As a woman who has worked several customer service positions throughout her life, the saying, “The customer is always right” has been ingrained in my professional brain. There’s a lot of merit in this adage—providing positive experiences for your clientele helps create a positive image for your business while building a loyal customer base. I know from personal experience that when a business has slighted me or provided less than satisfactory service, the way its employees have handled the incident would make or break my ties with said business.
Stepping into the tech and design world, however, I learned rather quickly that being a yes man all the time was going to get me into trouble. Any inquiry, any project, I was eager to jump on board, whether or not I had the time or skillset to accomplish it. Worried that I would lose referrals by turning down work, redesigns, extra drafts, discounts, and shortened deadlines, I was stretched about as thin as I could get. And was it worth all the extra fatigue to get a good word from a client? Absolutely not.
Not only was my mental and physical health suffering from the long hours and hair pulling, but my work wasn’t turning out its best either. The sheer exhaustion of it all was taking a toll, both on myself and my business, and I realized I needed to make a change. I needed to learn the power of a well placed no.
Here are a few simple truths about saying no that improved my productivity and overall sanity that you too can hopefully benefit from.
Saying no does not make you a bad person/business. Let me say it again for the people in the back: saying no does not make you a bad person or business.
As a midwesterner, this one was hard for me to accept, but perhaps the most important. We grow up believing that “yes” is “good” and “no” is “bad”, so saying yes makes a more likeable, positive person. But as Sarri Gilman, author of “Transform Your Boundaries”, argues in her TedEx talk “Good Boundaries Free You”, “Yes and no are not feelings.” (She says a lot of other great things, so do yourself a favor and take 15 minutes of your day to watch.) Saying no to someone may make them feel a certain way, but you can’t let the fear of disappointment or anger dictate your boundaries, or your business.
Your company will ultimately be more successful by creating these boundaries and listening to your internal compass. Giving yourself ample time to learn, grow, and focus without burning yourself out in the process will only improve your skills and reputation. Those who stretch themselves thin often feel satisfied with their work. Satisfying work is good work, and good work brings in more business.
The more you say yes, the less you can say no. This is true of all relationships: whether they mean to or not, people will start to expect things of you when you’re always giving them everything they want. (This is where Sarri’s boundaries are important!)
As I said above, you might think you’re getting something out of it because saying yes often makes you feel good. You’re making someone happy, which makes your business look good, right? Well, that happiness can be fleeting, and often times is accompanied by a sense of dread—especially if you know what your client is asking for is outside of your current capabilities/timetable. Whether you’re saying yes to another project, changes/additions to an existing project, or taking on something that lies outside of your usual realm, you have to be sure that what you’re taking on is worth your effort. Because each yes you give your client, the more they’re going to want and expect from you in the future.
That’s not to say that there’s a problem taking additional work for a new or existing client; just take the time to think about it before accepting. If someone asks you to take on more work, take the time to really consider the pros and cons. Will this be something I can do easily/quickly? Is this something I know how to do? Will I be proud of the product I’m putting out with the time that I’m given to complete it? Are there things I can shuffle around to make this project a priority?
Instead of saying no… Give them an alternative. For an example, if a returning client wants a certain feature added to an app you created for them, but you know what they’re asking for is out of their max budget? Provide a counter offer. Taking the time to think of an alternative solution where you both win shows not only that you care about the project, but that you’re an excellent problem solver, which can be beneficial to them along the way. And if they’re unhappy with your offer, technically they’re the one who has to say no.
So embrace your inner two-year old and let out a few “no”s once in a while!