While I was at Photoshop World, I had an opportunity to hear the outstanding photographer, Joe McNally, speak.  You may not know his name, but I guarantee you know his images – they’ve appeared on the covers of National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, and Life Magazine, just to name a few. McNally was speaking on working as a professional photographer and something he said struck me immediately. (I’m paraphrasing here so forgive me if I don’t get the quote exactly right).  He said once you say “yes” and accept the job, it’s your problem.

I think sometimes, as business owners, it can be very hard to say “no”.  Even when we should.  There’s lots of reasons why and they’re different for everyone.  Sometimes, we desperately need the job to pay the bills, or we feel a sense of obligation (to clients, friends, family, community), or it’s such a cool opportunity that the thought of saying no kills us.  And I think, sometimes we don’t like to admit we can’t do everything.

A few years ago I made a conscious decision to start saying ‘no’ more often.  Life is short.  If you’re not doing what you love, what is the point?  Think about it.  Every time you’re waffling about whether or not to say “yes” to something ask yourself the following questions:

  • will I have fun?
  • will i learn something?
  • will I be spending time with people who’s company I enjoy?
  • will I make some great contacts?
  • at the end of this, will i feel a sense of satisfaction?

If you said no to all of these, why are you even considering the project?  But if you said yes to at least one of them, now you need to ask yourself some tougher questions:

  • am I the best person to do this?
  • can I give it my all and if I do, will something else suffer?
  • if I do a mediocre job because I’m overextended, am I ok with associating my name with this project?
  • is this my area of expertise?
  • will I wish I had those 5 minutes/5days/5 weeks/ 5 months/ 5 years of my life back?

Answer them all honestly.  Now it’s a little tougher, isn’t it?

Saying no is not easy – especially if you’re like me and can be guilt tripped like nobody’s business.  But here’s a few tips:

  • start small. Turn down that lunch invitation you weren’t crazy about.
  • don’t complicate it by inventing an excuse.  Just say “no, I’m sorry. I’m not available.”
  • don’t offer up details.  I’ve found most people won’t ask and in most situations, you’re not obligated to provide them.
  • don’t be rude – there’s no reason to be.  But be firm.
  • if you’re turning down work, provide the client with some alternative companies who fit their needs.

For me, I find that asking myself “will I wish I had those 5 minutes/hours/days etc, back?” is what usually breaks the deal for me.

Once you start saying no, and realize that the world doesn’t come to a crashing halt, you’ll actually find it incredibly freeing.

Saying no to a potential client (and potential paycheque) can be very difficult.  But sometimes, it’s the best thing to do – not just for you, but for that client.

But remember, like McNally said, once you say yes, it’s your problem and you’re responsible for the outcome.  So, suck it up, get it done, and don’t complain about it.  If you do, don’t expect sympathy.  You had the opportunity to say no.  Hehe…tough love!