The Day I Learned to Start Saying "No"

by Ali Brown

When I started my first business as a marketing communications writer years ago, most of my clients hired me for newsletters, brochures, and sales materials, but I would get the occasional request for something different. At the time I was too naive to consider saying “no” to any project that didn’t fit me perfectly. (Especially when I was living paycheck to paycheck.)

A perfect example of this was when a colleague named Chip asked if I could write a short script for a customer service training video. “Wow,” I said. “Video! That sounds like fun. Sure thing. I’ll take it on!”

Big mistake.

Sure, at first it seemed exciting. But after I got into it, I was miserable. Not only did I spend three times as many hours as I’d planned JUST on figuring out what they wanted, but I honestly didn’t know what I was doing. I’d never written a video script in my life! I thought it would be simple, but it was a whole other world.

This project not only sucked up all my time, taking me away from my best clients, but it also drained my energy and my confidence. Even worse, I couldn’t take on a wonderfully perfect new project that I was offered in the meantime.

I physically felt sick every time I looked at that project folder. I lost sleep worrying that I wasn’t doing a good job on it, and worst of all, my fears were confirmed…

One day Chip left a message on my answering machine that more major revisions were needed. Then, it sounded like he hung up the phone, because there was a soft click. But then I heard him start to talk about me with his partner (obviously unaware that his speaker-phone was still on).

At first I paused the message from playing, because I knew I was not supposed to be privy to this conversation. But I wanted to know the TRUTH, so I listened. My heart sank as I heard things like, “This writer doesn’t know what she’s doing on this… we should have hired a real video writer… I feel bad she’s trying so hard, but this just isn’t getting better.”

I got so ANGRY.

Not at Chip, but at myself.

Here I was… an award-winning writer for marketing communications. Marketing communications! NOT training videos.

So why had I taken on that project?

This is what we call “bright, shiny object syndrome”, and it happens to many entrepreneurs. You see, we love ideas! We enjoy moving from idea to idea, even if what we are doing is working! We get a bit bored with it. And it’s easy to get distracted by something that seems new and exciting.

Especially when you start experiencing success, it’s as if every opportunity in the world starts falling in your lap. You have to become a master of saying “no”. That was very hard for me.

But by sticking with what you KNOW you are good at, you are always confident and calm in your work. You know how to market yourself, and you know who you’re marketing to! (Plus you can charge high rates with confidence.)

So I became very clear at what I’m amazing at, what I offer, who I’m marketing to, and how I want my life to look, so that now, any business or life decision I make is crystal clear. I know exactly what to say “no” to.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This doesn’t mean I don’t accept opportunities that are a stretch for me, or outside my comfort zone! That is different than accepting a project outside of my core strengths completely.

For every “no” you give, a better “yes” will come along. So today, make a list of what you are good at, what you’re confident in doing, what you want to do, and whom you do it for.

QUESTION: What can you say “NO” to today to make room for something better in your life and your business? Have you said NO in the past, and has it led to better opportunities? Please share below.


© 2013 Ali International, LLC

Entrepreneur mentor Ali Brown teaches women around the world how to start and grow a profitable business that make a positive impact. Get her FREE CD “Top 10 Success Secrets for Entrepreneurial Women” at

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