Much of the popular wisdom about how to succeed as an independent professional seems to center around saying yes. You’ll hear that you’re supposed to market yourself constantly in as many different ways as possible, network with everyone you can find, and take as many clients as possible in order to increase your earnings. The implication is that you should say yes to every opportunity.
But it hasn’t been my experience that pursuing all opportunities is the true path to success. In fact, my own success increased dramatically when I started saying no more often. Saying yes to everything is like opening too many windows on your computer. Eventually you run out of resources and you crash. When you say yes to every suggestion, request, or invitation, you are letting other people’s agendas drive your business. Saying no can put you in charge instead.
Here are six examples of situations where you may want to consider saying no.
1. New clients who don’t fit into your niche.
When business is scarce, it’s tempting to take anything you can get. For a one-time or short-term project, working with a client outside your target market or specialty may not harm you. But making a practice of taking any business that shows up will get in the way of establishing your reputation and referral base.
These “outsider” clients won’t lead to the targeted referrals or testimonials that will build your business. And they can take a lot more energy to serve, because you may need to learn on the job, scramble to assemble needed resources, or do work you simply don’t enjoy much. Sticking to your niche, on the other hand, will lead to more business of the kind you really want to have.
2. Networking with people who have no connection to your niche.
Your networking time is precious. Say no to attending events that will attract few people from your target market, or to meeting with people whose niche has no relation to yours.
Just because someone invites you to a meeting or coffee doesn’t mean you have to go. Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty more invitations to choose from in the future. Plus, you should be spending some time making your own invitations to folks solidly within your niche, who will be much more likely to bring you business.
3. Clients who take more effort to pursue than their business is worth.
Watch out for prospects who want to meet with you multiple times, see several proposals, or require a detailed response to a complex RFP before agreeing to work with you. Even when you ultimately land the contract, it may cost you far too much unpaid time. And clients who are so demanding before they hire you may be even worse to actually work for.
4. People and organizations who ask for your time but do nothing for you.
Serving as a volunteer in order to give back to your community is a worthwhile activity in itself. But volunteering your time with the primary intent to market your business only pays off when the recipients of your largesse provide the promotional consideration they promised.
Beware of offers like online communities who award you a slot as an “expert” required to provide answers to questions, articles, and tools for free, but can’t deliver the traffic they promised. Or community organizations who ask you to serve in your professional capacity pro bono, but never so much as acknowledge you in their newsletter.
5. Ads, promotional schemes, and exhibit space that don’t fit your budget.
The moment you hang out your shingle as a business owner, you become a prime target for people selling print and online ad space, directory listings, search engine optimization, and trade show exhibits. Their offers may be appealing, especially if you’re feeling a bit desperate for business. But for the average independent professional, these approaches rarely pay back the required investment.
Consider this — if these promotional avenues were as good as the offers say, would they really need to have an army of commissioned salespeople pushing them on you? Before enrolling in any paid promotional scheme, compare its total cost to the value of closed sales you could conservatively expect to gain as a result. Make your own estimates; don’t just accept what the salesperson says. Then say no to any offer that may cost you more than it brings in.
6. Flavor-of-the-month marketing approaches.
Every time you turn around, it seems that someone has a new marketing idea for you. If you’re not seeing immediate results from what you’re already doing, it may be appealing to try something new. But keep in mind that every marketing strategy takes consistency and persistence to pay off.
When you drop what you’re doing to try something new, you may lose out on both the benefit of what you were doing before and the new approach you’re trying now, because you’ll have given neither of them the attention and longevity they truly require.
Here’s the bottom line. If you’ve ever felt like you were being pulled in a million different directions by the requirements of marketing your business, the solution may be right in front of you. Just say no to invitations, offers, and demands that serve the needs of other people better than they do your own.