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Entrepreneurs / Focus

The Most Powerful Word in Business Is 'No'

Focus in business is one of the key ingredients to success. Focus comes from the word no.
The Most Powerful Word in Business Is 'No'
Image credit: energyy | Getty Images
- Guest Writer
Entrepreneur, Blogger, Writer, Coach
7 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Business is not overly complex. In fact there’s one characteristic I’ve noticed that has made a few individuals very successful: Being able to utilize the word no. It’s such a simple word. It’s only made up of two letters. How could two letters bring so much power? Well, because these two letters equal focus.

Believe in why you said yes in the first place.

Say no now because of what you believed in earlier so much that you said yes to it. Your vision is something you said yes to. Now, when you say no, it redoubles your focus and labor on the idea you said yes to. 

I didn’t come up with this. Daniel Flynn from a company called ThankYou taught me this. He keeps saying no because he believes that he wants to channel all his resources into what made him say yes to ThankYou. 

Flynn is a renegade who has dedicated his life to helping those that have nothing. (Hold your applause for the actual article I end up writing about him one day.) The lesson here is that Flynn crushed the business world because he knew how to say no.

Related: 11 Pieces of Rebel Advice That Will Catapult Your Startup Success 

Every no led him deeper into what made him say yes to helping people in need. He said no to working a nine-to-five; accepting money from investors in return for shares; living a life without purpose; and following the rules of any industry or tradition.

Flynn even wrote a book in landscape format because he refused to say yes to mediocre. He then outsold the major nappy companies in Australia when everyone told him he was nuts. Flynn said no to the status quo and yes to his vision. 

No is the easy answer.

If you’re not sure, say no. It’s the easiest answer and should become your default answer. Rather than say yes to every business opportunity and deliver zero results, make no the default answer until an opportunity makes you say yes. 

You only need one opportunity to work, so don’t worry if you say a hundred no’s to get there. 

People are afraid to say no.

Do it with respect, and you’ll stop being afraid. Don’t worry if you feel you’re letting someone down; you’re not. You’re doing them a favor. How? Because you’re admitting you are unsure about your ability to execute even if you had said yes; you're preventing a mediocre performance that would have led to even worse results. 

Unless you are going to say yes and deliver all you have, you’re selling the other person or organization short. That’s a far worse crime than saying no in the beginning, before damage was done. 

What wears you out is saying yes.

If you wonder why you are rushing from meeting to meeting with no time for your family or life outside of work, it’s because you keep saying yes. Every yes equals more stress and less time. With too little time and too much stress, you’re no good to anyone. All you will do is disappoint people and break your promises. 

“Hell yes!” or no thanks.

If there were a barometer that told you when to say yes, how would it work? Well, it would go like this: if an opportunity comes your way and you don’t instantly think, “Hell yes,” then say no. This removes the emotion and thinking required to make a decision.

Related: The Unconventional Truth Is You Are Enough 

You’ll be surprised how easy this simple hack is when you try it. The things that make you say “Hell Yes” will be self-motivating for you and for your business. That first reaction is crucial in deciding what you will say yes to. How something makes you feel at the start determines the outcome later, more than any other indicator. 

How to say no.

Always speak the truth. In your explanation for saying no, always be honest. Honesty will make saying no less painful. Honesty will ensure that you keep getting opportunities to come your way, and people don’t hate you or ignore you in the future. 

Deliver the answer with speed. Taking too long to say no creates its own list of problems. If you have to say no, then deliver the news as quickly as possible. In business, people’s livelihoods can be on the line, so respect that. The quicker you say no, the less you will have to live with it. 

There may be another option. Sometimes the answer is no because it doesn’t fit or make sense. If you can see another way of doing things, then suggest a Plan B. You’d be surprised how flexible people can be if you give them another, better way forward. 

Say no with respect. Be compassionate when you say no and say it in the way you’d like it to be said to you. To create goodwill, leave the other party with some inspiration. Tell them what you like about their business or the proposal. Give them some encouragement or a few ideas for free. That way the other party can feel like they gained something from dealing with you. The value you’ve created for them will be remembered down the road. The gift of saying no will have been realized later. 

Startups especially need no.

If you are a startup or new to entrepreneurship, then you must understand that your resources are limited. I know this is obvious, but hear me out: The way to win in business in the early days is to say no to almost everything. 

The reason is that you can only gain traction by finding a small gap or niche that you can exploit. The aim of the game is not to go wide, but to go deep and narrow. This means you’re looking to put all of your resources into just one, two or maybe three things. Saying yes too much will cause you to spread yourself and your company too thin. This will result in you not having enough resources and bandwidth to execute and go deep. 

Related: 10 Leaders Share the Habits That Help Them Be Freakishly Productive

Focus in business is one of the key ingredients to success. Focus comes from the word no. You can’t be all things to everyone, so stop trying. Business is not a beauty pageant where you’re trying to impress everyone; business is a marathon that requires everything you’ve got, without distraction. 

Start saying no. Stop saying yes. Remember why you started your business in the first place. It’s that why that will strengthen all of your decisions to say no. 

Could it be that failing to say no is what is holding you back, and not money or people?

Staying in Your Lane: Why Startups Must Stay Focused