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7 Tips for Handling Frequent Rejection

Welcome to the life of the entrepreneur: You're going to hear "no" a lot, so get used to it--and learn to get better at it.
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When you're in the early days of starting a company, rejection is a daily fact of life. It can come at you from all sides: your family, potential customers, investors, partners, and more.

Now, you can view a "no" as an opportunity to change your approach, emboldening you to keep at it and stay positive. Or, you can let constant disappointment dictate your mood and block your progress.

What's the difference between those two opposing reactions? Everything. Here's a simple process for making sure rejection doesn't bring you down:

1. Find out if the rejection is legit.

I like to start here, because you have to know the truth. Not every negative response is legit--or based on fact. Let's say you lose a potential client because they assume what they need is outside the scope of your business. If it isn't, then that client rejected you based on misinformation, which is something you can correct. Easy fix. Make sure you find out if there is a basis for the rejection.

2. Don't ignore the rejection...

If the rejection was warranted, it's a good idea to think about the reason. It's okay to say to yourself: "That really is disappointing and I'm a little irritated by this response--I didn't do enough legwork or I screwed up." Accepting the blame is a healthy way to process rejection. Let it sink in a little until you realize why you cared so much.

3. ...But don't dwell on it too much.

I used to sulk when I received bad news, thinking that somehow wallowing in my misery would make the rejection easier to accept. It doesn't. In my job as a writer, I've received thousands--yes, thousands--of rejections for pitches. After so many years in this role, I still feel a sense of disappointment when the answer is no, but I don't let it ruin my day. In fact, I can honestly say I view most daily rejections as a way to improve.

4. Start asking questions.

Here's a common reaction to a negative response. Let's say you receive an email turning you down about something important to you or important to your business. You might decide to trash the email in frustration. (I've also tried the technique where I lash out at the person who rejected me--that never works.) Instead, take the opportunity to ask questions. The person who rejected you at least took the time to respond. Maybe that same person will take the time to explain how you screwed up.

5. Ask yourself what you can learn.

It's really important to analyze why something was rejected in the first place, especially after you have all of the facts. In most cases, I go back and re-read my idea or think about whether I was even asking the right person about a topic and analyze whether it was more about my approach than anything. It's easy to blame; it's better to improve. Also, keep your rejections close at hand--archive them and even re-read them as a way to learn what you did wrong.

6. Immediately look for a new answer.

It's time to move immediately into action. That's the ultimate salve. The rejection becomes a springboard to taking a new and improved approach. View the "no" from that investor as the kick you needed to finance your startup yourself. Or, if a big customer rejects your plan on a new project, start tweaking the project and find a new customer.

7. Keep at it.

The last step in this chain of handling rejection is the most important by a mile. Keep persevering; don't give in to failure. When I first started writing, after the first few dozen rejection letters, I could have just decided to do something else and let the rejections determine my fate. Instead, I kept learning--and pitching--until someone finally decided to give me a positive response. Here I am, 13 years later, still pounding the pavement. I'd love to say that the rejections have completely stopped, but they haven't. And that's a good thing--it's how I keep learning to get better.

Last updated: May 6, 2014

JOHN BRANDON | Columnist

John Brandon is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine covering technology. He writes the Tech Report column for Inc.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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