My New Magic Word - “NO”
Living with a toddler, I am bombarded by the second with the word “NO!” She says no to EVERYTHING! Even when she means yes. She especially loves to yell “NO” at the dogs--even when they’re not doing anything. While this overzealous use of the word has basically rendered it meaningless in my mind at this point, I can’t help but regard her in awe as she wields this powerful word with such ease.
As a total people pleaser, it is hard to remember a time when I felt comfortable saying no. I was the person who would always say yes. I was the sucker who would eventually volunteer for the task that nobody wanted. I was the person who swooped in and tackled the seemingly impossible. While this established me as a person who is reliable, generous, and capable, it also marked me as a person who is easily pushed around--to say nothing of the toll it took on me to take on way more than what I physically had time for.
I won’t even get into the fact that this is totally ingrained into us as women in a patriarchal society--to say yes and please authority. (Okay I guess I did get into it, but that's a soap box for another day!)
It wasn’t until one day that I heard someone say, “when you say yes to something, you are saying no to something else.” This probably isn’t groundbreaking news, but to me it was revolutionary. If I said YES to a project that I wasn’t super jazzed about, what would I be saying NO to? If the answer is “time with my family,” or “the ability to grow my business” I realized I wasn’t willing to compromise that time. As Randy Jackson would say, “It’s a no for me dawg.” (Obviously I am very hip with my VERY current references).
This seems very straightforward but it can be a lot more confusing if you are new to the business or if you aren’t sure what your goals are.
Saying "no" is hard, especially when you’re starting out--you want to make connections, show people you are reliable, and get exposure. I’m sure many of us starting our own businesses offered to do work for free in exchange for “exposure”. You might be in this stage of business right now. While sometimes this can be a good thing, it can be helpful to consider the whole picture. Here is some food for thought. Think about how much this unpaid labor will cost you--not only materials but also in time! Is it time taken away from paying projects? How much exposure will you really get? If you are a stationer working on a styled shoot for a wedding photographer, can you be certain that your business name will be featured? Can you get a copy of the photos to use for your own portfolio? Is the work even something that you actually do?
When I was first starting out, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do wedding stationery, just custom portraits, day-of details like signs and escort cards, greeting cards, or other… So I just said yes to all the things. As I said yes to more projects, it definitely helped me narrow down what I did and what I DID NOT like to do. Here’s the key, folks--once you realize it is something you DON’T like to do, that is a great time to say “no!” (politely, of course). Don’t take on projects that are no longer in your scope of work.
Knowing when to say no can also be hard if you don’t know where you’re going. Having goals and establishing targets can be really helpful in not only focusing your work, but also giving you a reason behind your no. For example, my goals this year are to grow my greeting card collection line, add in and nurture wholesale customers, create consistent and valuable content for folks like you, and be gentle with myself. Last year I focused a lot on custom portraits since it was a great way to bring in quick cash, but I realized that once the portrait is done, there is no way to reuse that content. Nobody wants a picture of someone else’s house. So instead of taking on custom work this year, I am focusing on painting elements that can be used on cards, patterns, and other items.
I’ve had a few requests for custom portraits in the past few weeks, but I have only taken on one that I could reuse in other ways. I am about to draw up a contract for a client who wants a sign for her nursery with her daughter’s name. She wants it to have florals on the top and bottom and the name in the middle. This is a perfect example of something I can say yes to, since I can use that floral element in other things. The name is actually what takes me the least amount of time.
On the other hand, I said no to a request for some watercolor wedding invitations for a styled shoot. I’m really trying to move away from weddings so doing a styled shoot (for free) would not be something that would help me move the needle for my business. I was a little nervous about saying no, but felt fortified when revisiting my goals. I sent a really nice message complimenting the photographer’s work and offering to help find someone who might be willing if he still needed someone. When he didn’t even respond to this email, not even with a simple thank you, it helped me feel really good about my decision to say no to this project.
It’s been honestly refreshing to stretch my “no” muscles. It’s like you can hear the power and strength of “no” ringing through our house as my daughter and I practice setting boundaries. I hope she never loses her confidence in using the word no.
So, if you want to practice singing “no” from the rooftops, I’ve made a quick little flowchart to help you decide if it’s a “no for you dawg.” Fill in the info below to get it delivered right to your email.