I want to share a story about a recent challenge I faced saying ‘no’ to an opportunity that my gut immediately rejected but my heart fought for (and lost). Back in November I was asked to serve as the president of an impressive product marketing organization based here in Massachusetts. I was honored to be asked, especially since the founder is an individual whom I greatly respect. The organization is successful and they are looking to take themselves to the next level. So, I had two key questions to answer: ‘Was I the right person to help them grow?” and “Was this the right organization to help my business grow?” The latter was harder to answer than I anticipated.
Over the past few years I have worked diligently to establish myself as an expert in business growth (building upon my marketing/sales background). While I love ‘all things marketing,’ as a small business trainer I have learned that teaching marketing on its own simply isn’t enough to help business owners achieve the success they desire.Being able to set actionable goals, understand cash flow and manage and motivate your team is just as important as understanding why customers buy from you and why they might also buy from your competitors. I now integrate all aspects of business strategy, tactics and growth in my workshops to ensure a more significant impact on the small business communities I work with. Returning to a role focused solely on marketing strategy doesn’t align with my business model. So, this should have been an easy ‘No,’ right? Wrong!
Here’s where my dilemma began. I was personally excited about working with this group because the people in the organization were truly passionate, dynamic and interesting individuals with whom I wanted to collaborate.But, the organization didn’t fit into my wheelhouse, so how could I say ‘yes?’ Good question! I searched for this answer for weeks. I interviewed almost two dozen individuals associated with the organization, looking for a reason to say ‘yes’ but I kept coming back with ‘no.’ Nonetheless, Irefused to listen to my ‘logical’ side screaming that this was not the right role for me.
So, how did I resolve this dilemma? I removed the emotion from the decision. I created a spreadsheet (nothing fancy, trust me) and on the vertical axis (also know as the Y axis for you engineering-types) I plotted all my 2012 projects, training initiatives and other key activities like my book tour, speaking gigs, articles, newsletter and blog. Then on the horizontal (X) axis I plotted my business goals: consulting, training, being a thought leader, helping inner city and small businesses, etc… You get the point. I also included a business goal category called college fund. Why? Because I could do what I love all day long but if I’m not getting paid, my kids will have to rely on the dogs getting great modeling jobs to support their college education (cute as the dogs are, that wasn’t happening any time soon).
Next, I decided that every project listed on the vertical axis had to fit into at least two of these goal categories (three if there was no revenue involved). For example, the training program I run in Salem, MA fit into several categories including: small business, training, coaching and college fund. Other initiatives such as blogging or writing my newsletter didn’t make the college fund but fit into small business, thought leadership and coaching categories. Simple, right?
You’d be surprised how cathartic this was. When the chart was completed, I could see in black and white, no emotions involved, everything that I had accomplished in the past year. I could also see how some of the initiatives I had taken on were clearly not smart choices. Honestly, I already knew which initiatives I shouldn’t continue but now I had no reason to argue with myself over continuing them. Here it was, plain and simple, staring back at me from my computer screen – my smart choices and my ‘not so smart’ decisions. The visual impact was quite empowering.
Ultimately, this chart gave me the power and internal strength to say ‘no’ to the position as president of this organization. The organization just didn’t fit into my current goals. I simply couldn’t justify saying ‘yes,’ hoping that the pleasure of working with the folks in the group would somehow payoff in the long term. It just didn’t make sense but now it was no longer based on a gut feeling or emotion. It was pure logic.
When I called the founder and politely turned down the opportunity, I knew I had made the right decision. Interestingly enough, several new opportunities opened up in the weeks that followed. Ones that I wouldn’t have been able to go after if I had agreed to serve as president of this group and ones that very clearly fit into my wheelhouse. Now I have this amazing chart to refer to each time I have to decide ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
If you are grappling with a logical system to streamline your goals, actions and empower your ability to say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ spend an hour doing this exercise. I guarantee it’ll be the best hour you’ll spend on yourself and your business. When you’re done, email me and let me know what you are doing differently this year as you focus your efforts on growth and please share your stories of how you learned to say ‘Yes’ to ‘No.’