Attracting customers is difficult, so bending over backwards to please them is easy.

As a result, we say “yes” to many things. We agree to add more features, hiring people who are not the right fit, meetings that have no return, and spending that makes no sense.

Why? We want to please and, as important, we are afraid to say “no”.

But “no” is one of the most powerful things you can say on the road to success. Saying “no” lets you be disciplined and focused on what’s important. Saying “no” is an effective way to allocate your energy on the right things, rather than someone else’s agenda.

The need to say “no” happened to me recently when I turned down a marketing consulting opportunity. It was a project where I could have provided a lot of value because the  company’s needs were pretty straightforward.

The problem? I wasn’t sure that I could effectively work the executive team. They had lots of idea but were not focused. I had concerns about conflicting agendas and approaches that would cause the project to lurch forward.

In other words, I was afraid of getting myself into a situation where success was a tenuous prospect. This is the biggest lesson I learned from consulting with startups last year. As much as working with startups is exciting, success for both parties is critical. Otherwise, everyone gets disappointed because they don’t achieve their goals.

I think this is the biggest reason to say “no”. It is important to position yourself for success. Whether you are a startup marketing consultant or a startup, success happens when it falls into your sweetspot. It is doing and making things that are true to who you are, rather than getting out of your comfort zone.

It sometimes means staying away from opportunities that are financially attractive, but may not deliver a good return on investment or be good for your business. It is hard to say “no” because business is frequently about saying “yes”.

In many ways, business owners want to please, not disappoint. Saying “yes” means you’re hungry, motivated and aggressive.

But I think businesses should say “no” more often. It allows a business to move ahead with a defined plan, rather than jumping around to capitalize on every opportunity.

By saying “no”, it opens the door  for when the right opportunities come along. As important, it means less stress for an entrepreneur because what you’re doing feels right, not forced or stressful.

For more on the power of “no”, Satya Patel has some advice for startups, while Holly Weeks looks at how to say no without burning bridges.


For start-ups and fast-growing companies looking to jump-start their marketing, I offer strategic and tactical services. Everything from building marketing engines to telling better stories through messaging/brand positioning, and reaching audiences by developing engaging content.

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