Know When To Say No: Avoiding The “Yes” Trap For Entrepreneurs

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Just starting out? Think you have to say ‘yes’ to any and every opportunity that comes your way? We’ve got one word for you: No.

By Megan Conley (Founder & CEO, Social Tribe)

When I first started Social Tribe, I was often asked about my vision for the company. I usually hemmed and hawed something about being the best social marketing agency on the planet.

In reality, making enough to pay rent and put food on the table were my KPI’s. In my opinion, “dream big” is a great philosophy, but in the early stages of building a company it’s often accompanied by side dishes of getting stuff done, staying afloat and drinking from the fire hose. The primal needs of survival often outweighed the big picture essentials like strategic planning.

The danger of living in survival mode for too long is that you start to adopt a “here and now” mentality. I noticed a cycle emerging: when any opportunity came knocking at my door, I said “yes!” Not a bad practice in theory, except that I found myself working on projects that didn’t always align with my passion, interests or skill sets. By adopting a yes attitude, I was inadvertently diluting my service offering and morphing into a jack-of-all-trades.

The Danger of Yes

Being a yes person has its perks: everyone likes a yes gal/guy. There’s a lot of praise and “team player” validation that gets lathered on and it feels good. But there are some serious downsides to letting that buttery three-letter word slide off your tongue because if you’re not strategic about what you agree to, it’s easy to scatter your focus which then results in confusion and skepticism when trying to achieve your long-term vision. For new businesses, that can be the end game right there. You may find that you and/or your team are spread too thin, and soon dark, puffy clouds of burnout start to loom on the horizon. Worst of all, it’s almost impossible to measure progress and results because these “yes!” activities weren’t part of the original plan. So where are you? Off track, that’s where.

No Really Means Yes

As an entrepreneur, each day is filled with possibility. You could easily work twenty hours a day and that still wouldn’t be enough to accomplish everything you need to do to get a business off the ground. From that perspective, turning your back on opportunities sounds like crazy talk – but it’s not. Whenever you say no to one thing, you’re really saying yes to something else. It took me a while to truly internalize the yin and yang of this situation - it’s taken me even longer to put it into practice.

For my business, that means saying no to projects (and by projects I mean revenue, i.e. bread and butter) that aren’t in alignment with the brand I am building. If someone were to come up and offers me $10,000 to take on a PR project, I would say no. Why? Because the time, energy and resources I would invest in that type of project would build my expertise in PR – but it wouldn’t bring me closer to my goals when running a social marketing agency. If you’re going to stay strategically focused, you can’t take on opportunities that cause you to veer off your path – even if it’s a short term win, in the long run it’s a loss.

How to Avoid The Yes Trap

The first step to avoiding the yes trap is to define your vision. As the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland famously said: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” Once you have a clear vision, it becomes much easier to create a roadmap of activities and benchmarks that will help you get there. Every time I am presented with an opportunity, I hold it up against that roadmap and ask myself: will this help me achieve my goals? Or does it take me off course? If it takes me off course the answer is simple: no.

The Up Side to Saying No

The word no is often associated with guilt, failure and disappointment. However, when used correctly, it becomes a powerful ally that will drive your business forward. A few of the benefits of saying no are:

  • Increasing your time: reducing distractions will create more time and space for key initiatives that accelerate progress.
  • Thinking narrow and deep: the days of being spread too thin are over. Reprioritize time and use it to deep-dive into the projects that have the greatest impact.
  • Making informed decisions: no more throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. Make every choice count by mapping to big picture goals.
  • Measuring progress: every activity is an opportunity to measure progress. Setting benchmarks and goals is the key to achieving tangible results.

While saying yes might give you a sense of instant gratification, leveraging the power of “no” could be the secret to your success.

Women 2.0 readers: What other strategies do you use to stay on track? How has saying no benefited your personal or professional success?

125x125_Megan_Conley1About the guest blogger: Megan Conley is the CEO and Founder of Social Tribe. She was inspired to start Social Tribe to spur authenticity, value, creativity, in the work around her. Since opening in 2009, Social Tribe has landed and spearheaded numerous key accounts, serving clients such as Cisco Systems, Vivecoach Solutions, Watermark – For Exceptional Women, and the Canary Foundation. Follow her on Twitter at @megconley.

Photo credit: Brad Montgomery