Why sometimes it’s ok to say no to things

As small business owners we are passionate and driven, there’s no doubt – we wouldn’t put ourselves through the highs and lows of being in business if we were not fuelled by a deep seated, sometimes crazy, burning desire for “more”.  But often this drive can result in a relentless and directionless push to keep moving forward, to keep growing the business and to grab every opportunity by the horns.

I was faced recently with a situation that really challenged my decision making.  On the outside this situation seemed like an amazing opportunity for Atticus so the natural inclination was to go “hell, YES!”.

It was shiny and bright and new but…I hesitated.  And when I hesitate there’s normally a good reason.  There’s a lesson here in respecting yourself and listening to your gut instinct.

I thought long and hard about this opportunity – I’m mindful of our current workload, the needs of my team and my clients vs the time and money commitment that would be involved.  I have a roadmap of projects and initiatives that we’ve laid out for Atticus and out of respect to my team, our clients, the Atticus brand, and not least of all myself I try to diligently “stick to the plan.”  But I must always be open to new ideas. What a dilemma.

At the end of the day I made the decision that this was not the right time for Atticus.  My Mum’s wise words kept replaying in my head – “don’t burn the candle at both ends.”

That might seem like an odd saying in this case as it may simply conjure up images of burn out or perhaps the days of your 20’s – late night parties.  But to me it means something more in this context…”a life filled with distraction, lived frenetically and unsustainably.”

I believe there’s more opportunity and learning in what we say no to rather than what we say yes to.

Any hard-working business owner no doubt has opportunities thrown at them that would appear on the surface to be amazing – opportunities that have the potential to catapult the business into the next level.  Yes, sometimes these opportunities are exactly that but if not considered carefully they can be a distraction and lead to a business that is frenetic and unsustainable.

If faced with this decision take an objective and high-level review of the opportunity – does it match with your personal values, with the business’ values, is it congruent with the other projects you have already time-lined in your business?  If it’s a yes to the first two then other projects might need to be side-lined or deferred.  It’s both as simple and difficult as that, but most importantly it is a clear and measured decision.

For instance, I “tested” our opportunity against these things and it just didn’t quite fit, not right now anyway.  I also tested it against our marketing and growth strategy – I’ll be honest with you – my goal at Atticus is not to grow a huge business – I like that we are a small close knit and nimble team working with other amazing business owners who are just like us.  And we appreciate it when those business owners trust us enough to refer other like-minded business owners.  That’s the ultimate compliment, thank you.  But that’s a very different approach compared to a year-on-year double-digit growth strategy.  Neither are wrong, they are just different – but whatever the strategy it’s important to stick to it, respect it and make sure your day-to-day decisions align.

So for us, right now it was an opportunity in wolf’s clothing.  For various reasons it did not fit the strategic direction of Atticus so I said no!  I admit not without regret but I’m confident that by saying no I can focus on my amazing team, our equally amazing clients as well as dedicate some quality time to our other projects that we have already road-mapped, planned and made a commitment to.

Saying yes to everything that looks good and trying to power through unsustainable and frenetic growth might feel like fun for a while but ultimately the candle gets burned out at both ends.  The candle in this case is a metaphorical representation of yourself, your family, your financial resources, your team and your clients.  These things deserve to get respected (yourself included).

It’s critical to always have an open mind but this comes with the responsibility to test each opportunity against your personal and business values, goals and finally apply the “does it feel right test?”.  If it’s just a distraction, albeit a shiny and exciting one, it’s ok to say a respectful no.

Finally I feel what was also important about this decision was the communication to my key stakeholders.  Why did I believe this is not the right thing for Atticus right now.  This could easily have been a disappointment to my team if they thought that I had just let this opportunity drift into the sunset.  I had made a clear and measured decision so it’s important to educate your team on the direction of the business and re-affirm how this opportunity does (or does not) fit within the business goals and values.

Overall this is a lesson in respecting yourself and those around you.  I recently heard a quote from Steve Claydon, a local Toowoomba business owner (if you are not following this guy you should be) who said that “you need to get better at saying no than you are at saying yes.”.

It can take some practice but the rewards are there, so good luck!

Here are some tips to help you get started:

Apply the 24-hour rule.

When you receive invitations or opportunities, allow yourself a 24-hour window. There is very little that is so important it can’t wait one day for an answer. Take this time to consider carefully what this opportunity or invitation will mean for you. Does it fulfil either a personal or professional goal? What else would you have to sacrifice in order to do it? Is it worth your time?

Learn to be firm but gracious.

We are all good at saying yes, but we need to learn to say no without making excuses or feeling guilty. You don’t always need to give a reason – sometimes just saying ‘thanks but no thanks’ is enough.

Build some fences and don’t compromise them.

This can be the hardest part! Often people have expectations of us because we allow them to do so. Establishing some rules about what you will and won’t say ‘yes’ to isn’t easy, but it will pay off in long run. It definitely gets easier the more you do it!

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