A day in the life of any small business is just as the name would imply: busy. Between appointments, emails, meetings, presentations, pitches, agreements, HR, accounting, and all the rest—there never seems to be enough time in the day.
The same was true for entrepreneur Jo Piazza, who described herself as a one-time “yes person,” a “people-pleaser,” an “eager beaver.”
Her reward? 85-hour weeks.
This is no way to run a small business. To manage your business—and your life—you have to learn the time-saving art of saying “no.” Of being the opposite of a people-pleaser. Here are just a few of the reasons—and lessons—from those who have made the switch from “yes person” to someone who’s learned to put up boundaries.
“No” Isn’t the Disaster You Think It Will Be
As Jo Piazza wrote for Forbes, her time management was so bad that she would get physically ill, unable to sleep at night. Her fear of conflict—the fear of the confrontations that might arise after saying “no” to an opportunity—forced her into one untenable week after another.
Piazza consulted Dr. Laurie Sanford, a clinical psychologist, for insight. "As we say no,” Sanford said, “we realize that our fears are unfounded. People will wait for us. We will still be 'good'. And ALL personal gratification does not need to be delayed for us to be successful.”
In other words, “no” is usually not the disaster you think it will be.
Tim Ferriss and the Pareto Principle
In his seminal productivity masterwork “The 4-Hour WorkWeek,” Tim Ferriss revealed that his time management went through an overhaul when he discovered the work of an economist named Vilfredo Pareto. According to Pareto—in simplified terms—80% of the given results in a system come from 20% of the causes.
Ferriss turned around and applied this to his own time management. Working unwieldly hours running his small business, Ferriss realized that a small minority of customers were taking up the majority of his time. Conversely, a small minority of customers were placing the bulk of his orders—without ever causing any trouble in his life.
As Ferriss describes it: “Out of more than 120 wholesale customers, a mere 5 were bringing in 95% of the revenue. I was spending 98% of my time chasing the remainder, as the aforementioned 5 ordered regularly without any follow-up calls, persuasion, or cajoling. In other words, I was working because I felt as though I should be doing something from 9-5.”
Ferriss decided to reach out to the customers giving him a headache. Although one dropped, another started behaving as Ferriss requested.
The results, Ferris said, were to become “immediately 10 times happier.” By freeing up his own time with his own version of “no,” Ferriss cut out the significant stressors in his life and paved the way for automation that made a new lifestyle possible.
“No” Allows You To Set Personal and Professional Boundaries
According to Dr. Henry Cloud, the author of “Boundaries,” the most boundary-setting word is no. Cloud argues that “no” is fundamental to setting boundaries the same way a “No Trespassing sign” denominates the beginning of private property and the end of public property.
These boundaries are essential for anyone in business, but they don’t get enforced unless you’re first willing to set the ground rules. To accomplish that, the best word to learn is simple: “no.”
That often means enduring the losses in opportunity that come with saying no. In the example above, Tim Ferriss was willing to lose out on some of his business if it meant less stress as well. To him, potentially losing that business was well worth the gains he would make in the manageability of his daily life.
Saying “no”—even to opportunities—means that you’re setting boundaries not because you want to lose out on opportunities, but because you realize there is a work/life balance that needs to be enforced if you’re going to keep any of your sanity as an entrepreneur. Saying “no” to a business meeting when you’d rather see your child’s recital isn’t an act of regression, but simply a way of asserting how you want your life to be.
“No” Is the First Step Toward Becoming a More Assertive Entrepreneur
When most people think of the word “assertive,” they likely picture the type-A Hollywood agent or Wall Street type, constantly yelling into the phone. But assertiveness and aggression don’t have to go hand-in-hand.
In fact, the most effective form of assertiveness can be peaceable and quiet. The act of saying “no” is the first step here. If your business doesn’t have the inventory to meet a customer’s requirements, for example, telling them you’ll fill the order is “going along to get along.” It adds to the stress in your life.
Saying “no” to that opportunity is easy. You can do it politely. You don’t have to take any major risks simply by saying “no.” But it’s assertive because it means you have a solid grasp of your boundaries as an entrepreneur and aren’t willing to compromise them simply because a new opportunity came your way.
Don’t Be a “Yes Person”
On a fundamental level, we human beings have a need to be liked. We want to have a good reputation. We want word to spread about our business—that we’re confident, able businesspeople who can handle anything you throw at us.
But saying yes to every time-sucking, stress-inducing opportunity that comes your way isn’t worth this reputation, particularly if you build an unsustainable lifestyle predicated on staying at the office for 12 hours a day.
Don’t be a yes person for the sake of saying yes. Instead, define the exact boundaries you want to set for yourself. And if someone along the way tempts you and your business with an opportunity that costs too many headaches for what it’s worth, stay calm, say no, and move on. It will save you both time and energy.