How Saying ‘No’ Can Be Good For Business

Just Say NoIf you watch any of the reality televisions shows – stick with me here – that involve the creative process, Project Runway comes to mine, you’ll notice that when contestants do poorly usually it’s due to a lack of editing.

We tend to have the attitude that “more is better” and when we’re faced with making difficult choices, we would rather not choose at all. Or when we don’t know exactly what to do, we throw the “whole kitchen sink” at the issue.

Let me toss a great Steve Jobs quote your way:

“People think focus means saying ‘yes’ to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying ‘no’ to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”

When Project Runway contestants go overboard on design ideas they just get scorned by the judges and perhaps lose their chance at the grand prize. In any case, the “punishment” is over quickly.

When small business owners are unable to “edit” their ideas and say no to projects or commitments, they usually have to live with the consequences for a long time. Consider some of the possible situations and their consequences.

You expand too quickly. In retail this often means that the business’ first location suddenly ends up playing “second fiddle.” Quality and customer service drop. Pretty soon the owner discovers that he or she has a problem store or restaurant that needs rehabilitation. Before you open a second location, be sure the first can operate without your care and feeding.

By the way, this can also happen when merely physically enlarging a facility. Supervising a large crew is far different than looking after a handful of original employees.

The expansion could be in the product catalog. This happens in retail and in business-to-business enterprises. Consider the amount of revenue that each new item should bring in. How much added staff will you need to support that? Will the added revenue be sufficient to cover the added overhead or are you just diluting your overall margins?

You chase rabbits. One day you become enchanted by the potential of a somewhat unrelated business area and open another business or department to specialize in it. This is what Jobs was talking about. For example, rumors of an Apple television set have been going around for as long as I can remember.

Consider the number of TV sets that are sold each year, this could be a profitable and appealing market – if Apple could maintain its margins. However, jumping into making TVs would significantly change the focus of the company and so far, the risk hasn’t been worth the gamble.

When you go on a rabbit chase, your original prey – your core business and its customers – leave your field of vision. Presented with tempting new business offers and ideas, you need to consider them carefully and learn that often the best response is to “just say no.”

However, don’t stop there: use that “no” as a signal to go back and renew your efforts on your core business.

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Image: Just Say No, © 2009 Simon Doggett, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.