Say no!

Last month I told you to "say yes", so naturally, I will now tell you to say "no". Or more specifically, when to say "no". Or even more specifically... OK - I know it's confusing.

Opportunistic businesses take potentials and turn them into realities by saying "yes" to almost anything. But few such businesses are really successful because they lose focus. And there are obviously other signs for saying "no".

Some basic "know" situations

Know thyself. That is the real basic. In order to make good decisions you need to know things that you will not do, don't want to do, and that are likely to turn out badly. Here are some examples from my past where I said "yes" and should have said "no":

I could probably go on, but it would not help, and I would continue to get worked up over my honesty, their dishonesty, and my lack of sensibility at the time.

Standard approaches

I ultimately came to the conclusion that in order to be successful I would need to take on standard approaches. My contracts were standard, my activities were standard, my payment terms were standard, and my terms and conditions were standard. I turned down gigs now and then when they refused to agree, but I retained my requirements and have not suffered a substantial loss since.

I have a few notions around this that I thought I would share with you:

Focus and resources

One of the hardest things for a startup or small entity to do is to say "no" to business. Money is knocking and you need to pay the rent. Opportunistic businesses will say "yes" to these opportunities and feel like they are making progress as they build a client base and book of business. But large success is not really made up of a bunch of independent small successes. It comes from a systematic approach to success, generally in a repeatable process that can be taught to and carried out by others.

A business is something that sells things to the same customers again and again

This was the definition provided to me about 20 years ago by a venture capitalist. He was being truly helpful in telling me and my business partner that our business which would sell millions of customers the same thing would not work that way. And he was right. Ultimately, the cost of customer acquisition killed us. Not just the financial cost, but the cost in time. We needed a better plan and did not come up with one for that business that worked.

There are an unlimited number of ways to succeed. But most of the things you and I might think of have a problem or two that we can only get at by thinking them through. To be successful in a big way means finding things that will scale well.

In summary

This is about "no", or more specifically about focus. In order to succeed at scale, it is critical to be able to evaluate your approaches one after another and in detail and identify a plan that has a good chance of working. Saying "no" to bad plans is critical to success, and saying "no" to distractions is critical to focusing on a plan that will work.

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