Being Able to Say “No” Is a Business Milestone

Last week the 3.7 Designs team was invited to speak at LA2M about customer service and client expectations. We spent several hours discussing the topic internally in preparation for our thirty minute presentation. While we discussed a range of skills from planning for the unplanned to being transparent, the most important lesson we covered is the power of “no.” It’s funny that a simple word can have so much power… but it does. In fact, getting to the point where you can confidently say “no” in the right situation is a major milestone for any agency or freelancer.

Pressured To Say Yes

Many people have difficulty saying no to inconsequential requests. How many times have you found yourself doing something that was unworthy of your time because you didn’t have the courage to say no? You could fill your entire life with worthless activities if you said yes to everything that came across your plate. In doing so you would sacrifice your potential, failing to accomplish the things most important to you.

In many ways businesses fall victim to this same trap. There is a misconception that a business should serve anyone willing to spend money. In reality, doing so is damaging. But let’s look at where this habit forms, the startup phase.

It Comes Down to Sustainability

Unless you are one of the lucky few with deep pockets or ample funding, starting a business requires being respectful of cash flow. Can you keep the lights on? Your founders fed? No? Then you had better get some money anyway you can. Any paying project looks good when your checks start bouncing. For an agency trying to get off the ground, getting a paying client of any form is helpful.

While useful short-term, this becomes a learned behavior. Long term you begin acquiring more lackluster projects and all energy is spent sustaining the business instead of evolving it.

Agencies should strive to shed poorly fitting projects and only work with their “ideal clients.”

Only Work With Ideal Clients

Every agency, regardless of size will have ideal clients. No company has a target market of “everybody.” Sometimes the ideal client will be dictated by needs, for example, a prospect may need help with the CMS that your team has expertise in. Other times it comes down to personality. If you have an agency that likes close client integration, you will have difficulty working with someone who just wants as little involvement as possible.

You hold your agency back when you take on a client that falls outside your budgetary needs, has an incompatible personality or doesn’t interest you. I assure you these projects will take more energy and time than the dream projects.

Furthermore, the incompatibility will leave you and the client feeling lukewarm about each other. Worse yet, it will suck energy out of your team rather than energize them.

When you accept projects that are the ideal fit everyone benefits. You do your best work, the client gets the best product and you build strong relationships. It’s great relationships and great work that build great agencies, not the volume of output.

Get to the Milestone

Chances are you will say “yes” to average projects longer than you should. It’s hard to turn down money, I understand. What you need to realize is long-term you are actually losing money. Perfect projects are always more profitable. They lead to referrals, lower customer acquisition costs and larger budgets.

Even if you have capacity, time is better spent towards marketing than earning a quick buck. With enough time invested you will get fewer sub-par prospects and more that meet your criteria.

The rewards are obvious. A happier, more engaged team, lower marketing costs and higher profits. All it takes is a little courage and perhaps some advice from successful CEOs such as Andrew Defrancesco.