How to Avoid Saying “No” — and Get More of the “Yes” You Want

Don’t get me wrong, saying “no” is an important skill. But that doesn’t mean that it’s ever fun.

Often, when your business starts rocking and rolling, it’s the direct result of saying “yes” to many things. Then you find yourself in with the choice between either curling up in the fetal position and sobbing or needing to say “no” more often.

Many of us opt for the fetal position.

But don’t let that be you.

In fact, my chief motive in avoiding “no” is that my reflex is still to say “yes” and I’d rather not tempt myself.

The good news is that you can actually put systems in place in your business to avoid saying that nasty two-letter word. These systems can even help you project a clear value statement, communicate a better understanding of your ideal client, and bring in more revenue.

And that means you can get more of the “yes” you really want.

1) Have a clear scope of work.

When you get to the point of needing to say “no,” you have a pretty good idea of the work you like to do and the work you were willing to tolerate on your growth path. You probably have a web presence (whether it’s a shop, a Work With Me page, or a Bio) that’s less-than-clear about the work you do.

Likely, you’re also getting a lot of work from referrals and that means that any “yes” you give to work you merely tolerate has an exponential effect of people wanting more of that work.

To avoid saying “no” to work outside of what you love, narrow the scope of your work. Get super clear about the kind of work that turns you or your team on and leave out mentions of the stuff you’ve tolerated in the past.

2) State your price.

Let’s face it, the need for “no” increases when people start haggling with you. And people will haggle when they don’t know what your starting price is to begin with.

You may have avoided putting a price on your work publicly in the past because you weren’t entirely sure what that price was (ahem, more haggling) but you know now. Or you should.

So set that price, or a price range, and clearly communicate it throughout your web presence.

3) Communicate your time frame.

You’re busy. You don’t have time to squeeze in a project, do you? But… maybe just this once. Or twice. Or three times.

The thing about “yes” is that it swells up into a tsunami of yes. Then, there you are, standing on the beach, watching the killer wave come toward you.

Of course, it would be better to be on higher ground from the get go. Be realistic about your time frames. You know how long the average project takes. You know how many projects you can handle at once. And you know how much of a buffer between now and a new project you prefer.

You can state all three of those things explicitly as a way to set clear expectations for prospects. “The average project takes approximately 6 weeks. We take 3 projects at a time. And new projects are schedule approximately 3 weeks out.”

Now, you’ve drastically reduced the likelihood that someone is even going to ask you to fit something in.

4) Know your policies and communicate them to your team.

When all else fails, let someone else say “no.” It isn’t a cop out, it’s team building!

In all seriousness, if you have a problem saying “no,” choose team members who don’t, tell them what works best for your business (your policies), and let them deliver the bad news. Likely, they’re less emotionally invested in the “no” than you are and can deliver it with respect, graciousness, and resolution.

Keep in mind that you often don’t know what your policies are until you’re faced with needing to say “no.” So keep a working document where you record what your always-going-to-be-no’s are and share that document with your team. While it might not keep you away from the initial “no,” it’ll be easier to avoid in the future.

Learning to say “no” is part of the growth of any business (or human, for that matter) but making changes in your marketing, policies, or team to avoid having to say “no” is worth the effort.

You’ll find that these changes often bring about a lot more “yes” from all the right people and projects. Click to tweet!

Yes, You Can Afford It: Quantifying the Value of a Good Hire

I moved last week. The change was way overdue. I wasn’t very happy with my home and that meant spending too much money on eating out, spending too much time puttering about town, and spending too much energy fretting over the whole situation.

As the end of my lease started to approach, I began stalking Craigslist, which is no easy feat in a market that straddles two different directories on the site.

Finally, I found an apartment that looked like it just might be perfect. Newly remodeled, view of the river, close to downtown, not too far up the hill, dishwasher, washer/dryer, fireplace, porch. It had every single one of my “must haves” and then some.

I called, realized that I knew the landlord through the Astoria business owners group I belong to, and made an appointment to see it. My partner and I took a look, loved it, and we decided it was the one for me.

That was 1 week into my March from hell. Actually, it was an incredible month. Just jam-packed with incredibleness in a way that leaves me feeling overwhelmed, overloaded, and stressed out. Lots of social visits, lots of travel, a launch, and some deadlines.

And then I had to move.

Hiring movers was a last minute decision. I don’t have a lot of stuff and it seemed like it would be relatively easy. But the weight of actually having to do it started to become heavier and heavier.

Finally, my partner and I made the decision to give up the DIY route and find someone else to do the heavy lifting. That was two days before we needed to make the majority of the move.

Luckily, I found a team of movers through the Uhaul website and made the appointment. On moving day, it took them 1.5 hours to move all the furniture out of the old place and into the new place.

