A few weeks ago I did a post on Instagram, where I dropped a bit of a truth bomb [aka, ‘what I wish someone had told me when I started my biz’] – and it was about how if you want to build a brand on your terms, you have to get comfortable with the word NO.
Nope. Nah. No thanks. Not today. Hell no. No.
When I polled my insta peeps about whether to do a podcast episode on this topic, I had a 100% ‘yes please!’ rate, which tells me that this is something you want to hear more about.
There are different types of no’s, and most likely, the first type of ‘no’ you have to get comfortable with as a business owner are the no’s that come from others — like potential clients (I know, it sucks). A no can come in any way, shape or form and it can have any number of reasons. The key to getting comfortable with this type of no is to not take it personally.
If a potential client says no to your offer, it might be that the timing is off. They might not have the budget to hire you. They might not have the time to fully focus on the proposed work. This is the case with me, there’s a group programme I am itching to be a part of, but if I’m realistic I know that I don’t have the brain capacity to get the most from it right now. Which brings me to a different type of no: I really hate having to say ‘no thanks’ to that person who is someone I admire and love to learn from. In this case it’s very much a case of ‘it’s not you, it’s me’. There is of course also a very real possibility that they just don’t like you – and yep, even these instances are not a reflection of you as a person! Remember that repelling some people is a good thing when it comes to branding. You may have applied for funding and had your application rejected. You may have had your book proposal rejected by a publisher…
There are so many different types of external no’s, but the most important no’s to get comfortable with, are the no’s that come from you. Your own boundaries.
Let me start with an example:
If you had told me in 2016, that I would say ‘thanks, but no thanks’ when asked to pitch for a potentially huge contract; and that doing so would feel empowering and liberating… I would have laughed in your face. Yet that’s happened twice, no… actually three times, in the past six months.
2016 me would have spent days preparing proposals for projects I secretly didn’t want. Because of the money, but also because I was afraid of what other people would say: ‘what kind of stuck-up and full-of-herself business owner does she think she is?’
Other people’s expectations can be such a bitch sometimes – especially when you’re a people pleaser like me. I hate letting people down!
So what makes 2022 me different to 2016 me? Well, 2022 me knows that all three of those projects were not a good fit for the kind of work I want to do, that I’d have to sacrifice a lot of freedom, and that they would make me wanna curl up and die. 2022 me knows what she wants, or more importantly: doesn’t want. She knows her values and her boundaries. And since turning forty, I find myself fast running out of fucks to give about what people might say.
Like I said: I’m a people pleaser… so saying NO does not come naturally to me. My two secret weapons are: solid brand foundations to lean on, my professional network, and encouragement from my community of business buddies.
Let me break that down for you:
Brand foundations. Because I’ve taken the time over the past five years to really get clear on my brand’s foundations, I have a strategy to support me in my business decisions. I know where I am, and (for the most part) I know where I want to go. I know what I stand for, I know my core values and beliefs. I know what I am great at, I know the kind of work I want to be doing, and the type of clients I want to work with. I also definitely know the types of clients I will not work with. I know my non-negotiables. That makes it a lot easier to be discerning when an opportunity comes my way: ‘Is this project a good fit? Will I enjoy it? Does it align with my values and beliefs? Does it help me move towards, or away from, my goals?’
This isn’t just useful for turning down less than ideal client projects – you can use those same brand foundations to decide whether or not to say yes to speaking opportunities, requests for donations, invitations to be on someone’s podcast, invitations from others to be on your podcast, proposed collaborations, free trainings, paid trainings, anything really. I’ve had some cool opportunities come my way, that could have been great – but that I had to let go because they’d be taking time away from something I have defined as more important to me and my brand right now. That’s not to say circumstances can’t change. My ‘no’ is not a reflection of how I feel about the person reaching out with that opportunity – it’s a reflection of the current situation as a whole.
