It can be really hard, but it’s really ok to say no.

Sometimes in business it’s actually better to say no, to make room for bigger and better things. My top tip is to focus on your priorities and don’t be afraid to say no to anything that doesn’t fit with these, even if it looks like a great opportunity.

But how do you do it? Here are my thoughts on how you can say no (and feel good about it!) in various situations.

say-no-small-business

Saying no to more customers

Everyone wants more customers, right? That means more money… right?

Perhaps in the short term, yes. But sometimes more customers means more of the same low profit margins, more work for you, more late night stress and more frustration. You need to make sure you’re saying yes to your best customers! If business seems to be booming but you’re feeling overwhelmed and overworked, look at how much are you making per hour for your time or effort, when you really break it all down. If those customers are all low profit customers, it might be time to say no to more of the same, to make room to focus on saying yes to products or services with a higher profit per customer.

So many times I see hustling business mamas posting online about how busy they are with so many orders, they have so much product to make that they have no time for anything else, they’re staying up after the kids are in bed til 1am or later, burning the candle at both ends and just end up exhausted and hating their biz. Some even come online and say “I’m thinking of stopping all together, I just can’t keep up with it all!”.

overwhelmed small business owner

This is pretty devastating, when the quickest and most simple answer is to raise those prices, up up up.

And when I say this, the quick and common response is “oh but I can’t do that, I’m already charging $X and my product isn’t worth more than that.” Take a step back and breathe, my friend. If your product is in such high demand, it is most definitely worth more than that. Put em up!

On the flip-side, if your biz is fairly new and doesn’t yet have a large customer base, saying no to any new customers can be really, really difficult. When you’re trying to prove yourself (usually to yourself!) and make some sort of profit from your business in the early days, you’re likely to say yes to any and every customer and product idea that comes to mind. The problem with this is that you are not allowing yourself to focus on the customers that really matter, or the products or services that will bring the most value to them – and in turn, the highest profit to you.

You don’t want to be spending all of your time creating low priced products for low paying customers, because you will never be able to scale your business and make a profit that way!

Say no to those products and customers, and yes to working out who your most ideal customers are, and how you can provide value to them with your products or services.

Saying no to friends and family

Possibly the most difficult of all is saying no to friends or family who ask for favours or freebies. My personal rule here is to say yes to immediate family, and anyone who would be in your wedding party.

Everyone else has to pay up!

But how can you say no in a way that doesn’t sound too rude (um, hello, asking for a freebie is pretty rude in the first place!) or make your friend or family member cranky about the whole thing?

business woman

I’d say something like “hey thanks so much for asking, I’m glad you like my work! I’m so busy with paying clients at the moment that I don’t have the time to do any freebies, but I’m happy to offer you family/mates rates if you still want to go ahead. You can get 10% with the code XXX on my website here: …” Depending on how close the friend or family member is, I change the discount rate. If it’s someone I hardly know or a distant cousin three times removed, I would probably be far less polite(!), but I do think it can be worth your time to explain things clearly and politely, because you never know, those people might turn into great paying customers down the track!

Saying no to random freebie requests

If someone you don’t know personally contacts you asking for a freebie, take a minute to look at what you could ask for in return. Collaboration is an excellent way to grow your audience, so if they have something that you need or that would compliment your products or services, instead of saying a flat-out no, you could reply with an alternative suggestion. Something along the lines of “I’m not in a position to supply that product at no cost right now, but I have actually been meaning to contact you and ask if you’d like to collaborate on an idea I had”.

Saying no to charitable donation requests

Often schools, charities or other organisations running fundraisers will contact you asking for donations of products or services for their event or cause. Most of us are more than willing to donate something to a worthy cause, but you can quickly run into problems when you’re trying to fulfil your commitments and the amount of stuff you’re giving away for free is eating into your profits in a serious way.

small business product donations

What I like to do is set a number of items or dollar amount for my charitable donations for the year, and stick to it. This makes it easier to say no to someone when they are asking for a donation, as you can communicate that whilst you would love to help out, you have already reached your maximum donations for the year and unfortunately can’t supply anything this time. If it is an organisation that you would like to donate to in the future, you can ask to be kept on their contact list or ask them to contact you earlier in the following year so you can reserve a product to donate to next years event.

Saying no to big opportunities

Sometimes an offer comes along that seems like it’s an incredible opportunity not to be missed, and these are usually the things that we absolutely jump at the chance to say yes to. However it’s really important to take a step back and assess whether the opportunity is right for you, right now.

instagram influencer

I’ve seen a lot of small biz ladies get hurt on Instagram when an influencer with a large following has requested products from them (for free), they have been super excited to supply a great product (taking the full hit of the cost of the product and postage, often hundreds of dollars worth), and then get little or no mention from the influencer at all afterwards.

So my advice here is to tread carefully – if someone contacts you requesting free products, you need to make sure you will be getting something in return that is of equal value (not just a vague tag mention in a caption)… look at their previous posts carefully and perhaps contact others who they have worked with to make sure your ROI (return on investment) is going to be worth it. And if it’s not, or if you just feel a bit weird about, SAY NO! You can politely decline their request and leave it at that, or decline and point them to your store, or maybe even decline but offer a small discount if they really want to purchase something from you. 

Another example is an offer of a feature or promotion opportunity in a national or even international print publication… most of us would immediately do a happy dance and practically yell YES in our reply for something as huge as that. But again, you have to step back and look at the opportunity objectively. First of all, is it a free or paid opportunity?

If it’s paid (as in, you are paying for the opportunity), you need to think VERY carefully, because often the people contacting you frame these opportunities as them doing a favour for you, when in fact you are simply paying for advertising space. So don’t get caught up in the hype and make sure you know all the numbers – How many people are they reaching with their publication? What is their demographic, does this match yours? Is there a guaranteed ROI, and how are you going to track this return? Again, making sure you are getting something back from the investment you are making. Your link printed in a website does not automatically equal clicks to your website or purchases of your products!

If it is a free opportunity it might be even harder to say no, but sometimes, it could still be the right option for you. If it’s likely this great exposure is more than you can handle right now in terms of new customers or taking on new product orders, it could be wise to very politely decline and ask them to contact you again in a few months time. This would give you the opportunity to ensure you have the capacity to scale your business up and handle an influx of new customers with ease – the last thing you want is to have thousands of potential customers ready to buy, and no way to serve them!

magazine feature for small business owner

The great thing is, if you are good enough for this big opportunity now, you will be good enough for it again at a later time when you are really ready to take it on and make the most of it.

I’d love to know, have you ever said no to a big opportunity? How did it go for you? Or do you struggle to say no to all those little requests from friends and family? Let me know in the comments below, or head on over the The Makers’ Co online community and post your story there =) 


Thanks to Shutterstock for these great images!

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