Most of the work leftover was the “fun part:” arranging, hanging art, finding homes for my things.

I was able to get back to work immediately—albeit running my internet through my cell phone. I was able to enjoy breakfast, lunch, and dinner at home. And I was able to start loving my new home.

The truth is, I can’t live the life I want to live or do the work I want to do on my 24 hours alone.

At Pioneer Nation, Laura Roeder pointed out a neat little “trick” that we use to combat this problem:

If you have more work or life than you can fit in your own 24 hours, you can trade money for a few of someone else’s 24 hours.

That line got a lot of laughs. It’s simple and it’s true.

But the whole truth is that it’s actually so much better than that.

The real trick is that the things we need to be hiring for take less time for the people who specialize in those things and cost us much less in money than the equivalent level of stress it would cost for us to do it ourselves.

For example, many of you know that I pay someone to answer the bulk of my email. Let’s break that down:

1) Megan takes about 3 hours per week to process all of my general mail.

She does so without emotional baggage or distraction from more pressing obligations. If I were answering my own email, it would take much more than 3 hours per week and would regularly involve emotional upheaval. I’d be constantly battling the desire to be more available for clients or to be creating new resources for my community members.

2) Megan respects my boundaries more than I do.

Megan knows how many weeks ahead of time we’re scheduling. She knows what hours of the day I like to take calls. She knows which days of the week are off limits. She knows when to follow-up with me and when to not pass something on to me. While many of us are good about knowing what our boundaries are, it’s so easy to want to be of service that you ignore them. Megan keeps me from doing that.

3) Megan can make suggestions to optimize our workflow.

Because of Megan’s unique skill set (well, unique from mine—you too can find someone with this skill set), she is attuned to seeing opportunities for optimization. So if I’m making something more complicated than necessary, she’ll point it out and we’ll create a better system. That makes both of our lives easier and—again—means that I have to use less of her 24 hours to get ahead.

In the past few months, I’ve hired for public relations, transcription, event coordination, ghostwriting (starting drafts that I can finish), social media, and ad optimization. In the next few months, I’ll be adding a team of licensed facilitators. These are all things I’m perfectly capable of doing. But they’re just not things that fit in my own 24 hours. And they’re worth more financially to me than the stress of trying to cram them in.

Doing it all on your own isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Click to tweet!

Now, I can’t promise that the next person you hire will provide you the same benefits. But what do you have to lose? Only stress, hours off your work week, and that nagging desire to ignore your own needs.

Don’t Ignore This Key Asset: Catherine Just Case Study

Do you have a great plan? Something that really should be working… but it’s just not? There’s a good chance that you ignored a key asset when you created your plan.

That was the case with Catherine Just.

On paper, her plan looked great. She was well known for a popular telesummit, the Soul*Full Summit, where she’d interviewed people like don Miguel Ruiz, Danielle LaPorte, SARK, and Chris Brogan. She had a set of courses that brought in rave reviews.

But she was drained. Both financially and creatively, her business wasn’t working for her. When she completed her Onlyness Inventory, she realized that she was ignoring a key capital asset in her business: her skill as a fine art photographer. It was the drive to create art and to help others do the same that could guide her business to success.

She’s now embarking on creating a series of offers that support her fine art photography, leverage her strengths, and ignore the “supposed to’s” that weren’t working for her.

Catherine Just - fine art photographerDuring the 10ThousandFeet program I was able to identify and create a new vision for my business. Tara saw it first and held that space for me while I gathered the courage to rise to the occasion.

I stopped following the online entrepreneurial crowd and started to trust my own inner compass. I changed my website to reflect this new direction. My offerings shifted. I created a free ebook of photography tips for my email opt-in incentive. I received rave reviews for it.

I now offer high-end photo sessions with an award-winning team. I photograph high-profile professional speakers, authors, artists, rock stars and thought leaders (like Tara Gentile, Kate Northrup, Danielle Laporte and Miguel Ruiz ) for their websites and PR materials.

I’m also creating new fine art photography work that will be featured throughout the web and will be shown in galleries.

I’m creating a mentoring program called Empowered Photographer that will both empower people to use their cameras with more confidence and allow me to personally coach them to create a body of work they’re proud of. Participants will show their final images in an online photo exhibition and have a book published with all the work.

What I learned in 10Thousandfeet? I learned to unlearn my own ways of doing business! They weren’t working. I decided to do every thing Tara suggested and so far have been amazed at the results.

I’m so much more confident and less stressed out. I’ve stopped pushing and striving. I use specific methods to figure out what my clients really want and need and what I have that can serve them while building a business that works for me. It’s not a cookie cutter marketing program with one size fits all.

