Learning to say "No"When I work with clients, one of the first questions I ask usually surprises them:

“What services don’t you offer?”

After they figure out I’m serious, they’ll give me a list of things they don’t do. Then comes the next question:

“Why don’t you offer those services?”

Sometimes the answers are an obvious:

  • “My clients don’t want/need it.”
  • “I don’t have the right equipment.”
  • “I don’t know how to do that.”

But here’s an answer I rarely get, even though it’s often the underlying reason for the last two answers: “I can’t offer that service because I’m doing something else.”

When it comes to business strategy, we’re so quick to focus on the idea of what we should be doing that we often overlook what we’re already doing. For example, I suspect there’s at least one thing you still offer as a service or a product to clients that you 1) don’t really like; or 2) it takes so much time you don’t have any left to try something new.

There’s no question that being an entrepreneur comes with both good and bad things (friendly reminder: your estimated taxes are due June 15), but we do have some ability to kick more of the bad things to the curb. What’s stopping us from asking the question and doing something about it? I chalk it up to momentum and fear.

Even though it seems insanely hard at times to form a new habit, I’m still amazed at how hard it can be to stop doing something after you’ve started. Once we have momentum, it can feel like stopping isn’t really an option. You can’t possibly stop, because who knows what will happen next. At this point the fear starts, and it becomes incredibly easy for us to get caught up in this cycle.

But there’s a dangerous trap in this type of thinking. If you’re doing something because you always have and you’re afraid to say, “No, I won’t do that anymore,” you’re shutting the door on one of the most amazing aspects of entrepreneurship: possibility.

This loss was driven home, when I came across Kevin Ashton’s fantastic piece on creating and time.

“Time is the raw material of creation. Wipe away the magic and myth of creating and all that remains is work: the work of becoming expert through study and practice, the work of finding solutions to problems and problems with those solutions, the work of trial and error, the work of thinking and perfecting, the work of creating. Creating consumes. It is all day, every day. It knows neither weekends nor vacations. It is not when we feel like it. It is habit, compulsion, obsession, vocation. The common thread that links creators is how they spend their time. No matter what you read, no matter what they claim, nearly all creators spend nearly all their time on the work of creation. There are few overnight successes and many up-all-night successes.”

If we lose the ability to say no to what we’re doing now, we run the risk of losing the ability to say yes to doing something later. So ask the question and accept the consequences of the answer.

Over to you

What amazing service could you be offering if you said no to doing something else that’s not so amazing? It may mean big changes to your business, but it also means that you can reclaim two of the most valuable things an entrepreneur can have: time and possibility. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.