If there's one underrated skill for founders, it's knowing how--and when--to say "no."
Entrepreneurs are often deluged by requests for their time, input, and advice. While these requests are often well-meaning, it has to be said that they're not always worth the effort--whereas tending to matters of your business usually are. We asked 10 successful founders from the Young Entrepreneur Council to share their strategies to politely--but firmly--say "no." Their best answers are below.
1. Offer Another Target
If I'm too busy and an entrepreneur or student asks me for advice, I often refer them to the place where I learned my lessons on the subject. It's useful, plus they're going to learn more from the experts and their blogs or books than they could ever learn from me. --Neil Thanedar,LabDoor
2. Tell the Truth: It Won't Be Helpful
As an entrepreneur who also owns a digital marketing agency, I get many "Can you help me out?" requests from people in my personal network. Over the years, I've learned that every time I say yes, I end up too busy to provide significant value. The response I use now is truly honest: "I'd love to help, but it wouldn't be fair to you. I have too much going on to give you the attention you deserve." --Justin Spring, BringShare
3. Let Them Know You Appreciate the Consideration
Show appreciation for the fact that the person sought you out and wants your assistance. Explain why you are swamped--most entrepreneurs will have a long list--and suggest someone he or she might ask in your place. --Alexandra Levit, Inspiration at Work
4. Offer a Solution
Rather than just saying no, give them a set of circumstances for what will create a "yes," or recommend another way for them to get it done. This earns you goodwill like you wouldn't believe. I usually try forwarding their request on to someone else who I think can help. --Adam Lieb, Duxter
5. Require Action From Them
If I'm too busy to offer the time necessary to someone who requests it but don't want to say no, I ask the person to follow up in X amount of time. Admittedly, this is a weed-out process. If I don't hear from her again, or at least in the proper amount of response time, she's said no to me. If she does contact me, then I'm willing to take the time to connect. --Darrah Brustein, Finance Whiz Kids | Equitable Payments
6. Limit Your Involvement
In our business, there are many early-stage companies looking for help and guidance prior to getting funded. It is not in our business model to work with companies prior to funding, but I'm happy to give these folks a bit of assistance to get their businesses off the ground. I always give some time and advice to help talk through their issues, but I am very careful to limit my involvement. --David Ehrenberg,Early Growth Financial Services
7. Create a Template That's Honest But Firm
I copy and paste a template I have on my desktop. The subject line of my email: "No, too busy, really sorry." I think that this approach is actually nicer than a vague paragraph that leaves the door open as to whether or not I might be free in the future. --Jordan Fliegel, CoachUp
8. Give a Conditional "No"
Rarely actually say no. "No" closes the doors through which better opportunities could come. Instead, make your decline conditional. State your current commitments and priorities (because the person may be able to be accommodated at some point). Encourage the person to keep sending opportunities your way, and offer to be in contact if anything changes. --Manpreet Singh, Seva Call
9. Make Your "Yes" Stronger Than Your "No"
Saying no is a muscle that needs to be exercised. If you don't practice it, you'll never get good at it. Train your mind to say "no" because whatever you do instead needs to be more important. Does this mean more time with friends and family? Time to take care of yourself and hit the gym? Time to focus on mission-critical tasks? Whatever you are saying "yes" to instead has to be strong. --Matt Wilson, Under30Media
10. Just Say No!
Being polite is overrated--it's more important to be upfront and honest. If it's not worth your time, don't sugarcoat it. Decline the offer and let the individual know you have other commitments that require your attention, and keep it moving. --Anthony Saladino, Kitchen Cabinet Kings
The YOUNG ENTREPRENEUR COUNCIL is an invitation-only organization composed of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program. @YEC