Also: if I say yes to something ‘just to be kind’ – and then I don’t have the time or the capacity or the enthusiasm to follow it up in a way that honours the other person’s time and commitment, is that even kind at all? If I say yes to a project or a client I can see is not a great fit, and I end up resenting the whole project and not turning out my best work – is that kind? This shift in how I think about saying no, has been a game changer for me.
That said, how you say no also matters. A lot. From being on the receiving end of the word no, you probably already know that it can bring up all sorts of crappy feelings of rejection. When you do need to say ‘no’ make sure you do it in a respectful, but firm way. Explain politely, in clear and neutral language, the reasons why you’re saying no. And don’t fall for the temptation of ‘but I mean, I suppose I could maybe, if this and that…’ False expectations are never good.
Another thing that can make it easier to say no, is something I have already mentioned in episode 39, where I talk about how to handle it when someone comes to you for services you don’t offer. It’s your network. Growing my network of online and irl business friends has made it so much easier for me to decline less than ideal opportunities that come my way. So instead of saying ‘No thanks, I don’t want to, goodbye!’, you can say: ‘I don’t think this opportunity is a great fit for me right now, but I know someone I think could help you, would you like me to put you in touch with them?’ That immediately feels better, right?
When you have a network of skilled experts that you can refer people to, people will know you have their best interests at heart and you’re not just saying no to be an asshole. It really is a triple-win situation: You get to focus on the opportunities you do want, the person reaching out to you feels seen and appreciated, and you help support another business owner by sending business opportunities their way.
Within your extended professional network, chances are that you have some connections that feel deeper than others; like an inner circle (or several!) of other business owners who are your peers and who you click with because you share the same values or mindset. These people are gold.
When you set out on that journey towards getting comfortable with the word no, defining and acting on your boundaries, you’re gonna feel that doubt creep in. The voice in your head that says ‘Who are you to turn down these opportunities that others would kill for? So, what? You think you’re better than others, huh?’ – that voice becomes easier to ignore when you have encouragement and support from people who get you, who have been dealing with the same issues themselves. For me, that validation is priceless. My ‘inner circle’ of business friends is growing, much thanks to this podcast and my amazing guests, but also via free and paid groups I’ve been a part of, mentors and coaches I’ve worked with… and let me just tell you: I would not have reached this level of confidence around my own boundaries if it weren’t for them.
They’re far too many to name, but if you’re listening: you know who you are! Know that I’m grateful to have you in my corner!
So! If saying ‘no’ makes you feel mean, or you often find yourself saying yes ‘just to be kind’ or because you’re afraid of what people will say, I want you to imagine what it would be like if you had the confidence to feel good about saying no. No to those projects that make you feel icky, require you to sell your soul or sacrifice your integrity, clients who don’t respect your time and expertise, last-minute soul-sucking rush jobs that aren’t *really* within what you offer, speaking opportunities that feel more like a chore than exciting…
Would it feel like a relief?
And now, for my shameless plug: You see, I would love to help you define and implement that brand strategy that you can use to lean on when you make business decisions, and you bet I’ll be there to back you up and cheer you on as you find your confidence. Depending on where you’re at in your business, that support could come in different forms.
If you’re in ‘I just need a quick booster dose of strategy and encouragement’ mode, then a 1:1 Brand it! strategy session could be a great option for you.
If you’re looking for more long term support and to dig really deep into your brand strategy in an intimate and supportive community of peers, then my 12-week group programme could be the best option. I’m planning a second cohort of that for August/September of this year, 2022. I’ll officially start enrolling people for that in August, but the waitlist is open as we speak. (There is no obligation to buy anything if you get on the list, you’ll just be first in line and get the best price).
Either of those options will also give you the opportunity to join my upcoming alumni group once that launches later in the year, it’s going to only be open for past and existing clients and group programme alumni, and my goal for that is to offer up that continued support, community and encouragement.
Until next time,
Pssst! If you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss the next one! I’d also be super grateful if you’d share my podcast with a biz friend or two, or leave me a review.