My wife and I are both side hustlers. I do this, freelance writing, and she runs a decorated cookie business on the side when she’s not taking care of our son. Both of our businesses live and die by clients saying “yes” to doing business with us.
But we recently found ourselves in uncharted territory around the same time and it made us reconsider the ways we think about our businesses. I had an idea for a story that I thought would be cool, but I knew the only publication interested in it might not pay well. However, I still thought it might be worth the time and effort. So I reached out to an editor who thought my idea was interesting but asked me to do a significant amount more research before they might accept my pitch. Knowing that this extra work would only be worth it if the payment on the backend was good enough, I asked how much they pay for stories. The editor never responded. At first, I was annoyed. Soon, I realized I should be thankful I was ghosted. In the past, I would have likely done the extra research, sent in a better pitch, been excited about this story, scheduled my time to do it, and then found out it would never be worth my time.
In the same few days, someone submitted a complicated and large cookie order to my wife’s business. This would have taken many, many hours of my wife’s free time. But if the client was willing to pay what her time was worth, it could be a great thing and she wouldn’t have to take any more orders for the rest of the month. My wife quoted the potential customer with a price that reflected the amount of work the order would require (in fact, I think she still asked for too little) and the client declined, saying it was out of her budget. Again, when my wife first started her business, missing out on a huge order like that might have felt like a major disappointment. This time she was relieved. She knew that there was no way this order would have been worth the effort.
It was then that I realized how important it is to celebrate the times we hear “no” as much as the times we hear “yes.” Hearing no from a client or customer isn’t the ideal situation most of the time, but it can net positive sometimes. Here are some times that “no” is even better than “yes.”
When the work isn’t worth the time
This is the most important “no” in your work life. As you grow in your business, whether it’s your main gig or your side hustle, you will come to a point where certain clients or customers just aren’t paying enough anymore. A key way to figure out whether you’re making enough from a client is to determine how much you’d like to make per hour and calculate whether that client’s work meets the threshold.
When you first start a business, you are ecstatic to have any customer. A “no” can be devastating. But even as you grow and your prices increase with your offerings and/or skill, it’s hard to turn down a potential client. Embrace your growth and celebrate the fact that you’ve become so successful that you no longer need to cater to low-paying clients.
When the work isn’t your specialty
Depending on your line of work, this can come up often. For me, I often write for publications that allow me to interview people, write feature stories or write articles like this one. It’s what I’m good at. But as a writer, I’m often trying to figure out other ways I can make money from my skill.
There are myriad ways that writers can make money, such as technical writing. In the past I’ve tried to get jobs as a technical writer, thinking it’s something I could probably teach myself. Now that I know more about what that job requires, I can celebrate the fact that no one ever entrusted me to try it. I would be terrible at it. The same thing can happen in many industries. You might think a certain job is right for your skill set and when you get turned down, you might be upset… until you figure out that you were completely unqualified for it.
When the client is difficult
If a client is difficult and takes up more time and mental energy than anything else you do, you should probably be the one saying “no” to them. But for some people, being the one to do the breaking up just isn’t in their nature. Instead, they try to nurse the relationship along, thinking that the money the client is paying them is worth all the trouble they have to deal with. This continues until one day, the difficult client breaks up with you. You might think, The nerve! They were the difficult ones!
Look, nobody wants to be turned down, even if it’s for the best. Take a second and think about how much better your life will be without this difficult client. You’ll be able to focus more on your other clients, you’ll have time to go out and find a new client and your mental state will significantly improve.
When you have higher-priority work
The importance of finding new clients and customers is clear, but sometimes you need to focus on your current roster. You might have nailed the sales pitch to a new and exciting customer, but your longtime customers are feeling a little neglected. Maybe that potential customer saying “no” is the sign you needed to refocus your time on your current customers. Retaining satisfied customers remains the top business priority.
When you need time off
High-priority work isn’t always business related. Maybe the high priority work is spending more time with your family, or your mental and physical health, or doing a project around the house.
My wife has people nearly knocking down the door with cookie orders. She has a strict per-week cookie limit because she used to stay up until 3 or 4 a.m. filling orders. I’m rarely overworked in this way. It has been a process for her to accept that a “no” on an order can be a good thing. Instead of using up all of her free time for a week or more, she could spend time doing things that give her fulfillment and rest. It’s a lesson she has learned through many difficult experiences.
Celebrating “nos” can also apply to situations in our lives, from the ending of bad relationships to rejections from jobs we apply for that would have taken time away from our families. It’s all about having the proper perspective.
Photo by Nattakorn_Maneerat/Shutterstock
Scott Bedgood is a freelance writer and the author of Lessons from Legends: 12 Hall of Fame Coaches on Leadership, Life, and Leaving a Legacy. He lives in Dallas, Texas, with his wife Sami.