You May Have to Say No.

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An unusual thing has happened in the second half of 2020 for my consultancy: I’ve started turning away work.

When I started this business, if a client approached me and I thought it was a good fit, I almost always said “yes” to the work. Even as I took on additional clients, I kept saying “yes,” since I still had a manageable workload.

But as 2020’s progressed, and I’ve learned more about what each client needs, and how time-intensive some of these projects are, I’ve gotten more selective about saying “yes”. I know that saying “yes” to a project I don’t have the time for is even worse than saying “no” — because it keeps the client from finding another partner to take on the work they need done.

I hate saying “no.” My default position is “yes” — I like trying to find solutions, and I like trying to help. I especially hate saying “no” to exciting projects. But sometimes, “no” is the right answer.

And even when I say “no,” I try to be transparent about why I’ve said so, and when I might be able to work with this client. A few clients have asked if they can sign on to start working with me a few months down the road, and we’ve set up a schedule that works for everyone. A lot of these are businesses that have been around for years or decades — turns out that waiting another 60 or 90 days to get started isn’t that big of a deal.

Other times, I’ll recognize that the client needs help ASAP, and I’ll pass along the lead to another consultant or freelancer who I think can help. If I can direct them to a good partner to take on the work, that’s still a fantastic outcome.

I know as the business grows, I’ll have to be even more selective about what I say “yes” to. Taking on new clients? Launching new products? Hiring staff for Inbox Collective? These aren’t questions I can easily say “yes” to. I need to continue to be honest with my partners — and myself — about what I can truly do, and do well.


That photo of a traffic signal comes via Kai Pilger and Unsplash.