine always has sage advice for small business. In an article about Jim Wier, the CEO of Snapper lawn mowers, they demonstrate how his biggest NO was the best example of his leadership skills.
Wier said no to Walmart!
He gave up tens of millions of dollars in annual sales with one visit to Arkansas. They wanted his mowers, but he was adamant that selling Snapper mowers through Walmart stores was incompatible with their strategy and their brand.
Now that’s courage. And focus.
Most large companies with a well-respected brand like Snapper would be tempted to launch a line extension strategy to accommodate Walmart… Just produce a cheaper mower overseas and slap the Snapper name on it.
But Wier knew that would just dilute the brand and confuse people. That’s bad branding.
Like when Subway recently announced they’d be test marketing pizzas. How does that fit with their “eat fresh” healthy fast food strategy? Can you see Jared, the Subway spokesperson, losing 60 pounds while eating pizza? I don’t think so.
Someone should have stepped up and said no to that idea.
For more on establishing a clear brand strategy, try this post.
If you need some help establishing a clear marketing strategy, and executing it, give us a call. We might say no, but we might not. 541-815-0075.