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How to Say No


A Faster Horse

ReWork by Jason Fried, Founder and CEO of the popular project management software Basecamp, is basically my business bible. Tucked within the 288 pages of this brash, irreverent, minimalist guide to entrepreneurship, resides my favorite section, simply titled "Say No." It begins with that famous Henry Ford quote, "If I'd listened to customers, I'd have given them a faster horse," and goes on to explain that sometimes the customer doesn't know what they want until they see it.  This sort of thinking is borderline taboo in a world where "The customer is always right." Don't we wish that was the case? Unfortunately, it's not - and if companies, especially small companies, try to appease every customer by granting them their every desire, they will find themselves buried with every other small business that has tried that approach.

Look at all of these features

Another point that ReWork stresses is to not bog down your product with every feature or product your customers request. A former employer of mine was guilty of this, and, although they are still a fantastic company, it got them into that proverbial hot water on more than one occasion. What happens is what made your business great to begin with, your core, gets bogged down with all of these appendages and add-ons, until you're no longer that shiny, agile machine, and now resemble something more akin to Frankenstein's Monster. I think it's safe to say that most businesses strive to be like Apple. Apple doesn't compromise for anyone or anything, they know what they are going to build, they know what they are going to sell, they keep it simple, and they do an okay job for themselves.    

Not everyone can be happy

Next time you are looking at a four or five star product review on Amazon, or a hotel review on TripAdvisor, take a look at the one star reviews. There will always be someone that absolutely hates what you or your business is doing. It's not necessarily your fault, that's just the way it is. An article about time-wasting, that was recently published on LinkedIn, talked about this very point. Under the header "Give up the idea that success means pleasing everyone," the author, New York Times bestseller Greg McKeown, sums it up best by saying, when you say yes to everyone, you are not making everyone happy, rather "You will make a millimeter progress in a million directions, which will frustrate you and everyone else." 

Say it nicely

Saying "no" doesn't have to be a negative experience. There is never a reason to be rude to a customer who is just asking for more features or products. Rather than flatly saying "No!," explain to them why you are saying no and why it ultimately benefits them. Sometimes these moments that could have been combative and dreary, can turn into a positive opportunity to consult a customer or client, maybe let them see the company's long term vision and show them how this decision to say no to this one thing makes their current products that much better.

And now back to the real world

Look, I understand that this is a hard thing to do. Sometimes you have that client who threatens to pull the plug if you don't implement this one feature. You need that client, you need that revenue. The truth is, businesses have to compromise on this sometimes and they shouldn't feel bad about that because, ultimately, without the customers we have nothing - regardless of how great your product might be. Just always remember to weigh the pros and cons of what saying yes may mean - if it's just not going to work, let the words of Nancy Reagan pour all over you and just say no.



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