How To Say No
by Marcia MacLeod
I turned down two pieces of work this year, much to the horror of some of my friends. “You can’t turn down work!” they screamed. “The client will never come back to you!” “Don’t you need the money?” others asked. But the best response was from a friend who asked “How can you do that? You’re in business!” when she, bless her, is near exhaustion because she is terrified of telling clients she will be late, or has to say no to new work, because her mother is extremely ill in another part of the country and she has no siblings to help take her to hospital appointments, try to organise social services, and do the shopping.
All small business owners face this dilemma at some point in their working lives. You’re overstretched and someone wants another bit of your time – NOW! It could be a regular client you hate to let down, or a new one who you want to cultivate. And you have to weigh up all the pluses and minuses of turning them down.
Sometimes if you say you’d love to do it, but need an extra week (or two), the client will have no problem extending the deadline, especially if they know you are reliable and your work is good. Sometimes they won’t – and you have to decide if you can put someone else off, or just work every waking hour to finish everything in time. Another option is to say yes, but sub-contract the work – but you have to be sure your client is happy with a different person turning up and you have to trust that person 100% because he or she is, literally, holding this client relationship in their hands.
But there comes a time when there is no other option but to turn something and someone down. In my case, I didn’t want to do the work and didn’t need the extra money – which wouldn’t be very much anyway. But there have been occasions when I really wanted to do the job but had so many commitments, I couldn’t do them all within the given deadlines. I asked one client if he would like it if I let him down, having already agreed a job and deadline for it, because someone else came along later who I didn’t want to refuse. Of course he said no, but insisted he was different and I should be glad to have him as a client. I worked for him a couple of times a year; the people he wanted me to put off were regulars. It doesn’t take a genius to realise we all need to retain the clients who butter our bread. And yes, saying no lost me that client forever, but if he’s that arrogant, I really didn’t want to work for him anymore anyway.
Small business owners with products, rather than services, to sell don’t have the same problem, but they could still hit a snag or two. Someone might want to buy all their stock of a particular item when they promised some to someone else or have a regular client likely to come back for more before they can re-stock. The easy solution is not to tell the customer who wants it all how much stock you have and keep some back for the other client. If a prospective client wants something you’ve run out of and doesn’t want to wait the week or so before you can get more, there’s not a lot you can do, apart from calling other stockists to ask if they can help.
But my philosophy in business, as in life, is that you do the best you can, but understand that sometimes the best isn’t going to be good enough. So just learn to say no. It’s a small word, and really very easy to use. And it could save you an awful lot of stress.