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Want to Build Your Business? Say "No" a Lot

We've all been in a situation, especially as new business owners, when we've said "yes" to just about anything.

  • Yes, I'll work this weekend.

  • Yes, I can do this thing I really don't want to do.

  • Yes, of course I can do this thing and not charge you for it.

But saying "yes" too often is not an effective way to grow a business. And it will lead to bitterness and burnout.

The "Obliger" Tendency

My sister and I are fairly obsessed with Gretchen Rubin's book The Four Tendencies and if you haven't taken the quiz, I highly recommend that you do. You'll learn a helluva lot about yourself, the people in your personal life, and how to deal with the people you work with.

I am a textbook Obliger, which means this:

“I do what I have to do. I don’t want to let others down, but I may let myself down.”

This means that when I started my business, it felt impossible to say "no" to the things that didn't fit my business model or scope of work. I wanted to HELP - that motivates me and makes me feel good.

Until it doesn't.

Here's what happens when you say "yes" to everything:

  1. You end up running in circles trying to be everything for your client which means you can't get anything meaningful accomplished.

  2. You'll hit what Gretchen calls "obliger burnout" when you get so bitter about all that you've done for the person you suddenly quit, much to their surprise.

And here's how you solve it:

  1. Come up with a scope of work that you don't deviate from. Yes, this can evolve over time, but start somewhere.

  2. Build a referral network so that when a client asks you if you can do something, you don't have to say no - you can say, "I know the perfect person who can help you with that."

  3. Clearly communicate what you do through your marketing.

When I started doing this, it simplified my business model into a doable scope and allowed me to help my clients much more efficiently. Sometimes it required that I set aside my own ego and acknowledge that another colleague might handle something better than I could or that I just didn't have the time to say "yes" to everything. It's still a struggle - my tendency is to jump in and help. But I've found myself taking a beat before I automatically say yes to something and that's made all the difference.


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