The Art of How to Say No

Saying “no” is something that many of us entrepreneurs struggle with. You don’t want to pass up an opportunity or risk a door potentially closing. However, at the same time, you have to set boundaries and be realistic with your time.

The realization that you can’t do everything, and do it well can be a breakthrough. If you’re currently trying to do this, you probably don’t need me to tell you that you’re not going to be productive by spreading yourself too thin with too many commitments. You’re decreasing your productivity and maximizing your stress. That’s a combo no one wants.

In the early stages of any business, most entrepreneurs are wearing multiple hats. This practice isn’t usual, and if you’re efficient with it, it can save you a good bit of money. But when should you stop taking more things on and just say no? Better yet, how can you say no without causing someone to be disappointed or even angry with you? What’s the best way to say no, and not cause damage to a relationship or an opportunity?

In full transparency, I still struggle with this daily. As a people pleaser, I tend to feel guilty if I can’t be everything that the people around me want or need me to be. But the reality is, I don’t have time to do everything – and neither do you. So to help us both, I’ve put together a list of 10 things you can do to say no and feel good about it.

7 Tips for How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty

Know the Value of Your Time

As a business owner, you likely have an hourly rate that you base your salary on or that you charge clients. So when presented with an opportunity that you’re considering, ask yourself, “Is an opportunity worth that dollar value to you?”

If it’s not, think about how you could better use that time. And don’t feel guilty about putting that time and value into yourself. If you’re not operating at 100%, neither is your business.

One of my favorite illustrations that shows this is below.

Don’t Apologize

We, as a gender, need to get better at this in general. We say sorry for things that we aren’t responsible for, or that we shouldn’t be sorry about.

Do you have another commitment that keeps you from going to something? Don’t start by saying, “I’m sorry. I can’t make it.” Instead, say, “I wish I could make it, but I have another commitment.”

Say No But Offer an Alternative

We’ve all been in the situation where we get asked to do something that is borderline impossible with either the time or financial budget that someone is presenting us with. Whether it’s your boss or a client, explain to them why something isn’t doable under the current conditions.

I know that this option likely scares you. What if your boss won’t take this well or what if a client decides to go with someone else. Counteract this by offering an alternative. What conditions would you need to get this ask completed? More time? More money? Maybe you need priorities on a project realigned so you can move this to the top of your list.

Don’t be afraid to be real and let them know you can’t handle something. It’s better to manage expectations at the beginning of a project than explain why something went poorly later. You’ll also be creating a standard with how you can be treated. Your time and efforts are valuable. Don’t forget that.

Define Your Priorities

The importance of self-care is easier to talk about than to practice. But self-care is one of the keys to finding happiness with your career and with your life.

What is most important to you? How do you plan to accomplish that? If spending more time with your partner or with your kids is at the top of that list, then guard that time and don’t let a new commitment intrude on that time.

While growing our businesses and being successful are two important goals for all of us, career-driven females. It’s not the end-all-be-all in life. You won’t find yourself looking back at an old age, saying, “I wish I worked more.” You’ll find yourself looking back on the trips you didn’t take, the moments you missed with your children, or the relationship with your partner that you put in second place to your career.

Be mindful of these choices now, and be sure the choices you are making are putting your real priorities in first.

The Follow-Up

If none of the options so far sound like something you’re comfortable with, here’s a good alternative. When presented with a request, simply say, “I need to check my calendar, let me do that once I’m back at my desk, and I’ll follow up with you ASAP.”

This approach is helpful for several reasons. First, it gives you the chance to check your calendar to see if committing to something else will stress you out. Secondly, it gets you off the spot in-the-moment and also highlights that you’re a busy person. And lastly, it also shows that you’re taking time to consider something and try to find a way to do it – even if you end up not being able to make it happen.

Sometimes taking yourself off the spot in the moment and following up later is the best course. It doesn’t make you feel guilty or awkward, and it gives you the chance to offer an alternative if you think you need to.

Be Honest

If something isn’t a fit for you, don’t be afraid to voice it.

I’ve had clients come to me before and ask for services that I don’t provide. For example, I run a digital marketing agency, and we specialize in web design, SEO, and content strategy. I frequently get asked if I do video production work. And while I have dabbled in it, it’s not something that I usually do, and I know that it’s not an efficient use of my time. I voice this to the client and offer to provide a couple of contacts that I have that do stellar work in this space.

This approach has been incredibly beneficial to me in several ways. One, my client knows I’m being honest and transparent with them. Secondly, I’m not taking on work that will take me longer to complete because it’s not my area of expertise (thus, I’ll make less money for my time and also be stressed out and frustrated). And lastly, I feel good in knowing that I’m doing the right thing and making sure that my client gets the best product for their dollar.

Maybe Later

My last tip is simply to say, “maybe at a later date.” If you’re genuinely interested in an opportunity, but can’t make it work without stressing yourself out, don’t take it off the table for yourself. Let whoever is asking you know that you don’t have availability at the moment, but it’s something that you are truly interested in. You can offer to either follow up with them or ask them to reach back out to you in the future.

My Challenge to You

I hope these seven tips help you create a better balance for yourself and help you feel more comfortable saying no. And I challenge you to make a pack with me, to value your time and your mental health more highly, and practice these ten tips daily. Leave a comment below and let me know that you accept this challenge. And keep me posted on how you’re doing and how you’re feeling. Have any additional tips? Please share them.

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Published in Business, Featured Articles, Life
Founder & Editor | Website

Emily Sprinkle, also known as Emma Loggins, is a designer, marketer, blogger, and speaker. She is the Editor-In-Chief for Women's Business Daily where she pulls from her experience as the CEO and Director of Strategy for Excite Creative Studios, where she specializes in web development, UI/UX design, social media marketing, and overall strategy for her clients.

Emily has also written for CNN, Autotrader, The Guardian, and is also the Editor-In-Chief for the geek lifestyle site