There will come a time when you, as the business owner, need to start saying no.  It’s far too often than I see business owners running themselves ragged for projects that don’t make them money. Or, I see them taking deals that, quite frankly, are not fair to them.

If we expect to actually make money, we need to learn how to start saying no. This seems counterintuitive, and I admit that I didn’t understand it for a long time. After all, aren’t we supposed to take every opportunity that comes our way? Isn’t that how you build a successful business?

The answer is yes and no. In the beginning, we definitely have to say yes to opportunities. This is because we’re just getting started. Additionally, we don’t yet have the experience to know what works for us and what doesn’t. We may also want to try our hands at different things until we figure out what actually makes us money. I know this is something I definitely did for years as I uncovered what my business should be. Those days of experimenting were really valuable for the brand I have today.

However – and this is a big however – at some point this needs to stop. This is because at some point you need to narrow your focus otherwise your message becomes muddled. Additionally, at some point, you’re simply too busy and your time is too valuable to do stuff that won’t move the needle forward.

It’s business owners who don’t know when or how to start saying no that usually suffer from the following:

I know because unfortunately I see it all the time. I also used to do it myself until I learned how to get more comfortable with saying no. Here are some of my hard-learned tips for learning how to say no as a business owner.

Accept the fact that you will feel guilty.

A lot of us are people pleasers. We want to make sure we look good and do our best by people. Sometimes this leads us to overextending ourselves to our own detriment. Because of this, we often feel pangs of guilt when we say no because we feel like we’re letting someone down.

It’s time to get over it. Or accept the fact that yes, you’re going to feel guilty, but it’s not the end of the world.

The reality is that we need to take care of ourselves before we can be there for other people. Kind of like the airplane oxygen mask instructions where they tell you to put your own mask on first. You need to make sure you’re breathing and don’t pass out before you can help someone else with their mask.

Think of it this way. If you’re overextending yourself one of two things happens. Either you start dropping the ball and do shoddy work or you start resenting the people who are asking you to do stuff. Either way, it affects the quality of work. So, in actuality, saying yes when you should be saying no doesn’t serve anyone.

Determine your priorities.

If you’re overscheduling yourself, it’s likely because you don’t have any priorities. At some point in your life and business your priorities become pretty basic. For example, my priorities include making money, spending time with friends and family and catering to my own health.

This means that at this stage in my career if it doesn’t make me money somehow then I’m not doing it. This tends to really narrow down the list for me. Additionally, if it gets in the way of personal time or my health, I’m not doing it either.

This is one of the reasons I’ve taken a break from so much travel this year. First, it was getting in the way of making money because I was distracted and burned out. Second, my priorities shifted toward focusing on some things in my personal life and that requires me to be in one place for a while.

The less time I have, the more valuable it becomes. Which segues into my next point.


Realize your time is literally money.

As a business owner, your time is literally money. You’re not getting paid a salary therefore you need to actually be productive with your time. It also means you need to focus on projects that are a fair exchange of value for your time.

For example, earlier today I saw an email go out for some spokesperson work for a major brand. The requirements were absolutely included having influencers shut down the ads on their sites and exclusivity for three months. The requirements themselves weren’t that crazy had they offered proper compensation. Instead, they had a low-ball offer which makes the effort pointless because you’ll probably lose money in the end due to the requirements.

The sad part is, someone will take that gig. They will take it either because they don’t know they should be getting paid thousands for this kind of work or because they will take anything. In either scenario, they’ve said yes to something that takes away their time, energy and money.

Another example is continuing to do things that have already proven not to yield any revenue. Granted, this looks different for everyone, but you know what that is for your business. Why continue doing it? Especially when you likely don’t need any exposure as you already have plenty.

Set boundaries and stick to them.

As a business owner, taking back your time means you need to stick to the boundaries you put forth. This means that saying no is only one part of the equation. You need to say no and act accordingly.

This may look like walking away from a project because it doesn’t pay enough, even though you’re worried you’re blowing it. Either they come back offering more money or you don’t have to waste your time. It’s a win win either way.

If you don’t do that, you send the message that you don’t value yourself therefore they shouldn’t either. One way in which business owners do this is by immediately offering discounts on their services when no one even mentioned it. Or, someone says they can’t afford it and instead of saying no and walking away, the business owner lowballs themselves.

It may also look like doing things that make you uncomfortable. Like not immediately answering every email that comes in. Or saying no when colleagues are in town because you’re burned out from business travel. Or in some cases, setting someone straight.

Final Thoughts

Setting boundaries isn’t just a radical act of self-care, it’s a radical act of self-respect. And, in the business world, having respect will get you really far.  Not only will it help you earn more money, but you won’t be constantly stressed out by things that are completely unnecessary.

So either you make more money or you have more time. In most cases, it’s both. It’s taken me five years to see how this actually works, don’t make the same mistakes I did and start saying no from the beginning.