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The Importance of Saying 'No' to Distractions Masquerading as Opportunities

It’s tough for entrepreneurs to turn down opportunities but I’ve recently come to realize that saying “yes” all the time is limiting me much more so than saying “no” ever could.

Saying “no” has, for me and many entrepreneurs, subconsciously always felt like a failure. Saying “no” is like conceding defeat but it’s really a fear of missing out. Ever heard of FOMO?

In business, a big challenge is the reality of cash flow. We often say “yes” because it yields revenue, but not all revenue is good. The bad kind of revenue sends us in a direction we shouldn’t or don’t want to go in. In 2007, my company was developing websites and doing strictly digital work, but an RFP came across that required media placement and traditional advertising. The budget was larger than anything we had previously been allocated, and came with the promise of recurring revenue. We jumped on it and won the account.

Related: The Positive Power of Saying 'No'

The revenue started coming in, but our focus and creativity decreased. Year one presented the type of challenge we relish. We hired the necessary talent to manage the account, reached our goals and had a strong platform to continue supporting them. Year two started with a less fun challenge: the client cut their budget, but we maintained our resources, so it significantly impacted our profit from the account. In year three, they decided traditional advertising wasn’t strategic for their growth and dropped the program.

At the cusp of digital marketing, we had decided to change our focus to traditional print advertising because we said “yes” to an opportunity that required it. We spent three years saying “yes” to chase an opportunity that wasn’t even core to our skill set or direction. It was a hard lesson learned. In the three years we spent trying to change our style and adapt to a client with a big budget, we lost three years worth of focus on projects and products that would have brought us joy and let our skills shine.

Still, it was hard to stop saying “yes” until I could no longer ignore the unfocused complacency that had enveloped our organization. We exhorted clients to develop a focused, unified, purpose-driven brand, yet we lacked one ourselves. It was all from saying “yes” too often. In 2014, I set out to make a change and not just talk about it as we had done for the past five years. We took the company through a purpose exercise to find out why we exist, why what we do matters and what impact we would have on the world if we focused on what we wanted to do most.

Related: Say 'No' to These 5 Things for an Immediate Life Improvement

We realized that our purpose at Lucid Fusion is to collaborate with brands and individuals to build, launch and grow products and digital platforms that serve humanity and extend human capabilities. Knowing that, we’re ready to move forward.

Over the past 10 years at Lucid Fusion, we have said “yes” far more than we have “no.” It has hindered us more than it has helped. Instead of standing tall with one vision, we've spent a lot of time bending over backwards to pursue many disparate goals, growing many small bushes instead of one tall, massive tree.

Having a singular purpose has allowed us to target the right opportunities, hire the right talent and create a culture that supports our purpose. We have never, in the past 10 years, had a team so dedicated and aligned to one goal.

And it all started with being honest about our strengths, vision and time enough to say “no” when we needed to.

Did it scare me that we would limit ourselves? You know it. But lack of focus scared me more. Focus breeds success.

So ask yourself, what goal and purpose makes you say "Yes!'' and pump your fist? What makes you really happy? For us, it’s using technology and marketing to make a difference in the world. What is that for you? Figure out what it is and start saying “no” to everything that doesn’t help you get there.

Related: 10 Ways to Say 'No' That Won't Damage Business or Relationships