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How to Learn When to Say No

Day 371: It's Cool to Fake Romances
When I was asked to write a second article for Women Grow Business, I should have said NO. But I was so flattered by the response to my first contribution and to be asked to contribute again, that I immediately responded with a big loud yes.

It really should have been NO.

The timing was terrible: I had just finished an exhausting 10-th anniversary campaign for my business and was going into what turned into the busiest holiday season in the history of our business. So writing an article was something I had no time to do, especially not well. Possibly because I’m a woman, definitely because I am an entrepreneur, I find it next to impossible to say no to anything. My default position is always yes.

Saying no is something every entrepreneur must learn to do. The truth is, the one-in-a-million, strike-while-the-iron-is-hot opportunities are very few and far between. Almost every offer you will get, from a supplier, customer, partner, etc, will come around again.

When presented with an opportunity, before you let ‘yes’ jump out of your mouth (or, most likely, your keyboard) ask yourself: Is this really what I need to be doing? The answer, more often than not, will be no.

I was reminded of this during a recent conversation with someone who had just visited a local ski resort and thought my store was exactly what was missing there. I had to laugh, because 8 years ago, we were approached to open a location there.

At the time, still green behind the ears and not really knowing what direction to take our small business in, we went to a few meetings but ended up saying no, it just wasn’t right for us. Another local business, very similar to ours, was also approached and ended up saying yes. Not only did it not work out for them, it ended up killing their original business. They bit off much more than they could chew. I am very glad we said no to that.

We have said no plenty of times. We have been offered so many products guaranteed to be the next big thing. We almost always say no. And most of those products make a big splash and then fizzle. The few times that they do well, we jump in a little late, and order a few months post splash. It’s ok to not always be first to the punch. Sometimes, wait-and-see is the better approach.

The same goes for clients.

We tend to bend over backwards to say yes to clients. Sometimes, it’s better to say no and stay true to your business goals. In my business, a gift store, I am often asked to make special orders, to bend our return policies, etc.

My default position is always yes, because we want to please our customers, but sometimes, no is the right answer. If you change the policy for one person, will you need to change it for everyone? Will pleasing this customer this one time bring repeat business, or is it just more work for me with no long term benefits?

Learning to say No is hard. After 10 years, it’s gotten a lot easier. When I get asked something, I ask myself:

  • Can I really do this, and can I do it well?
  • Does this fit in the plan that I have set out, and if not, will it take me far off course?
  • Will there truly be a benefit for the company? If so, will it be short term or long term?

Saying no outright takes some getting used to. Start by saying ‘Maybe, but not right now’. That probably would have been a better answer when I was asked to write this article (but I am glad I ended up saying yes in this case)!

Creative Commons License Photo Courtesy of Flickr user Amancay Maahs 

Virginia Champoux-Sokoloff is co-owner (with her husband Jay Sokoloff) of Mortimer Snodgrass, a funky and unique gift store in Montreal Canada that recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.

Virginia’s dog, the real Mortimer Snodgrass, is now an 11 y.o. mutt who roams the house looking for shoes to steal, having retired from the daily grind of greeting customers behind the counter. Married for 9 years to Jay, they are raising 2 daughters.


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