No. This two letter word is often the most difficult to say particularly when you run your own business.

No usually means loss of business. Or does it?

Recently we had the occasion to say no to a client, and then ended the contract when it became obvious that our ‘no’ did not mean the same as the client’s no.

What pushed us to this point?

Firstly, the work we were being asked to do was not we had been engaged to do. Instead of working strategically with the client, we were asked repeatedly to fix up website content messes that had been created in-house. Put plainly, our experience and skills set were neither acknowledged nor understood.

Secondly, our time was not valued. After carefully drawing up a contract which covered strategic advice, media relations, social media, and four newsletters each year, the client simply saw the contract as an elastic band….to stretch as far as possible until we snapped.

The question is why? What had provoked us to snap?

Looking back, our view is that our priorities had changed. We did not need the pressure of a vacillating client. Instinctively we felt something was wrong with the relationship.

To be fair, we tried. We talked to the client about the approved scope; we explained why we had, from time to time, ventured out of the contract, and we acknowledged that that had probably meant the relationship had changed.

Lessons learned for our team:

Doing activities that are not in the contract will end in tears, or at the very least in disagreement and burn out.

If the activity is not in the contract, it is either not wanted nor is there budget to cover it. 

If, however the situation has changed – and new activities are more important than those in the contract, it is critical to have a conversation and agree on changes or offer to provide a quote for the additional work.

We should have trusted our judgment and said no much sooner.

Why we rarely have to say no!

Our clients like the way we advise and manage projects. They engage us primarily through word of mouth for our ability to think strategically, work ethically, and deliver.

Most recently we had to tell a client that a really good idea that a Board member had would not work. We had done our homework, tested the market and the reaction was negative. Rather than leave the client in the lurch, we talked them through alternatives, gave them a rationale for the proposed change of direction, highlighted the cost difference. It worked.

No, in this case, was the easiest word to use because it was based on experience and the client trusted us.

More recently, again, a former client rang and wanted to engage us for a job that did not quite fit our expertise or experience.

We said no. The person was incredulous, especially after telling her that we could not do what they wanted because we did not have the expertise. If we were to do the job, we would more than likely have let ourselves down to say nothing of them.

Saying ‘no’ isn’t easy. But we’ve found it is a good two letter word to use because it protects our reputation, it builds respect for us and what we do, and we remain in control of what we can and don’t offer.

Try it!