I’ve been able to create a unique business while having a busy life as artist and mom to my 5 year old son who has special needs. I get to thrive. I get to create my art in the way that makes my heart sing and helps others do the same. It’s a win win.

Find out more about Catherine’s work and watch her business evolve by visiting her website.

10ThousandFeet has two spots open and we start Monday. Join today.

What Your Customers Don’t Know Might Hurt You

Ever get that feeling that your marketing message isn’t pressing the right buttons for your customers? Ever notice that sometimes the story you’re using to sell your product or service just isn’t connecting with your leads?

This is a problem I encounter quite often with the business owners I work with. They’ve got something truly remarkable to offer but no one knows because they aren’t talking about it in a way that makes people take notice.

Immediately, I start to consider the answers to these questions:

  • How does the customer perceive their current situation? How do they feel right now?
  • What do they know about the problem they face or the desire they’re hoping to attain?
  • What’s currently standing in the way of them either fixing their problem or achieving their goal?

You’ve probably heard that the best way to communicate with someone is to meet them where they’re at. The point of these questions is to figure out exactly where that is so that you can do just that.

Once I’ve figured out where a particular customer segment is, my job is to understand what matters to them. Is it the problem they’re facing? Or is it the solution they’re after?

That helps me put those customers into one of two very big umbrellas: problem-aware and solution-aware.

Problem-aware customers know they hurt. Or they’re frustrated. Or they’re fed up with the status quo. They know they’re not accomplishing what they want to accomplish–whether that’s looking great for a big event, changing careers, or breaking bad habits–but they don’t know what it takes to make it happen.

When your customers are merely problem-aware, your main job is connecting the dots between what they feel and what they perceive as the problem to what you see as the solution to their problem.

It takes a lot of empathy, a lot of acknowledgement, and a healthy dose of step-by-step, insightful explanation.

How do you know if you’re dealing with problem-aware customers? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do my customers focus more on superficial issues and less on underlying concerns?
  • Do my customers focus on how they feel right now and less on how they want to feel?
  • Do my customers miss connections between their frustrations and their actions or beliefs?

Evernote‘s current brand messaging is telling a story about a problem most people face: forgetting stuff. For their website headline, they switch it around and lead with “Remember everything.” They don’t open the conversation with the fact that their app is available on every platform, that it’s free, or even that it has an infinite number of uses.

They focus on a single problem, forgetfulness, and suggest that remembering everything is actually possible.

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Solution-aware customers know what they want and know there’s a tool, product, process, program, or service that will help them get it. If it’s information they lack, they have a well-formed question. If it’s skills they lack, they have name for those skills. If it’s a tool they lack, they can describe it to you.

These customers need you to explain why your solution works, why it’s best, and why it’s what they’ve been looking for. Credibility is key here. Reputation is huge.

Empathy still plays a part but so does helping to hold a positive vision for your customers. It’s almost more about empathizing with how they will feel instead of how they feel right now.

How do you know if you’re dealing with solution-aware customers? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are my customers asking for specific solutions that make sense for their goals?
  • Are my customers addressing underlying issues that might prevent them from reaching their goals?
  • Do my customers see where they’re falling short and aim to address those areas specifically?

Conversely to the Evernote example, WooThemes leads with the solution when they talk about WooCommerce. The prospects for this product aren’t confused about the fact that they need to sell online. They probably don’t even need to be convinced that they’re looking for a WordPress plugin. Nope, WooCommerce can simple say that it’s the WordPress eCommerce plugin that sells anything & everything, beautifully.

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If you’ve created a product or service that you feel should be a no-brainer and it’s not selling, it’s likely that the story you’re telling about that product isn’t matching what your customers are aware of.

That said, problem-aware and solution-aware customers exist in almost every market. People will buy your product for different reasons. And it will mean different things to different people.

Gene Schwartz wrote in Breakthrough Advertising:

“If [your prospect] is aware of your product and realizes it can satisfy his desire, your headline starts with your product. If he is not aware of your product, but only of the desire itself, your headline starts with the desire. If he is not yet aware of what he really seeks, but is concerned only with the general problem, your headline starts with that problem and crystallizes it into a specific need.”

Of course, how you frame the story doesn’t start & end with the headline or sales page. It can be baked into the very development of the product, just as any good story should.

And as Bernadette Jiwa writes in Difference, “You can’t begin to tell a story without understanding why that story should matter to the people you want to serve.

That’s really the crux of it.

A story on the solution side doesn’t matter nearly as much to a person who is focused on the problem, the disconnect, or the frustration. A story that’s focused on the problem doesn’t matter nearly as much to a person who is looking for a solution.

Once you’ve determined what’s important to your prospects about what you have to offer, whether it’s the solution itself, the pain they’re feeling, or the image they want to have of themselves, you can craft both a product/service and the story that will help you sell it.

