When I started my first business, I thought the secret of success lay in one word: "yes."

I was wrong.

It's easy to fall into this way of thinking. If you're willing to take on every task that comes your way and pursue every business opportunity presented to you, you're bound to succeed through hard work and determination alone, right?

If you refuse a task or say "no" to something, you might be passing up a great opportunity or showing people who matter that you're not willing to work extra hard for that extra revenue.

But every "yes" comes with a cost.

Saying "yes" to everything means you can eventually end up with too many products to advertise, too many business units to support, too many goals, too many key performance indicators to track and just plain too much of everything. You spread your resources thin chasing too many things, especially in the earlier stages of your company.

For the natural Scrooges among us, the word "no" comes easily. However, many of us will say "yes" even when we want to say "no" because we:

  • Have a desire to please others around us and "yes" becomes a tool for doing that.
  • Feel that if we don't say "yes" to doing something, nobody else will either and the task won't get done.
  • Believe the word "yes" will get us something, even if we don't know exactly what at the time.
  • Are surprised by a request and do not know what to say other than "yes" because it's the easiest thing to say.
  • Overestimate our abilities, resources, time and the benefit we will get as a result of saying "yes."

I'm no "no-saying expert" or anything, but I have developed a checklist for myself to follow when I am burning to say "yes."

Here are six steps to follow:

1. Calculate the True Cost of Saying Yes

It is important to calculate what "yes" might mean for you and your resources for the long term, not just the immediate future. It might be a good idea to open a new branch or product line to hit a goal or expand your offerings, but what costs would that mean in the long term and are those costs really worth it?

2. Compare the Cost With Something Valuable

If calculating the true cost does not convince you to say "no," compare that amount with something you truly value. For example, compare the cost of opening that new location to hiring new people for your sales or marketing team.

If it is a question of time, compare the amount of time you will have to put into the new venture to time you have for yourself or family.

3. Remember Your Most Important Long Term Goals

Remember your top three business and personal goals for the next 10 years and ask yourself if this "yes" would contribute to those goals. If not, why say "yes?"

4. Think of the Opportunity Cost

No "yes" is free. And even if you might have the time and resources to say "yes" to a particular request or opportunity right now, is it really in your best interests? Remember that saying "yes" to something now most certainly means having to say "no" to something later.

That nice perk to offer employees sounds great now, but would that mean having less money to potentially increase 401(k) contributions for your employees in the future?

5. Remember That Saying No is an Active Act

Us entrepreneurs are doers. We like to be proactive and not stay idle, which is usually a good thing.

However, this can often lead us to saying "yes" to things just so we can avoid staying idle. Just like talking is not superior to listening, saying "yes" to doing something is not automatically superior to saying "no" to it.

And just like listening is an active act (if you think it's passive, you're doing it wrong), refusing to do something is an active act, too, especially if you are saying "no" to it so you can concentrate on other, more important things.

6. Be Nice When You Say No

Just because you're saying "no" doesn't mean you have to be rude about it. Be nice, be respectful, be firm and ignore any nagging feelings that you have to say yes.

Saying "no," especially when you're just starting out in business, can seem like you're shutting the door on opportunity and advertising that you're not willing to work hard, but that's simply not the case. You're showing that you have priorities, you have goals and you have a clearly defined path you're following and you're discerning about what you agree to.

Published on: Jan 4, 2017