𝗦𝗮𝘆 "𝗡𝗼" 𝗙𝗶𝗿𝗺𝗹𝘆 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗥𝗲𝘀𝗽𝗲𝗰𝘁𝗳𝘂𝗹𝗹𝘆
Updated: Mar 25
We're often inclined to help others in need. However, some founders have a debilitating need to always say yes to their stakeholders.
Sometimes you must say no to meet a specific deadline or to keep from feeling more overwhelmed.
“Half of life’s troubles can be traced to saying ‘yes’
too quickly and not saying ‘no’ soon enough.”
– Josh Billings
While you may be tempted to agree to others’ requests, you must consider your needs and the company’s growth when deciding whether or not to help someone. Let’s look at some categories of requestors and the best ways to respond to them.
Alternatives to No
Investors. Founders sometimes feel compelled to respond quickly and completely to investor requests.
Depending on the urgency, a fast reaction may be appropriate; however, other times, you can position the request in terms of other priorities. For instance, if you came out of the last board meeting with the priority to expedite growth over the next two quarters, an investor’s request to review three potential portfolio companies will detract from that objective.
You may remind the investor about the last conversation and note that you are heads down for the next few weeks. If being that blunt will cause too much friction, there may be a compromise where you can offer to help in a few weeks once you get through an immediate push, refer the investor to someone else who can help, or ask if you can review one company instead of three.
Team. Early-stage founders are used to doing many things themselves to get off the ground. The transition to being a leader who delegates—letting go of control, in other words—can be challenging for you and the people taking on more responsibility.
If you are getting inundated with requests for meetings, dedicate time on your calendar to whittling down your attendance. Determine which ones you truly add to or receive value from, and either cut the rest or join them much less frequently.
When it comes to decisions, choose which ones you should make, which ones you should discuss, which ones you should be informed about, and which ones can be made without you. By dividing decisions into those four categories, you create a framework that guides your team. Soon, you will find yourself involved in fewer discussions.
Clients. You may work with a dozen large clients or thousands of end users. Some requests will help you enhance your product or service, deliver a better experience, or reach new audiences—and that’s great.
Other requests will fall outside your roadmap—but you may still be expected to respond. A simple "no" may be off-putting, but explaining your plans helps to set expectations.
In service-based businesses, some clients are incredibly demanding. Ironically, often smaller clients have greater demands for your time and resources than larger ones. If those requests are reasonable, you should support the relationship. However, if those requests become disruptive, you must have a candid conversation with the client. If that does not work, consider firing them.
Your Schedule. In general, finding success will create more demands on your time. You may get requests for participating in interviews, speaking at engagements, and assisting other founders. You need to sit in a room alone and determine how your values align with your situation so you recognize the importance of both others’ requests and your time.
If you decide to decline a request, don’t simply ignore it, as tempting as that may be. Remember that it can be really hard to ask for help—and someone has put themselves in a vulnerable position by asking you. In less than a minute, you can communicate your choice in a clear, supportive way.
Responding "No" to Requests
Here are some options:
If you want to help later, offer a date when they can reach out again.
If you want to help, but less than asked, suggest a way that requires fewer hours.
If you cannot personally help, offer a substitute person to help.
If you cannot help, be firm and respectful in your response and wish them well.
Some people, knowingly or unconsciously, will keep asking for help. When someone asks, remember that you are not obligated to help and do not need to explain your decision.
Key Takeaway: You want to be a decent person while activating an ambitious vision. Balance those needs and be respectful when pushing back on requests.
Photo by Anastasia Krachkovskaya who can be found here.
* See post on To Move Forward, You May Need to Fire a Client.
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