I can count on zero of my fingers how many times someone’s told me about an “amazing opportunity” which actually turned into something awesome and beneficial for me or my business.
(Most of these “amazing” opportunities are requests to participate in an online summit… one that I have to promote in order to participate in, so I can make a tiny cut of the revenue using their affiliate scheme, err, program…)
We all want amazing opportunities for ourselves and our work—that’s not a bad thing. We want to get what we create out there, seen by many, and hopefully bought by many as well.
However much we know that truly amazing opportunities are rare, and typically not called “amazing opportunities” in a subject line from a stranger, we sure are presented with them often.
Every potential client is an amazing opportunity! Every potential sale of a product is an amazing opportunity! Every introduction to a mover and shaker is an amazing opportunity! Almost everything new for a business can be classified as an amazing opportunity…
Rarely though, do we consider the true cost of each opportunity. Or, put another way, how much debt does each opportunity potentially accrue for us—in terms of our time, energy and costs?
When we work for ourselves, these time, energy and cost resources are especially finite, and should be guarded and protected with every fibre of our being. Otherwise, we become stretched too thin, overworked or frazzled and stressed from the obligations we’ve already got. Every opportunity comes with an obligation: to create something, to share something, to carve out time in a day for something, to be present for something.
Every opportunity comes with a cost
Whether taking the opportunity is beneficial or not, there’s always a price. It’s our job to decide whether or not the price is worth it. How will it benefit us, our business, or brand, or long-term relationship with our customers or clients?
If we max out on opportunities, our businesses will suffer. If we decline every single opportunity that’s ever put in front of us, our businesses also will suffer and stagnate.
Still, I think our default answer to opportunities should always be a “no”, with grace. If our default state is rejecting opportunities, then we’ll surely take on less, because in order for a “yes” to happen we need to be doubly convinced that it’s worth it, either by the person presenting it to us convincing us that it’s a good idea or internally convincing ourselves.
As much as we’d like to be nice people, we owe others a lot less of our time than we believe we do. It’s your business, you’re allowed to be a little selfish with it, especially when the net result of saying “yes” to everything to be “nice” is that you have less time to actually spend on your business and serving your customers.
Think about it this way: if you say “yes” to every single potential client that ever offers to hire you, you’re opening yourself up to bad clients and projects that don’t fit with building your expertise. Not to mention you’re denying yourself the space to take on truly great and well-fitting projects if you’re overbooked and over-scheduled. Similarly, if you work your damnedest to convince everyone that ever gets in touch with you who has questions about your product to buy that product (which is an opportunity to close a deal), or if you’re super pushy with how you sell, then trying to turn every lead into a customer will result in more refunds, more support requests and more chargebacks (the most annoying part of selling anything online, I assure you).
A lot of the time, the cost of an opportunity actually outweighs the opportunity itself. In the past, when I’ve explained that I was extremely picky about what kind of clients I worked with and what projects I took on, the response was mostly, “well, that’s because you’re a well-known designer, but that wouldn’t work for me.” And my reply was always that it was because I was extremely picky that I became a designer that people in a specific niche had heard about. It was because my default response, even to paying work, was always “no”. That way I had to convince myself that each potential client would be one I could truly help (which leads to good results-based testimonials), a good fit in terms of how we communicated with each other (communication, not skillset, makes or breaks most projects) and a good fit in terms of them trusting that I was an expert not just a hired labourer (which leads to less prescriptive feedback and more leaning on what I know could make a project succeed). If I couldn’t convince myself of the project being something I could get a win for a client with, or that the person wasn’t someone I wanted to work with, the debt of the project far outweighed the opportunity of getting paid.
How do we say no to opportunities in a way that is gracious and empathetic?
Because let’s face it, it sucks being turned down by someone, especially when you’re bringing them an opportunity of your own.
I wouldn’t claim to be awesome at saying “no”, but I’ve definitely done it enough to have a few ideas about kindly turning things down:
- Never make it personal. I don’t decline the person specifically, I reference why I say no to all types of requests like that. For example, I wouldn’t say, “I can’t be on your podcast”. Instead I say, “I’m currently not doing podcast interviews with anyone”. So it’s a policy or default, not specifically directed at one person and their ask. It’s not just something I say to be nice either, I’m either fully available to anyone who asks (for things like interviews), or 100% not available at all (because I’m writing a book or taking a long break).
- Give context for the rejection, quickly. Don’t write paragraphs of excuses, just give a specific, honest and valid reason why you’re saying no. Like, “My time is currently fully booked with other obligations, like launching a new course, so I can’t add anything else to my todo list.”
- Accept the fact that time and energy are finite. So me saying “no” to someone doesn’t mean I’m a jerk (I’m a jerk for other reasons), it just means that I respect my time. If the person doesn’t see that, or doesn’t see that I can’t possibly take on everything that comes my way, then I can’t control how unreasonable they’re being.
- Be totally clear. Sometimes people try so hard to be nice that their answer comes across as wishy-washy, which leads the requestor to try just a little harder in hopes of changing the answer to a “yes”. So I’m always very black and white that my answer is a no. I typically start with that, so even if the person stops reading right there, they’ve got my answer. An in, “Hey Bill, that sounds great, but I’ve got to say no right now…” and then continue on with the email. People may not like the rejection, but hopefully they respect my solid stance and reasoning.
While you can never truly know if something is an amazing opportunity, you can nevertheless surmise how much work it might require in terms of time, energy and money. So before you say “yes” to something because you hope it’ll turn out to be amazingly beneficial to you, take a minute to think about what it’ll cost you once you say “yes”.
Hi, I'm Paul Jarvis. I write a weekly newsletter called the Sunday Dispatches where I share articles about working and living online with 35k subscribers: