Small business owners tend to worry about declining any opportunity. But saying no needn’t necessarily impact on the bottom line. Quite the opposite, says Dr Mike Clayton
Entrepreneurs tend to be go-get-it, just-do-it people with an ethos of taking on stuff and delivering. That can be dangerous in an environment where dogged determination and calculated risk-taking are the real keys to making a sound proposition into a successful business. Too many of the brilliant ideas and instant inspirations tend to be nothing more than a distraction from what really matters in launching, sustaining and growing your business.
Success, therefore, demands you are able to evaluate every opportunity on its merits, and do so quickly and accurately. Saying yes to everything will spread your talents and time too thinly. You will dissipate your energy and your business will fail. What you need to do is say yes to the right things and that means being willing and able to say no to the rest. But if you are a restless person eager to try something new, as many entrepreneurs are, when an opportunity comes along, you will simply want to go for it. This ‘gopher’ mentality will lead you down blind alleyways. And if you are a positive person who would hate to be seen as negative, saying no seems like the ultimate in failure.
Turn no into a positive
You know that success comes from focusing on what matters to the exclusion of all other distractions. When you do this, a no becomes an ‘N.O.’ – a noble objection. A noble objection is noble because it turns down opportunities that do not conform to your mission: to building and growing a successful business.
When to say NO
Here are some essential criteria for a noble objection: the right reasons to say no:
• Your ‘to don’t’ list
You have a list of things that you never get around to doing. And you never will do them, because they are the ‘shoulds’ in your life – the poor relations of the ‘musts’ that get done with gritted teeth. But you still feel guilty about them, which is a waste of energy. Mark them as ‘to don’t’ and just say no.
• Negative thinking
As an entrepreneur, you will have setbacks. It is how you interpret them that matters. Three forms of negative thinking are particularly toxic for business owners.
Personalisation: believing ‘It’s me – it’s my fault – I’m the problem’
Pervasiveness: believing ‘This will happen whatever I do – there’s no way out’
Persistence: believing ‘It’s always happened – it always will – there’s no stopping it’
Focus on the big picture and the important details. This will keep your work directed towards success. Big thinkers, big players and big people avoid pettiness of all sorts. They turn a blind eye to small failings and direct their attention to the big issues.
• Mindless repetition
What can you automate to make your business and your life simpler, and create more space for creative thinking, winning business, delighting your customers and getting your products and services just right?
• Meaningless distraction
Don’t get me wrong: we all need a break – hardworking entrepreneurs more than most. But know the distinction between distraction and relaxation. You need to properly relax and recharge. Simply letting yourself get distracted from what is important is ‘purposeless procrastination’. Do not confuse it with a proper break.
And when to say YES
Knowing clearly what you want to achieve is a pre-requisite for wise choices. The late Stephen Covey said it as well as anyone else, with his second habit: “begin with the end in mind.” As an entrepreneur, you should always know what success will look and feel like for your business. With outcomes established, say yes to opportunities that will move you towards these goals.
You will get nowhere if you wait for the universe to give you the answers, the resources, or the opportunities you want. Great entrepreneurs go out and make things happen. Don’t wait for the phone to ring; pick it up. Don’t wait for the advert to work its magic; get out there and sell. Don’t wait for the focus group to report back; go out and meet some real users, and talk with them. Act as a catalyst and create the opportunities for changes that you want.
It is a cliché that generosity rewards the giver because it is, more frequently than not, true. Don’t get so caught up in what you want as to stop being a ‘mensch’ – a person. Be a part of your community and your society and contribute in some meaningful way. Who knows, you may meet other like-minded business people from whom you can learn new skills or pick up great ideas.
Luck, superstition and gut instinct are for amateurs. For real success, take in all available evidence and assess it objectively. We create our own luck by doing the right things for long enough for the statistics to support our actions. Superstition creates fear and futility and robs us of control. Gut instinct only works when you have trained your intuition to the very highest levels.
Focus is good but, over the course of a week and a month, balance your attention between different areas of your business and of your life. In business, too much focus becomes tunnel vision. Balancing your life is the secret not to achievement, but to fulfilment. The question to ponder is: what is achievement for?’