We all struggle with trying to please everyone. Read on to get some tips and tricks about how to use a certain two-letter word to your financial advantage.

Saying No Isn’t Negative

Were you aware that saying ‘no’ at the right times could save your business thousands of dollars? That’s why, to run your business well, you have to learn what you realistically can and can’t do, and practice the art of politely declining. Everyone—from your customers to your spouse to your company’s bottom line (we know, that’s a thing)—will be grateful.

Below are four scenarios you know all too well when ‘no’ is not only acceptable, but absolutely necessary.

  1. “Can you have this done by ‘X’ date?” (Which is just short of a miracle)

    A new customer asks if you’ll be able to commit to a timeline that will mean rushing through your current job(s). One of the most important skills to have as a contractor is the ability to know your typical pace and capacity to take on more with your current resources.

    Why? Because prospective and new customers may seek sweet promises but they don’t actually like to be led on. Likewise, current clients whose work is in progress do not want to be cheated of a proper, high-quality completion of their project.

    When you have two projects that suddenly come in back to back, and the first is dragging out for reasons beyond your control, that’s when your ‘no’ superpower will come in handy. Tell the next client that you don’t want to cheat anyone out of the best quality, so you can’t make their proposed start date. Then give them a date when you will start, and you won’t be forced to break any promises.

  2. “Can you move mountains to get me what I want?”

    A prospective client comes along who wants the sky, the clouds and a unicorn, too (and they don’t seem willing to budge a half-inch). When you meet a possible new customer and their proposed timeline is wildly unrealistic, their vision confusing (or too different from what you offer) and their list of must-haves ten times too long—these are red flags you shouldn’t ignore.

    Your gut doesn’t lie. Listen to it.

    It can be hard to say ‘no’ to business when you aren’t sure when or where the next project is coming from. But the next job always comes along, and then the next—and you’ll be in real trouble if you’re caught in the two-step with a problem client while also making and taking new bids and trying to build other, better relationships. Be upfront and let them know you took another look and can’t fit their project into your schedule. End of story.

  3. “What kind of deal can you give me?”

    Just say no when the price tag a client is bargaining for cuts it too close for the labor hours you’ll be investing. Sure, you want to please your customers from the get-go and gain their business. But you’ve also got to maintain certain standards, and you need to make a profit.

    If you’ve been tracking labor costs project by project (and even cost codes), then you’re well-versed in how much time similar projects and tasks have taken. And you know when a price leaves you no wiggle room—and no room to profit.

    Refuse those prices on the grounds that you know your company and your work, and you do not want to overpromise on what you can do for their budget (and then underdeliver).

    Also, be ready to sell that client on the great skills you have and the great work you will produce as compared to someone who’d be willing to cut corners and rush. A little education about the value they’d get could go a long way.

  4. When a job simply isn’t worth your time.

    You have a wealth of knowledge and skills. As an expert in concrete or landscaping, roofing or flooring—you know there are certain skills that set you apart, and a certain level of quality customers can rely on.

    It isn’t always cut and dried that a job would be “beneath” you. But there are some important questions to ask yourself:

    • Will this be profitable for my company, or is there a 50% chance I’ll lose out on a bigger bid if I take it?
    • Could it bring me bigger and better jobs from the same client?

    If the answer to these questions is “no”, and it won’t open you up to a new skill that could be useful in other projects, then it’s probably time to politely pass. If you want to be a standout business people talk about, refer them to a friendly competitor who might do the same for you down the road.

Getting To ‘No’ (Yourself)

Are you bad at saying ‘no’? First, assess the situation—there might be a kinder, gentler way to refuse.

Then practice saying ‘no’ in the mirror, or to your spouse when they offer you that second piece of toast you really don’t want. Notice how uncomfortable it makes you, and ask yourself if you think you don’t have the right to say ‘no’ (because you do)!

Remember that the courage to be direct and honest is what garners respect, and gives you—in addition to a saner schedule with breathing room to do your best work—the integrity that clients look for and want to work with.