Based on ideas from Dorie Clark’s “The Long Game – how to be a long term thinker in short term world.”
When Nancy Reagan, wife of then President Ronald Reagan was visiting a primary school in California she told the kids “Just say no” to drugs. This was later used as a slogan in the campaign against drugs in the US during the early 1980s. But as we know many people have difficulty saying no to drugs, and many entrepreneurs have difficulty saying no to requests for meetings, to speak at events, to do write a guest blog, anything to raise their profile.
When I stated out, I fell into this trap, if someone who seemed to have a chance of providing me with a lead or a gig contacted me I would agree to meet them. Usually at a place convenient for them, they were a potential customer after all. I have spoken pro bono at many CFO conferences, I have even made Podcasts for that giant ERP provider SAP. All without payment and all for little return.
Do not make my mistake, it’s not easy, but learn to say no. You can do better than me
Why is hard to say no? It is flattering to be asked to speak at a conference, even more flattering to be asked back again. We get a sense of pride from being asked to meet up with someone, to be in demand. And there is that nagging doubt, if I turn down this invitation will I be missing out on a plum assignment or opportunity. FOMO Fear of missing out.
You will have no problem turning down obvious time wasters, or saying yes to clear opportunities, would you like to speak at our conference? We will pay first class fights, five star hotel and $20,000 for the day. It’s in the middle that we can get into trouble. The offer to speak without pay at a high profile conference where potential clients may be present, doing a podcast for an internationally recognized company, doing a favor for a colleague who may be able to help you out later.
Knowing that it is hard to say no to such requests, set some rules for yourself.
- Do not rearrange your schedule to accommodate the meeting, insist on a time and location that is convenient for you. If they are that anxious to meet you, they will be to accept this arrangement
- Do not meet people just because they ask. Insist on knowing why they want to meet. What is their objective for the meeting? And then decide if it is worth your time. Asking for additional information will weed out a lot of requests, you will find once they have to do some work, i.e., take the time to explain the purpose of the meeting, a lot of folks lose interest.
- Unless you are wildly enthusiastic about a pro bono opportunity, asked to get paid. Your time is one of your most valuable assets, why give it away?
Choose what you are bad at.
As a startup or newbie solopreneur there is a strong temptation to be all things to all potential clients, this is the path to mediocracy. No one wants to admit they are bad at anything within their area of competency but by consciously choosing what you are bad at will, paradoxically, increase your chances of success. As a part time CFO many potential clients expect me to be good at accounting, treasury, tax, raising funds etc. And while, I will likely know more than the client, this is not my area of expertise. Engagements that require these skills I turn down, even if I am desperate for work. I have decided to be bad at this aspect of a CFO’s core competency.
An example provided in Dorie Clark’s book is of a bank that decided to commit itself to be open at hours convenient to its customers. This is an expensive undertaking. How did the bank achieve its goal? It chose to be abysmal at paying interest on deposit accounts. If asked, would you like lousy returns on your investments, most investors would say no. But to the customer segment served by the bank, convenient hours more than outweighed the lack of return on their money.
Being focused is the key to success for any business or solo entrepreneur. Saying yes to everything means being average at everything. What are you going to choose to be bad at? What are you going to say no to?
Use a checklist
Check lists work, they are mandatory for pilots, or doctors preparing for an operation. When evaluating whether to say no Dorie Clark suggest you ask the following four questions:
What is the total time commitment? You probably think you have a basic idea of how long something will take. But many of us, myself included, are overly optimistic in estimating how long a project will take. The solution is to think through every aspect of the job. Background tasks that need to be completed, unspoken but expected obligations. You may learn you do not have the time and need to say no.
What is the opportunity cost? The decision in not whether to host a webinar or not, the decision is whether to do the webinar or do something else. And that something else does not need to be work related. Spend four hours preparing and presenting the webinar or spend four hours with your family. The webinar may well be the best use of your time but do consider what else you could be doing with those precious four hours.
What is the physical and emotional cost? An offer that on the face of it seems attractive, present to an audience at an upscale beach resort, may not be so attractive when you consider that fitting it in will require a red eye flight and the hassle of customs and immigration in both directions. That’s why you need to understand the hidden costs before you say yes. It’s hard to say no to an invitation you have accepted once you realize the unanticipated pitfalls.
Would I feel bad in a year if I did not do this?
Jeff Bezos had an excellent position and outstanding career prospects when he quit his job to found Amazon. He knew if he did not try to launch his business he would always regret it. Even though he only estimated his chances of success at 30%. But most opportunities you are offered, if you do not accept them, a year from now you will likely not even remember them.
If you would like to purchase Dorie Clark’s The Long View please click my affiliate link below. It will not cost you anything and will provide some funds to keep this website going. Thank You.
The link will take you do the Kindle version which has the lowest cost. it is also available in hardback and as an Audiobook, read by Dorie Clark