How Entrepreneurs Can Just Say No

It’s easy to say yes and hard to say no. Anyone who has children knows how effortless it is for kids to learn the word “no.”  They love to say it—all the time! So, it’s curious that as we get older, the word “no” becomes a distant memory and “yes” is the order of the day. This is especially true if you are a people pleaser. Let’s face it, deep down we all want to be liked. For entrepreneurs, learning to say no is crucial because it can mean the difference between success and failure. When you start your business, you want to chase every opportunity that comes along. This strategy will work for a while until you suddenly become overcommitted and utterly exhausted. Entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s more about working smart than working hard. That makes how you use your time incredibly important. As Warren Buffett said, “Really successful people say no to almost everything.” Before you say yes to that next project, try implementing these three approaches to determine whether you should just say no.

Change your mindset

In the beginning, many entrepreneurs are crippled with a “scarcity” mentality. In other words, they feel that if they don’t accept every opportunity that presents itself, it may not come around again. The flip side to this argument is that saying yes to every project might mean accepting clients that aren’t a good fit. If they aren’t a good fit and have a bad experience, then you not only wasted time and money, but you have an unhappy client as a result. Adopting an abundance mindset allows you to recognize that there are more than enough qualified clients out there—you just need to find them. As Tony Robbins says, “You never get beyond scarcity. You have to start beyond it.”

Stay focused

Entrepreneurs are involved in all aspects of the business including finance, marketing, operations and beyond. If you don’t carefully choose your projects and manage your time wisely, it will become too easy to get distracted and lose focus on the things that really matter. Steve Jobs, the cofounder of Apple, shared his thoughts on saying no at an Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in 1997:

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”

When you say no to things that aren’t a top priority, you are saying yes to your long-term goals. You need to reserve your resources for the activities that will really move your business forward.

Ask powerful questions

An entrepreneur’s most precious resource is time. The more successful you become, the more people are going to come to you with requests. To stay on track, having a checklist handy will help you to evaluate these potential demands on your schedule. The next time you are presented with a new event, meeting, client or project consider these key questions before you proceed:

  • Does it energize you?
  • Does it enhance your company?
  • What does your intuition tell you?
  • Do the benefits outweigh the costs?
  • Will it help you scale your business?
  • Is it aligned to your core business goals?

Any growing business has resource constraints. It’s crucial that entrepreneurs spend their time on the most important areas that will drive success. If you answer “no” to one or all of these questions, it might be time for you to say no to the opportunity.

Success in entrepreneurship is about strategy and strategy requires focus. As New York Times bestselling author and Wharton professor Adam Grant says, “Saying no frees you up to say yes when it matters most.” By becoming a ruthless time manager and saying no when you have to, you’re ultimately saying yes to your long-term dream.

If you’ve been thinking about being your own boss for a while but aren’t sure if it’s the right time, download my free resource: 5 Signs It’s Time to Leave Your Soul-Sucking Job!


  • Caroline Castrillon

    Founder/Career and Life Coach

    Corporate Escape Artist

    Caroline Castrillon is the founder of Corporate Escape Artist and a career and life coach whose mission is to help people go from soul-sucking job to career fulfillment. Caroline made the leap to entrepreneurship after a successful 25-year corporate career and has never looked back. Prior to Corporate Escape Artist, she worked in leadership positions for small tech firms and for large Fortune 500 companies including Dell and Sony. She has an MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management and is a Certified Professional Coach (CPC) and Energy Leadership Index Master Practitioner (ELI-MP). In addition to Thrive Global, she also contributes to Forbes and has been featured in publications including the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Inc. and Success Magazine.