New Business: Is There A Right Time To Say No?

new businessThis post is by Solo PR Pro Content and Community Specialist, Heather Rast.

In last weeks’ #SoloPR chat, we talked about the circumstances in which an indie consultant might elect to decline a work offer and the best ways to handle communicating a “No, thank you” decision to the potential client.  A few of my favorite comments from the chat are below:

@dariasteigman:  It’s not b/c we need work less as we “mature.” It’s b/c we learn some work isn’t worth having. Big difference. #solopr

@dwannolsen: 15 yrs ago, I said YES way more. Now, I value, my time, my brand and RESULTS enough to pass on purpose. #solopr

Sometimes When You Say No To Them, You’re Saying Yes To Yourself

I think there are two important messages woven in these tweets. One is that in time, as an indie gains experience running their own business, they become better attuned to the types of projects that really further their business goals beyond straight revenue generation. Sure, revenue is important. But to build a viable, sustainable business, an indie must look at each project opportunity and ask “How does this support the reputation I want to build? Will it gain me experience in a sector I want to penetrate or access to people I consider strategic to my next-phase plans? Does it play to my strengths or give me a chance to grow an essential skill?”

And while these (or other) philosophical questions run through your head, your inner analyst is assessing whether the prospect’s communication style is a match for yours and how well you sense they’ll accept your counsel. Reality is, some clients think professional marketing communications services (including PR) should be inexpensive and, because you’re being paid, you should make magic happen. Even if they don’t give you the info you asked for when you needed it.

You may have but a moment to sort through these questions and assimilate a response, so it’s important to think through your priorities and hone your instincts early. If a project as it’s presented doesn’t feel right, a client’s demeanor puts you off, or there’s no indication you can achieve respectful collaboration, it’s best to bow out.

Assignments You Can’t Afford To Take

I once had a referral (great, right?) approach me about taking on some contract work. This client had developed a pretty nifty SaaS product aimed at B2B sales forces. With some pretty impressive venture funding, this client wanted some work done that I knew I could do. Wrinkles began to pop out, though, when it was clear my contact had previously been paying an intern to handle some tactical work and expected to pay me the same rate. I wasn’t comfortable taking over the tactics without planning and implementing a guiding strategy first (who knew for sure if those were even the right tactics?). Plus, I bring more to the table than an intern.

I elected to develop a detailed proposal outlining service components at a rate I believed appropriate. Not only did the client heartily disagree, but he chose to insult me in a petty way and make sure the referring party knew his opinion of me.

This wasn’t about the breadth and quality of the work I could do or how what I proposed might achieve business goals. It was about the price my contact placed on getting some posts published and tweets chirped.  He wasn’t looking for a partner. He wanted an intern.  That’s not me.

Missed Opportunities That Yield More

I know, his actions said more about him than about me. Whether you’re the consultant or the client, it’s always best to handle evaluations and negotiations with as much circumspection as you can muster. It can be hard to let incidences like this one go (Could I have done anything differently? Does the referrer now think badly of me?), but once you do, you’ll realize taking the high road – suggesting the right (in this case, more expensive) solution instead of kowtowing to what he’s willing to pay or just mindlessly doing the tactical stuff for the intern price – means you’re in a defensible position. It may also mean your calendar’s free to take on the kind of client that makes you do fist-pumps. You know, the kind of client who wants your expertise and your opinions and knows it doesn’t come at $15 per hour.

@JanetLFalk:  When I turned down the project this week, I suggested 2 others. What goes around comes around. #soloPR

@KellyeCrane: But the irony is, once you turn down work that saps your energy, usually you get *more* work! #solopr

This post contributed by Heather Rast, Content and Community Specialist for Solo PR Pro. Heather is Principal of Insights & Ingenuity, a Cedar Rapids digital marketing company. She develops brand identity and marketing communications plans for small businesses that distinguish them from the competition. Her content planning and online community-building work for larger organizations helps them better serve their consumers.

  • Hi Heather,

    I love the way you weaved in the tweetchat conversation with your own experience. Knowing when to say NO is a hard lesson to learn. But chasing after bad prospects (and going insane trying to please impossible-to-please clients) is just going to leave you stressed and without the mental space to work on your business. As you said, sometimes you need to say yes to yourself.

  • Hi Heather,

    I love the way you weaved in the tweetchat conversation with your own experience. Knowing when to say NO is a hard lesson to learn. But chasing after bad prospects (and going insane trying to please impossible-to-please clients) is just going to leave you stressed and without the mental space to work on your business. As you said, sometimes you need to say yes to yourself.

  • Great post. It can be hard to say no, but I am a big believer in listening to your gut. It’s often the first to send out warning signals — and strongest when a prospect clearly only cares about money. 

  • Hi, Sue. Thanks for adding your thoughts. As you can probably tell, I agree with you – our intuition synthesizes a lot of subtle cues that when pulled together, can send a strong signal about any given situation. I’m  guilty of ignoring that signal more than once as I tried to overcome what I thought were reservations tied to doing something that stretched me as a professional. Turned out it wasn’t really stretching my skills, just the boundaries within which I prefer to work. One of the lessons I’m learning as an indie is to identify those boundaries and stick with them!

  • And saying “yes” to yourself can, in certain situations, feel very self-indulgent, can’t it? A lull in work can trigger feelings of desperation or self-preservation, so when a hard-to-please or uncoachable prospect comes along, ready to pay your fee (for a price), it can be hard to say, “Thank you, but I must decline.” As Kellye has written more than once here, working to save some extra income cushion can help someone weather the storm. I believe both you and she are spot on – taking on that client of work (regardless of your instinct) only stresses you out and may even take you out of the game so when a “right” opportunity comes along, you miss it. 

    Thanks for stopping by, Daria – and glad you liked what I did with this post! 😉