Say yes!

There was a time when I determined how much time and resource it would take to perform on every proposal I had pending and said "no" to the ones I wasn't certain I could complete. The presumption was that if everyone said "yes", I would barely be able to get it all done. The only problem was that everyone never said "yes". Some said "yes" and some said "no", and most of them delayed until a bunch of them said "yes" all together. If only my customers would want work when I had time...

This came to a serious problem when I started to say "no" to manufacturing because my pipeline was full. There was a boom situation underway and I was under heavy pressure to deliver by deadlines. I ended up saying "no" to a few potential customers who came in with orders later than others because I knew I couldn't make all the deadlines. My board of directors was not happy with my turning down a local chain's order and would have preferred delays in national chain orders. The conversation was less than friendly surrounding this issue.

Feast or Famine

The basic problem with consulting, which I do a lot of, is that it is a feast or famine business. It is not, in my case, cyclical, in that there are no seasons that favor one thing or another. Rather, it is just that sometimes there is a lot to do and sometimes there is not. Some folks vacation in August, but this August, I had several deadlines to meet. Last August I had nothing to do. That is the nature of consulting; feast or famine.

During the feasts, it is all you can do to keep up. But the things that really determines success is what you do during the famines. If you develop new thing that customers ultimately want, you are preparing to succeed. If you make things that customers want more efficient, you can do more during the feasts with less resource, and you make more margin on the work you do. The famine is the most important time for any business.

More yes and less no

So I started to say "yes" more and more often. In fact, I learned how to say "yes". One of the many challenges I faces was that, because of my engineering background, science bent, and desire to be careful with my words and as honest as possible, I would always add on limitations to answers to any question.

Q: "Can you do it by Tuesday?"
A: "Sure, as long as there isn't a ..."

The worst part of it is that the "yes" part barely makes it out of my mouth in softened tone (sure) before the "no" part predicts failure.

My first step to fix this was to make my "no" part more humorous. I didn't yet have the ability to say "yes", but instead of a potentially serious warning after my "OK", I added "but it'll take working while watching the Steeler game" or some such thing of mutual joy and interest.

Once I got that working, I moved toward the better version of "yes". Here's the secret. Repeat after me: "Yes."

The word "yes" is not the same as "sure", "OK", "no problem" or any of that other stuff. "Yes" is definitive, all in, no qualms, no other options. If "no" means "no", remember, "yes" means "yes". Offer accepted. Done deal.

Improving on "yes"

Of course "yes" is the definitive answer, but it can be made even better, in one of at least two ways; (1) The upsell: "Do you also want fries with that?" and (2) The formality: "Let's fill out the order form." Whatever the process is, taking the order includes filling out some form of formal document in most cases. That's what comes after "yes". It's usually better to do any upsell after you get the order form almost entirely filled out - something about sunk cost on their part.

How much yes?

So I started to learn how to say "yes", and I tried essentially saying "yes" all the time. Not that I agreed to anything, but rather that I stopped picking the nits and started controlling work by increasing fees. As I got more and more "yes"es back from my "yes"es, I started to get more work than I wanted. Of course things I sold and sell in volume, manufactured goods, services of others, etc. if they want more, I increase the price and make more of them more quickly.

I normally have to raise the price for higher value in shorter time because, except for industrial age outsourced manufacturing and online manufacturing (software) and/or delivery (services), people with knowledge, skills, and training are required. If you want 500 experts today and none tomorrow, the cost will be sky high. But if you pay enough, you can get them. If you want 100x the number of records in your database, disk drives and computers are readily available, as are online services to deliver them as virtual resources... up to a point - I once made a request of Amazon Web Services that they could not fulfill because they didn't have enough capacity.

How much is enough?

At this point, I am again moving toward saying a bit less "yes" and a bit more "no", but I'm not saying "no" by saying "yes" poorly. The deeper question is really how much I am willing to work for how much money. This all goes to price of course. If I live to be 95 years old and someone says "I want you to move this rock", I will probably not say "no". I will probably say "No problem." And then I will say "no" by negotiating price, because they won't offer me enough to make it worth taking the limited time I will have left at that point. But if they offer enough, on retainer of course, I will likely say "yes", just for the fun of it. Think of it as a legacy.

In summary

If I learned to say "yes", you can too. It's as easy as believing in what you do. Don't worry about the details after you say "yes". Explain the limitations in the middle of your presentation, and once you have said them, don't worry about saying them again and again and again. Put it in the contract language. Or if you have to keep making it clear, put the "yes" at the end of the sentence instead of the beginning. "As soon as the weather clears, we'll be there." - Yes. "It'll be there in 48 hours." - Yes. "The check's in the mail" ... for another day...

Copyright(c) Fred Cohen, 2016 - All Rights Reserved