Thinking Holistically

Ways to Say “No” Without Hurting Your Business

In our previous blog post about setting boundaries in your business, we started the conversation about why it’s important to be able to say “no.” As an entrepreneur, this is one of the most challenging things to say. We enjoy helping people. After all, we saw a need and wanted to help solve it by creating a business. So, it becomes an internal struggle to answer “no” to a request, especially because we care about our customers. Yet, we recognize we might not always have the bandwidth, qualifications, or resources to provide the appropriate help. We worry that by saying “no” we might hurt our reputation and business prospects. This week, we’re sharing some ways to say “no” without damaging your business by drawing on some examples from our own business here at Uptima.

Explain How You Work

Because of the work that we do, we get a lot of requests to provide business advice. We typically receive an email from someone outlining their situation with a request for a phone call or meeting. Often times, the advice being sought is within the scope of what we cover in our business accelerator.  If we took these requests for free advice, we wouldn’t be able to run the accelerator in a sustainable way. So, when we receive these requests, we send back a message saying that we’d be happy to help and explain how we work. We provide a link to the content on our website that describes how we work and how to follow up if they are interested in working with us in those ways. What we’ve found is if the person is serious about working with our business, they will usually follow up in a way that is aligned with our business practices.

Defer the Request

There are times we receive requests to explore potential collaborations when we’re in the middle of an enrollment cycle for our programs. We’re totally interested in exploring the possibilities and don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to work with a potential collaborator. But, at that point in time, it’s hard for us to find the time to meet or the brain space to think about how a partnership could work. In these cases, we respond to the request by letting the person know we’re interested, but our priority right now is on enrollment and we’re not available to meet until the cycle is over. We let them know when we think we might free up and ask them to follow up then. If someone remains interested in exploring a collaboration, they’ll come back to you and follow-up.

Provide a Resource

Some requests that come in are asking to “pick our brain.” In general, the “pick your brain” request feels one-sided, and we’ve discussed ways to handle it in a previous blog post. One way we handle it is by pointing the person to a resource we’ve created or found.  For example, our website answers basic questions about our cooperative model and our blog explores common questions from entrepreneurs about their business development. If we have an upcoming workshop or are speaking at a conference about the topic, we’ll invite that person to attend. And, we have curated some resources from other sites that answer questions we’re commonly asked. By sharing public resources, you’ll still able to give your insights about the topic without having to directly invest a lot of free time.

Refer Them to a Partner

We routinely receive requests from business owners who need a very specific type of marketing, legal, human resources, or industry advice, or are operating larger businesses than we prefer to work with. While our programs and services may not be the best support for them for their specific need, we have a network of business partners who might be able to help. In this case, we try to assess the need and verify the trustworthiness of the business owner. If we see their request is potentially a good fit for one of our partners and have reason to believe they will follow-through, we check in with that partner to see if they are available to help. If so, we’ll facilitate a connection and let them take it from there. By referring them to a partner, you nurture your relationships with your partners and build goodwill with the person who requested help.

Uphold Your Policies

We get requests from people to drop by one of our entrepreneurship classes to see how we work. Or, they are interested in coming speak to one of our classes. In these cases, we know the person is interested in supporting our work. However, we have a set format, curriculum, and an intimate environment for sharing about our businesses and ourselves that doesn’t leave much room for outside speakers or observers. In these cases, we let the person know we see their work as valuable and appreciate the interest in supporting our work, but we have a policy of not bringing in outside speakers or observers due to the structure and intimate nature of our classes. In your business, you may have policies that preserve the integrity of your work and it’s important to uphold those standards when you receive requests.

So, next time you receive a request for something you can’t fulfill, practice one of these ways of saying “no.” In the long run, you’ll be viewed as a better business owner for only taking on commitments you can honor.