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Twelve steps to success

  • 2001-11-29
  • Paul E. Adams
Step 6: Learn to say no

"It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves." Edmund Hillary


Contrary to popular opinion, saying no is not always negative thinking. It may mean the survival of your business.

Saying yes too often can place your money and your business at risk. As tough as it is to do, saying no is saying yes to your success.

I don't know about you, but I do not like being in a situation where I must say no. It can be unpleasant. Yet, the where-withal to say no without alienation and the skill to persuade others to accommodate us are talents we must develop for success.

Ask most successful entrepreneurs, and they will tell you that saying no can be difficult. Yet you must, because if you agree to every demand made of you, your business will soon become unmanageable.

You must develop the courage to say no to your employees, your customers and your suppliers.

Why do we hate to say no? We dislike confrontation. When we turn down a request we are never quite sure of the response we may get. It may range from understanding to outright hostility. We never know.

Employees can become bitter and quit, customers can stop buying from us, and suppliers can stop selling to us. Yet we know we need to say no.

If we have children, we are familiar with saying no. We do so out of love and necessity. We must do the same with our business.

If you have employees, eventually they will make demands on you. When you start out, your employees may understand about your need to watch every dollar.

However, as your business expands, and money becomes more plentiful, expect demands for raises and benefits. How much of your resources you wish to give up is your decision, but it is near impossible to grant every employee demand, from a pay increase to time off, and have a successful business.

You will discover that there are few secrets in a small business. If you are generous to a particular worker, others will expect the same treatment. If employees think you are making money, expect them to knock on your door.

As an employer, you will conclude the need to say no. Saying no to a valuable worker is difficult, but there are times you must, even when the person threatens to quit.

Never allow yourself to be hostage to threats of quitting. If you get the reputation of an "easy mark," it is going to be difficult to reverse it.

Most employees expect reasonable and just treatment. Their loyalty develops from consistent and fair employee policies.

You will find that discrimination will lead to hostility and problems. Be fair and honest with your employees and you will find it easy to say no to any unreasonable demand.

You may expect that your customers will ask for lower prices and better terms. They want you to stay in business, but they want the lowest price possible. Moreover, they will be quick to tell you if the competition offers a better deal. If you meet every price challenge, bankruptcy is inevitable.

Saying no to an unprofitable sale is basic good business. Overly aggressive salespeople do not always understand the need for profit to remain in business. To them the sale is everything.

Once you have established your minimum price margins, hold fast. Price cutting to make a sale or hold a customer may be necessary on occasion, but as a routine it will lead to losses.

Once you start to respond to price demands, it will be difficult to stop. You will need a stable price policy to maintain your profit margins.

Customers do not stop at demanding price concessions; they want all types of special treatment.

They want free sample merchandise, free installation, free delivery, free replacements, free credit and so on. There is no end to the requests they can think of to ask.

Don't say yes to a supplier to be a nice guy or gal. With limited resources, you should buy what you need - period. Business purchasing is based on objectivity not emotion.

If you cannot make money selling it, or use it to make money, you do not need it. Even though your most important supplier pressures you to buy beyond your needs, don't!

A "no" will always be respected when you pay the bill on time. It makes no sense for any reputable supplier to push you out of business by forcing too much inventory on you.

So the next time someone asks you for that special favor, that special concession or plea for more money, lower prices, or any demand that is not in the best interest of your business, be prepared to say no. If this seems "unfeeling," the alternative is saying no to the financial well-being of your family.