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It’s common knowledge that leaders are known for saying “no” a lot. But, it’s not enough to just hear it. You have to actually experience it. Before I started using the word “no” with intention, I didn’t believe that it was possible to make a difference. I saw my revenue triple while working half the hours and enjoying my job far more than ever before.
A caveat is also necessary: Not saying “yes” to every opportunity you get isn’t always the best approach. When I was moving from being an employee to owning my own marketing company, The Lane Collective was a transitional time. Saying “yes” to new opportunities and people helped me find the work that I wanted to do. It was also a boost of confidence to be able to get a full list of clients.
Nine months later, I realized that my default to “yes” wasn’t serving me. I was constantly switching tasks and had limited bandwidth. My revenue seemed to be stable, no matter how hard I hustled. My work was in decline, and so was my personal and professional life. I was so burned out, I considered quitting my independent career entirely, even though it was something I loved.
After much reflection, I realized it was time for me to reorient my work. My goal was to have a successful marketing company, but “thriving” took on a new meaning. My work should allow me to live a fuller life with more time for hobbies and more emotional and mental space for my family. My work should not be a part of my larger purpose. It was important to me that the work I did have to be for me.
This meant that things had to change
I once heard a wise consultant say that “the things that get your first $100,000 are also the things that keep you from your next $100,000.” Saying “yes” was what enabled me to start my business, but saying “no!” helped me reach new heights. These are the things that I stopped saying “yes” to, and how it affected my business success as well as my personal well-being.
I said “No” to certain types of clients
There had to be something, and I knew I needed to make more space to concentrate on aligned engagements. I had to let go of many amazing clients that were not going to work for my business’ future. I began culling my client list, and I mean serious culling. I let go 70-80 percent to all of the clients I was currently working with.
I wanted to concentrate on startups that were tech-enabled at the very beginning stages and who were ready for growth. At the time, I had around 10-15 clients. Less than a third of them matched my profile. I decided to do the unthinkable and let go all of them. This meant letting go of clients I loved. This meant that I had to turn down a lot revenue.
It is said that a bird in a hand is worth two in a bush. But, for me, this was not true. It was difficult to find the right fit for me when I worked with great clients, but they were not aligned. They let go, which opened up the space for me to attract clients who were a better fit.
Reduced client load allowed me to spend more time on strategic thinking about my business goals, rather than getting bogged down in day-to-day tasks. To help me decide if new clients were the right fit for me, I created an inbound process. I still decline about 90% of inquiries.
However, the clients I work with are the ones I feel most fortunate to be able to work with each day. This has led me to feel more positive about the work and given me more mental space.
I said “No” to Tasks Outside of My Zone of Genius
I started saying no to certain tasks in my client contracts.
As is the norm for most marketing consultants, I did a lot of things early on: content strategy, social media strategy, and content writing. Sometimes, I even helped out with paid media if a client needed it.
While I could do these things, it was not the most efficient way to use my time or provide my clients with the best value. It wasn’t always the most enjoyable work I did.
My superpower is the ability to translate an idea into action. So I chose to concentrate on fractional CMO work. I went from being a one-woman operation to the “collective model” I now have. When a client requires full-stack support in marketing, I have a network that I can refer them to.
Executors who are skilled strategists tend to be more expensive than those who are less so. My clients find it far more beneficial to work with experts partners, as well as more junior people to execute when needed. Focusing my services has allowed my to increase my rate and provided me with more value.
Most importantly, I have noticed a dramatic increase in my enthusiasm and energy by focusing more on the tasks that I enjoy most. I can’t even remember when I was most anxious about my job.
I said “No” to charging by the hour
I started researching pricing models for freelancers and independent contractors around this time. Value-based pricing was the best idea. In a nutshell: Value-based pricing is where you price your services according to the value that you create for your clients. My value, like most consultants, is my expertise and not my time.
It was one of the hardest, but most rewarding changes that I made. I was scared. It felt secure to charge by the hour. It was, however, limiting.
My contracts were shifted to a project-based model, with a focus on deliverables and outcomes rather than hours worked. Focusing on high-value deliverables was the best way to increase my income. These are the ones that align with my zone and are most important to my clients. This approach was also preferred by my clients. It is measurable, predictable, quality-driven, and more so than hourly contracts. Win-win!
Clients like project-based agreements. They also appreciate the value-add. Because I am motivated by the same results as them, I feel like I can be part of their team. Nearly every client has asked me to increase the contract, even though I didn’t need to pitch anything.
I Said “No!” to Burning Myself Out
Because of my health, I set out to work half the hours and make twice the money. This was impossible because it was difficult for me to do. I was exhausted, working 60+ hours per week and giving my all to too many clients. It was draining my passion for the work.
Miraculously, I was able to achieve my goal by simply saying “no” more. Now I work 25-30 hours per week and make close to three times as much revenue. I can handle four to five anchor clients at once, and also have the capacity to do strategic sprints with new clients every month. I sometimes fill these slots but I also have the ability to go on vacation or unplug (another goal I once thought impossible).
My business has grown because I have given time to myself. My friend always said to me, “When you work for your business, you own it.” This means that taking care of yourself is not just self-care, but what will allow you to be your best self at work.
If you say “no to one thing,” you are saying “yes to another. To be able to say “yes” and have a happier life and career, I had to accept some “no’s” along the journey. It was worth it. Absolutely. I believe so.