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How saying 'no' helps you live longer (and happier) in business.


If we're honest with ourselves (it's ok, you're amongst friends here), we all have at least one client, colleague or business unit that we look back on working with and think 'what a nightmare that was', or 'I wonder why they rode us so hard'. Chances are, it's your own fault. Maybe not individually, but as a team, or a company.

The following words aren't the elixir of life, nor are they some wonder diet. They are however, are a guide on how to live a longer (and happier) life in business whether you are an entrepreneur or a one company career-lifer.


On the face of it, expectations are fundamental in business. But it so often goes unaddressed and results in significant internal and external friction that I often wonder if the importance is misunderstood.

You are meeting with a client, colleague or team for the first time. You turn up promptly, sit in that meeting, make your introductions and small-talk about the weather, your journey and how bad the traffic/tube was en route. Afterwards, you walk out and think 'that was nice', but no real value has been added by either side beyond an initial hello.

Unless you set and agree a clear set of expectations upfront, any subsequent working relationship is going to follow the same pattern leading to frustrations on both sides. The wrong people will be involved, the timeline will soon expand (along with the budget), the project development will suffer, along with the delivery and subsequent perceived quality by the key stakeholder(s).

If you can't meet expectations, even with reasonable adjustments, say 'no'.

One-hit wonders

Like our favourite one-hit wonders from <insert decade>, over time, one big hit doesn't do us any favours.

Having a big name from your respective industry is great, but if your product/service doesn't do what they want/need, it will result in ill-feeling and subsequent long-term damage.

Depending on one big client (or a small handful) is dangerous - it could be a slow and painful death or see your business put in the ground before you know what is happening. It limits bandwidth. Having focus on one pain point removes creativity, it removes the ability to develop new products/services. Worse still, it reduces your ability to service other clients and their needs.

If you can't afford to commit the resources required to any one (or handful) of client(s), say 'no'.

Cultural fit

Every company, division, region, team and individual are different and have a different approach to business. For any project to be a success there has to be a natural alignment.

Some of the best (and most successful) projects are a result of great cultural fit. I'm not saying we should sit around on beanbags all day, eat dinner at each other's houses, have sleepovers and become BFFs, but have shared a vision, a mutual way of working and understanding of how everyone is accountable for the success (or failure) or the project.

If you are the type of person that likes to still be awake at 3am replying to/sending e-mails and you're talking to a prospective client / team who leaves the office at 2pm on a Wednesday and returns on Friday for an hour. You should probably say 'no'.

Wasted time

As the old adage goes 'You have to speculate to accumulate'. It's still true today. But the problem is, today we are even more time-poor than any previous generation. Why? There are a few reasons, but for the purpose of this approach we will focus on technology. We are easier to get hold of than ever before. We can be sat at Everest Basecamp and we would still get an e-mail/phone call. But time is our most precious resource; time is finite.

Entrepreneurs and career-lifers alike can easily spend all of their time producing RFP-after-RFP, pitch-after-pitch and attend networking event after networking event without little traction.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Can we reasonably compete on this RFP?
  • Is this pitch good enough and to the right audience?
  • What do I want/need from this networking event, can I get it?

If you can't answer these questions with genuine belief or reason, guess what? You should probably say 'no'.


Do you have any justifications you'd like to share for saying 'no' to something? Let me know and I'll publish in a later, updated article. Thanks for reading.

Original Post.