When you own a small business, you spend a lot of time hustling — for new business, better contracts, favorable vendor deals, and more. That means that when a new opportunity comes up, it can be difficult to turn it down. Sometimes, though, saying no can be exactly what your company needs. The trick? Figuring out the right time to do it.
When a request comes in, the first question to ask is: do you have time? If a client is asking you to make a change that takes one minute, it’s probably worth the effort to keep them happy. If it’s going to take an hour, that’s a different story. As a small business owner, your time is too valuable to spend on unpaid projects. When your customers ask for things that are outside of your contract, it’s called scope creep, and it eats into both your schedule and your budget. Saying “no” ensures that you’re getting paid appropriately for your work.
New projects are particularly to turn town. Before you accept or decline a project, take a moment. Will the project overburden your staff? Unless you can hire part-time help, you might want to say no. Tired, overworked employees burn out quickly, which hurts productivity. If your staff does have time, consider whether or not the project fits into your company’s business plan and long-term goals. If not, you can turn it down with confidence and use that time to pursue more relevant work.
If you’re still wavering between yes and no, it can be helpful to look for red flags. If the person is difficult to work with, if they have a history of late payments, or if they want more than they’re willing to pay for, the project may not be worth the hassle.
Once you do decide to say no, it’s important to keep it professional. A simple “I’m sorry, but we don’t have room in our schedule for your project” gets your point across without hurting the relationship.