For many entrepreneurs, saying yes can easily become a bad habit they just can’t shake. But as we established in part one of this series, saying no isn’t always a bad thing – in fact it can often be a crucial contributor to your success. 

Still, while you may know the importance of saying no, it can be hard to know where to start. 

Sociologist and author Professor Maja suggests embracing the chaos of entrepreneurial life and, as she puts it, “dropping the ball” to have a more streamlined focus.  

This article has more great tips on how to improve your focus. 

“I had to lower my own perfectionist expectations of what I thought I could achieve and how well I could achieve them,” she said. “Your house is messier; you’re going to buy takeout instead of cooking meals from scratch. At the end of the day, I have to review ‘what did I do today to move my business forward?’ I’m still taking care of these things, but I don’t have this perfectionist expectations anymore.” 

Since it’s not possible for you to do everything, you need to use your selective powers and focus on what’s important; dropping the ball in the less important areas will allow you to do that.  

But how do you determine what is truly important to you and your business? According to Simon Sinek, you need to find your why. 

Sinek’s popular TED Talk on finding your ‘why’ has had a profound impact on many people, including Maja. In his presentation, Sinek explores how organizations become successful when they inspire others, and they inspire by knowing why they do what they do, not just the what or how. 

“I started looking at ‘well why am I saying yes to this? It became much easier for me to say no to things, to people and experiences, because they were not moving me closer to my why. A lot of us don’t answer that question – we’ll tell you what product we have, what service we have, but we can’t connect it to why, and the why is really what sets us apart as entrepreneurs. 

“When somebody asks something now, of me, I really think about that, but I also think about Sarah Night’s book. She said that when somebody asks something of you, think about these three things: do you have the time, do you have the energy, and do you have the resources to say yes to that request,” she said. “We often don’t think about that; we just blindly say yes to everything.” 

If you want to go even further, Maja suggests asking yourself how each opportunity will help your business grow. 

However, new entrepreneurs are often the exception, unable to say no as they try to determine what works for them, find their place in the market and pin down their clientele.  

“When you’re new, saying yes to everything is sort of part of the game, but then once you become established or you’ve got a clear understanding of why you do what you do, then I think saying no becomes much easier.” 

One reason it becomes easier, she says, is that once you’re a more established entrepreneur, you realize some opportunities won’t align with your values and goals, meaning it will no longer be profitable for you to take on every request.  

Now, Maja revisits these questions each time a new opportunity is presented and has reaped the benefits.  

“I’ve seen an ability to make decisions more effectively and efficiently. I don’t have to ruminate and dwell over ‘is this the right thing, should I do it, should I not?’ It just makes decision making more effective.” 

Before responding to a request, you should ultimately consider if saying yes is in the best interest of both you and whomever else is involved, be it a client or potential partner. 

If you decide to say no, how should you do it?  

People often say yes when they shouldn’t because they’re afraid of damaging relationships. While prioritizing business relationships is understandable, especially in the early entrepreneurial stages, there are ways to say no without jeopardizing them.  

For instance, Maja doesn’t give responses on the spot.  

“What I say is ‘thank you so much for thinking of me, I’ll get back to you at the end of the day or at the end of the week.’ I buy myself some time to figure out, is this an opportunity I want to say yes to? Do I have the time, energy, resources? And then, if I need to say no, I keep it short, simple, with no explanations,” she said.  

And when she does respond, she avoids using long-winded explanations because they invite more follow-up questions. 

“It’s ok to say, ‘it doesn’t work for me,’” she said.  

So, while you might feel pressured to respond right away, it’s alright to give yourself some time to think it over and ensure it’s something you really want to do.  

“Every entrepreneur has the right to buy themselves some time,” Maja said. “Every single decision we make as entrepreneurs either moves us closer or further away from our why, or from our goals. And that’s sort of scary, but it’s also liberating.”   

Not convinced yet? Check out this article on how turning down business allowed this company to thrive: 

For more great tips on how to say no, check out these articles: 

When to Say No in Business So Everyone Comes Out A Winner 

Need to turn down a potential client? Nine ways to do it tactfully 

9 (Polite) Ways to Reject a Customer 

Let Them Down Easy: 4 Ways To (Nicely) Say No 

How to Turn Down Business Clients, Professionally