With only so much time on their hands, why do many entrepreneurs find it so difficult to say “no”?

Not every meeting works out like a stock photo.

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Sometimes it takes several years of experience to find the value of the word “no,” yet finding the courage to politely refuse clients or colleagues could be the simple answer to many problems, including feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or inadequate. Once small business owners know when and where to draw their own boundary lines, managing a business is instantly more manageable.


Before diving into how to say “no” to others, it is important to delineate why one would. The primary reason that you would deny someone is that the request cannot be realistically fulfilled. You may not have the time or skills to spend on whatever someone has asked of you– and that’s okay! Often, saying “yes” to too many things will get you into situations that waste your time, money, and energy. Overbooking yourself makes it so that you are unable to focus on what really matters, such as dedicating necessary time to important projects and generally running the business. When you choose to say “yes” too often, you also run the risk of putting the latest whims of those around you ahead of the needs of your own business, which could be seriously detrimental down the road. It is imperative to say “no” to requests that cannot be reasonably met, will overwhelm you, and will waste time and money in the long run.


With all of these factors in mind, knowing how to say “no” will help you make better business decisions in the future:


Before entering an agreement with either a potential client or employee, you must firmly establish parameters so that everyone knows one another’s limits. These boundaries could be set formally in a written contract, where, for example, clients know that they are given 3-4 hours of consultation on a specific project or employees know they receive quarterly performance reviews. The limits could also be set informally, such as when business owners impose “do not disturb” hours on their calendar. These approaches are proactive and show others at the onset what requests are acceptable. Setting these boundaries and sticking to them are crucial to maintaining the integrity of your business. Thus, honoring these boundaries is the first step to being able to deny a request.


The next step to saying “no” as a business owner is to positively word your denial. The key is to formulate the best negation you can. For instance, if someone asks you for consultation during a time that you are busy, frame your response by outlining that you already have a prior commitment, stating that you would assist them if you could, and perhaps offer to schedule an appointment at a later date. This allows you to feel confident in your denial since you have a specific reason to say “no” and have made an effort to redirect the request to a more convenient time. If it is a request that you simply are incapable to fulfill, tell the client or colleague that you are glad they’ve reached out to you, but you’re currently unable to comply. You’ve established a welcoming environment even though you cannot take on the request.


Before confirming or denying someone, make sure you know your worth as a business owner. Are you willing to strain yourself either mentally or monetarily to fulfill the request? Weigh the consequences of how much time you spend on client requests or different projects. Could you delegate the task to someone that has the skills to do the task better? Is the request a waste of both your and your employee’s time? When time equates to money, much more goes into a following through on a request than simply pleasing a customer or colleague. Determining when to say “no” is a delicate balance between doing what’s right for others and doing what’s right for your business.

You can’t stop it, objections will happen.

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Saying “no” well is an art. It assures potential clients and business partners that you know the value of your company and time. Being able to set proper boundaries warrants respect by showing the world that you’re an experienced entrepreneur. Learning to say “no” will make sure that you are more focused, you’re spending time on what’s important, and you’re better able to run your business.

There’s only so much time in the day, and business owners often have especially packed schedules. By setting boundaries, communicating positively, and determining your worth mentally and fiscally, you’ll be well on your way to making better decisions about when to take on another request. With practice, saying “no” gets easier.