As a small business owner, I have to hear "no" a lot - but often I don't hear it. One of my favorite adages comes from Liz Craft and Sarah Fain - showrunners of Fantasy Island on Fox and hosts of the Happier in Hollywood podcast.
Yes comes quickly. No never comes
It's easy and fun to tell people "yes - you got the contract" or "yes - you got the internship" or "yes - we want to figure out a way to work with you". It's hard and oh so sad - and perhaps even angry to say, "no - I'm sorry but we decided to go a different direction."
In this post, we're going to explore ways to make that "no" easier to say and also how to deal with hearing no as a creator and small business owner.
Make "No" Easier to Hear
Now that I'm on "the other side" of consulting, I realize that I was often a poor potential client. I didn't always give consultants or other partners all the information they needed to give me the best possible support they could give me.
Make it easier to say no to a vendor or consultant by considering the following tips:
Don't make promises - while most vendors and consultants know that nothing is guaranteed until their is a signature on a contract, it's still hard to have verbal "yes - everything is in place" and "yes - we are going to sign it" only to get either no or, worse, radio silence. Instead of promises, be honest. Say something like, "We're on the right track but X still has to sign off and I've not talked with her yet. I'll talk with her on Tuesday and let you know."
Negotiate - Most vendors and contractors are willing to and expect to negotiate some elements of their proposed deal. I will say that when dealing with a vendor, it's more appropriate to negotiate on cost than it is with a single consultant. As a consultant, my hourly rate is my hourly rate. I am willing to hear you on why you want me to change it, but I also know and own my worth and value. If a deal doesn't go through at least give feedback to the vendor on what the reason is.
Give Budget, Get Budget - As a consultant, when I know the budget up front, I can design a package of services to meet that budget. I'll meet you where you are and might surprise you at how much you can get for a specific budgeted amount. As a client, I rarely ever gave budget numbers and I realize now that was a mistake because so many clients would rather ghost you than negotiate or actually tell you no.
Don't Take "No" as a Bad Thing
I treat every no as a piece of data. No isn't a rejection - it's just another piece of data in how I build my business. Here are a few things to consider as you hear no (or assume no when it never comes).
Build relationships, not contracts - My goal is to have a relationship with my clients. I want that relationship to last a long time. You have to sign contracts to sustain your business but remember that is your job not any one client's job. A permanent loss of a client relationship is the worst thing I could see happen. A short term loss on a specific contract is just business.
Every "No" is data - I've had four contracts rejected in three months. Yet, I've still hit my projected billable target each month. So, first of all that means I'm writing lots of proposals. Second, it means I'm testing out pricing and ideas for services. Each no helps me refine my business a bit more - and refine how I write and present contracts a bit more. Each "no" - particularly when the client and I have a relationship and the client can tell me why the no happened - is just data I use to improve future proposals that hopefully lead to contracts.
Close or extend a contract - I put a timeline in every proposal I write. A simple line like, "This pricing is valid through April 30, 2022." I follow up with the client on a routine schedule to see if they need more information and re-send the proposal to them if they haven't yet signed it (or check in in some reasonable way). I will say on the deadline either that I'm going to have to close the offer and would love to chat again soon to regroup on the project or other projects in the future or that I'll extend the pricing until X. I've found that this also sometimes gets a client moving. I think it's because we all respond to a deadline but we also have so much information on our plates that it is nearly impossible to keep it all in where we need it all the time.
I'd love to know how you deal with hearing no. How do you make it easier to say no in the future? What's the best way a potential client has ever told you no?