I like corduroy blazers, iced lattes, and…

Can’t see the video? Click here.

When I sit down with friends for coffee, a drink, or a hearty beef stew – just kidding, don’t like beef stew – no matter how hard I try, it always comes back to business.

Maybe they tell me about something that’s not working. Maybe they tell me something they’re unclear on. Maybe we just chat about the state of “things.”

I ask a question. And then another. Soon I’m on a roll.

This is what I love. The in-the-moment state of figuring things out. Not me – but them. They’re figuring things out as we talk. They’re learning that they have the answers already.

I just unlock them.

I tease out what’s just below the surface. Unnoticed. Undeveloped.

I love it. This isn’t “work” for me in the sloggish, not fun, assembly line sense. This is work for me in that I feel like an artist while I’m doing it.

I pick up my chisel and I carve out the ideas, clarity, or spark that was already there.

I created The Art of Earning LIVE to bring that experience to you. Yes, we’re doing it live & in person in Philly. But we’re also bringing to you – wherever you are – through a private LiveStream broadcast.

Grab a coffee or glass of wine and let me unleash your own business wisdom.

Join me for The Art of Earning LIVE — Virtual Ticket.

When I used to play small…

Just before I shut down my email for the 2010 holiday break, I got an email from Tara Mohr.

Tara had been on my radar for a few months. I was reading her blog, her posts on Productive Flourishing, and her articles on the Huffington Post. We’d tweeted back and forth a few times too. It was obvious that Tara was playing a big game with her internet presence, her business, and her life.


I opened the email expecting to find a holiday greeting or maybe an invitation to chat further.

Instead she said something to the effect of:

I had a dream that I did a session with you. It went really well. I’d like to schedule one.

I stared at the computer screen. “Um, what?” I thought.


At the end of 2010, I had a thriving business and was empowering plenty of fledgling entrepreneurs to make significant improvements in their businesses. I believed in what I did. But Tara? I didn’t feel qualified. She was out of my league.

In the moment I read that email, I confronted all of my fears:

  • I’m not good enough.
  • I’m a fraud.
  • I won’t have anything of value to offer her.
  • This can’t end well.

In my mind, these were legitimate concerns. Truths I either needed to accept or overcome. I wasn’t cutting myself down, I was serving a potential customer, right? Right?

I mustered all my courage focused objectively on all the things I did have to bring to the table, and responded to the email.

I don’t remember exactly what I said and I can’t bear going back into my email archive to dig it out. But I’m sure it was something like this:

Tell me more about what you’re looking for.

Interested but noncommittal.

I think I also was quite honest and explained that I wasn’t sure how I was qualified to help her but that I was willing to try.


Graciously, Tara responded with more info and I began to see how valuable I could be to what she was trying to accomplish.

As we worked together over many sessions, she developed and launched a program called Playing Big that generated an elegant and financially rewarding launch.

Working with Tara was a huge step forward in helping me play a bigger game. The results we achieved together gave me the proof I needed to know that my philosophy & methods were sound & valuable.

It was time to stop playing small & start playing big: bigger clients, bigger goals, bigger ways of operating, bigger ideas. Small could only serve me for so long.

Playing big has serious long-term potential.

Playing big – and continuing to play bigger & bigger – has gone hand & hand with realizing my current calling. It’s meant getting noticed and attracting a bigger audience. It’s meant having my ideas spread into new markets & circles of influence.

Speaking of influence, I was recently named a Problogger Blogger to Watch in 2012, a top woman entrepreneur on Twitter at Women 2.0, and one of 22 Top Single-Voice Business Bloggers (alongside Seth Godin, Chris Brogan, and Danielle LaPorte!) by Jonathan Fields. Yeah, that was a great week.

But what I get out of playing bigger is not the lesson I want you to take away from this post. Wanting to play bigger isn’t all about me.

When I learned to play a bigger game, I was able to serve Tara. In turn, Tara help over a hundred women play bigger in her program.

Playing big isn’t about you. It’s about all the people playing bigger enables you to serve.

Playing bigger has few qualifications. You don’t need a particular degree or years of experience. You don’t need a flashy website or a book deal. You don’t need a big pay check or fancy equipment.

Playing big has one qualification deciding that you are qualified to start down the path.


Tara will be stopping by here tomorrow with her own take on playing big and a very special announcement. We’re giving away one spot at The Art of Earning LIVE to a woman who is ready to play a bigger game with her business in 2012. Stay tuned!

Also tomorrow, join me for a FREE teleclass on getting out of your head & into the gut of your business to unlock your business vision. This is the first step in The Art of Earning. Want to know more? Click away, my friend!