How Saying "NO" Saved My Life | Part 1 of 3

Ok, maybe it didn’t save my life, but it did do a lot of good.

Saying “No”, particularly in business, can be so terrifying. I mean, would you say “No” to someone offering you a crisp twenty dollar bill? That is what it feels like…

Saying “No” has lots and lots of benefits, but also lots and lots of ways it could go terribly wrong. This is exactly why it took me so long to enact the practice of saying “No.”

Now, for transparency’s sake, I have some things to admit:

  • I know I am not the first person to write about this topic. There are lots and lots of great articles out there speaking about the practice of saying “No” well and why it is so beneficial. But, frankly, none have been by me. Eh-hem, hence therefore.
  • I started and did not finish The Best Yes by Lysa Terkeurst. Admittedly, this book is phenomenal and I feel somewhat like a cop-out by not reading it all the way through. Also admittedly, I felt like a lot of what she was writing about were things I already knew, but hadn’t put into practice. So, instead, I got my butt in gear and actually made these things happen.
  • I enacted the practice of saying “No” as it applies to my business, and nothing else. The people pleaser in me has a very hard time saying “No” as it applies to the opportunity to have fun. Actually, scratch that. That’s a repercussion of being a FOMO, not a people pleaser…
  • Finally, this is a new thing for me, folks. This saying “No” thing, not easy. And I just recently began intentionally and strategically saying “No.” Hence, I know, undoubtedly, that I am probably not doing it very well. It has paid off thus far, but let’s be honest, this is a marathon, not a sprint.

So in the essence of being honest, I thought I’d share my experience learning to say “No” and how it has impacted my business. Since this is not a seamless or even small process, I decided to do a little series on the subject, so this is the first of three posts about how saying “No” saved my life.

Saying “No” is really really scary. As if owning a creative business isn’t frustrating and unpredictable enough, I decided to make it even more so by actually turning away business, paying or not, and taking the risk that I may not have jobs to work on in the upcoming months.

Needless to say, this was not the case, and though I’m still in practice, I have a feeling that it will never be.

In a creative business, we feel like we live paycheck to paycheck. And no matter how well you manage your money, there really is this thing called “cash flow,” and we all struggle with it. Sometimes there is money, sometimes there isn’t. And in the meantime, we keep working on outstanding projects and racking our brains for invoices we may have forgotten to send.

Honest, remember? This is real life of a creative business. Also meanwhile, we try to explain to our significant other why we can’t transfer money to our joint checking account to help with household expenses, and they try their hardest to understand. But unless you’re in the thick of it everyyyyy singllllleee dayyyyy, then it’s hard to grasp this concept.

Moving on.

The first steps of the process of saying “No” are as follows.

First Steps : What to Say "No" To

  1. Make a list of your current projects.
  2. Over the next week, be diligent about documenting how much time you spend on those projects. Include everything, from email time to phone calls to small tweaks and changes. I mean be specific – did InDesign crash three times while you tried to open their document to make one single copywriting change? Ya, count that. I mean it, people. Don’t count anything as “admin” work. It has to be for someone.
  3. Once that week is over, go ahead and group those projects into themes. My themes were really clear – website maintenance projects, website design projects, branding projects, rebranding projects, promotional material and reorders.
  4. Then, at the bottom of each of those columns, write down how much you will be paid for the projects in that column, assuming you either have outstanding contracts for those projects, or are working on the clock.
  5. Then, here’s the tricky part. Next to the $ number, write down the amount of hours you worked on those projects that week. Figure out that ratio. Meaning, take the $ and divide it by the time.

Example (fake numbers) : My website design project column added up to $3500. I spent 12 hours working on those projects the last week. This makes my “hourly” rate for the week about $291. My reorder project column added up to $1200 and I spent 10 hours on those projects, making my “hourly” rate of $120.

Finally, take the project columns with the highest “hourly” rate and keep those jobs! The ones with the lowest… now those, those are the ones we probably should say “No” to.

For me, it was clear as day that I should not be doing website maintenance or reorders. My hours were high and profit low, and that didn’t even count any of my material cost, which would have made those ratios even smaller.

Unless you really want to count the emotional investment side of this project, I suggest that you follow the numbers. However, I know (all too well) the emotional investment we have in certain projects. If saying “No” to one of those jobs, even though the numbers aren’t in your favor, makes you feel like you want to throw up a little, then keep the job!

This can feel daunting, and maybe even overwhelming little project. But it’s important. Take the time for the next week to do these steps, and come back with an open mind and a poster board full of bad math.

Tell me, anyone have any other tricks for figuring out what to say "No" to?