It's every entrepreneur's dream come true — your early-stage business finds its stride and begins to take off. But every positive opportunity has its downsides: A newly successful entrepreneur will find him- or herself facing more opportunities than are possible to manage.
Brian Honigman, marketing consultant and founder at Honigman Media, found himself with this dilemma just two years into pursuing his business full-time. Facing opportunities to teach at top universities and to speak at conferences all over the world, Brian has found that saying "No" has been the most efficient and powerful growth lever for his entire organization.
"I first recognized the importance of saying 'No' in my business when it started to overtake my free time," says Honigman. "With my work and client work, my business started to take away time from hanging out with family and friends, and me resting, because I had too much work on my plate. And it was no one's fault but my own, because I just kept saying 'Yes': Yes to projects, Yes to the next campaign, Yes to re-upping a project, Yes to adding another component to a project."
But Honigman doesn't just say "No" to opportunities arbitrarily or simply ignore his messages in LinkedIn, email, and Twitter. Instead, he ensures that every opportunity aligns with his business's long-term growth goals.
"When you say 'No,' you are actively managing your company's direction. If you just say 'Yes' to everything coming your way, you'll be inundated, you'll be catering your direction to other people's times, other people's interests and goals, as opposed to really reflecting how you want to grow the business and take it to the next level," says Honigman.
"It's super important to say 'No' because, if you said 'Yes,' as a successful business owner, you'll be inundated with “Can I pick your brain" requests, and coffees with budding entrepreneurs, which it's great to do those things in moderation. But it's really important to say 'No' so that you're actively managing your time and choosing the right priorities for you and your business."
So how can a business owner accomplish this goal? Follow this framework, says Honigman:
Honigman explains that at the beginning of his entrepreneurial career, he was inclined to say 'Yes' to every press and media opportunity, including contributing quotes to articles — "just to get my name out there," he says.
"But that effort took time away from finding the right clients, onboarding them, doing the actual work, hiring contractors, dealing with finance, etc."
Honigman realized that he needed to make these his core business pillars, with time left over for friends and family, to build his business sustainably.
"Now, when choosing media and PR opportunities, I make sure that they are beneficial to the audience I want to reach."
The more successful an entrepreneur becomes, the more he or she becomes a target for questions — "to pick your brain," says Honigman.
"I am such a believer in giving it forward and meeting with new people, with other marketers and business owners, entrepreneurs, trying to start their own business, fuel their side hustle, but over time you have to become more and more selective of what people you meet, or the more successful you become, the more people will be trying to take some of your time, and it may not always be in your best interest to take that time to meet with them."
It's important to be very selective in your networking efforts.
"I specifically meet with individuals or I curate a group of other business owners and professionals that I want to meet, and that want to meet me and want to meet the different people that I can introduce them to, so that I ensure my time is well spent on that front. So just understanding, again, what your priorities are, and really thinking about an opportunity before just jumping on the 'Yes' train."
A successful business will continue to evolve, and entrepreneurs will need to make sure that they continue to say "No" in a strategic way. Honigman explains that this may be a challenge:
"There is no perfect formula. I have a strong understanding of the type of networking I want to do, the types of clients I want to take on, the types of organizations I want to partner with. But in some cases, there's exceptions that pop up, and they may break the rule and I might say yes, because it's interesting to me — I want to learn more about it, it's something unexpected, and that's okay, too. But you just want to make decisions that reflect the type of business that you want to run. You want to make decisions that reflect well on you as an entrepreneur, and reflect well on the business you're trying to grow."
In other words, don't be too rigid in your decision-making criteria. Opportunities that you may not have considered might provide insight into new business opportunities.
"'No' really helps you draw a line in the sand of, this is what I stand for as a business owner, this is what I don't stand for, these are the types of clients I'm working with, these are the types of clients I'm not going to work with. I don't work with clients that are overly difficult for no reason, or are temperamental, or that have a terrible looking website or brand," say Honigman.
"I only want to work with organizations that employ really passionate people that are friendly and excited and hardworking, and that want to move the needle in whatever market they're active in. And by being able to say 'No,' I was able to quickly learn how to turn down opportunities that don't reflect my company's trajectory."
Do you feel as though you've reached a time crunch in your personal or professional lives? Do you feel exhausted? It might be time to start saying "No" strategically. Take some much-needed time off. Relax. Think about your long-term goals. Come back refreshed, and aligned with the right people.
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