As a business owner, you have to work within a lot of confines—a small (or no) staff, a limited budget and only so many hours in the day. If you've made your business a success, you're probably a master of saying 'no' to tasks that aren't important or should be handled by someone else, or some outside service.
But saying 'no' is about more than delegating and declining tasks. 'No' is the most strategic decision you have at your disposal as an entrepreneur.
The direction you take your company involves saying 'no' to many opportunities. The fact is, many opportunities sound like they align with your business and could be a gold mine. But you need to understand what could provide the most long-term growth for your business. And you need to say 'no' to what won't.
The answer usually isn't simple. And I've faced these tough decisions many times running SurePayroll. For example, we sell online payroll services to small businesses. A few people tried to persuade me that offering payroll services for larger businesses ranging anywhere from 250 to 10,000 employees would be a great way to expand our services. Seems like a logical next step, right?
After doing some research, we found out it wasn't. While we could certainly generate revenue from bigger clients, processing payroll for a company with 10 employees versus one with 10,000 is an entirely different ballgame. Our technology, systems and processes are designed for small business needs and questions. Accommodating the large-employer market would have meant a complete overhaul of every aspect of our business. While it was very hard to deny a sales rep with a hot prospect from a large company that could have brought in badly needed revenue, we said 'no.'
Because providing payroll to larger companies wasn't a good fit, it doesn't mean I've never said 'yes' to expanding our line of services. Cross-selling is a great strategy to gain more revenue and provide more value to your customers. When considering services (or products) to cross-sell, saying 'no' may be a matter of timing.
When we researched adding 401(k), health insurance and workers' comp. insurance, we discovered that a majority of our customers and prospects need them, but the timing needed to be right before we committed to these new business services. I said 'no' in the beginning so we could focus on growing our core business. Once we grew our customer base enough to hit the critical mass for cross-selling, we added these benefits to our services.
And when I said 'yes,' I put the people and resources in place so I wouldn't spend my time working on these services. Don't forget that a big part of saying 'yes' to an opportunity is saying 'no' — saying 'no' to the day-to-day responsibilities and finding someone, or some service, to take care of it for you.
Remember to consider the strategy for your company and not just the day-to-day operations as you evaluate an opportunity. Obviously SurePayroll's day-to-day operations changed when we added these new services, and we needed more resources. I couldn't do it all myself. You may not be able to either, and you shouldn't be afraid of an opportunity that requires you to hire or contract experts with the experience and knowledge you don't have.
But don't be afraid to say 'no' when the opportunity is not strategically aligned with your business. I would have failed years ago if I never did.
MICHAEL ALTER is president of SurePayroll, America’s leading online payroll service. He received an MBA from the Harvard Business School and holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Northwestern University. @michaelalter