Learning How To Say No

Mostly, in life, I am someone who says yes.

I say yes to random adventures in faraway countries. I say yes to a third slice of pizza (and by third I of course mean fifth). And when people ask me to go somewhere or do something – well, I say yes.

And herein lies the dilemma. As someone so used to saying yes, how do you learn to tell clients no?

Last month, I attempted to take some time off to travel with my family, who flew out to New Zealand to see me. Now, I am the first to admit that time management features towards the lower end of my genius scale – generally speaking, I ‘manage’ my natural inclination to obsessively hunch over my Macbook until 3am and then sleep until midday and feel like I’m doing pretty well at adulting if I achieve normal waking hours for a week at a time.

So, when my Mum called to let me know she’d booked flights, I just thought ‘cool – I’ll take a month off’. I didn’t book any new branding clients in for April, and I wound things down over on my Etsy shop. I knew I’d be a bit absent on social media – but that’s ok, I’d have cool travel photos of New Zealand to share! People love travel photos of New Zealand!

Obviously, things didn’t quite go to plan. A branding project ran past deadline date and I didn’t renegotiate the timeline, which meant I was still trying to finish up a project after I set off traveling. I didn’t set an out of office on my e-mails, to let people know I might not be able to get back to them straight away. I made promises I couldn’t deliver on time, because I desperately didn’t want to let anyone down.

Basically, I created a stressy, messy situation that could have been easily avoided – all because I didn’t want to say no.

Instead of just holding my hands up like ‘guys, I don’t have internet because I’m in the middle of nowhere and my parents are here, which means that my wine-to-blood stream ratio is pretty much constantly off the scale’, I decided to kind of PRETEND I wasn’t on holiday. I know. Mental.

The result? I was anxious about the unanswered e-mails piling up in my inbox and the clients requesting additional materials that I couldn’t provide until the following month. I was frustrated at the lack of internet, mildly panicked about the lack of time, and I wasn’t maximising my family time because I was trying to cram everything in.

Here’s the thing – you can’t do all the things. You just can’t. You can’t hustle 24/7. Sometimes I don’t want to hustle. Sometimes I want to sleep. ‘But you can sleep when you’re dead!’ yells random Instagram quote. Errrrr, no thanks. I can sleep now, on a Sunday afternoon, in front of a Disney film.

If you never say no, you’ll always be running to someone else’s timetable, too busy trying to cram in every single client’s requests without leaving room to just breathe, take care of yourself and your business, and allow space in your day for the projects and clients that really make you come alive. Simply put, saying no means leaving yourself open for all those times when you can’t wait to say yes.

Learning to say no is a vital part of running a business. It means you don’t take on more work than you can handle. It means you can maintain boundaries with your clients, and keep projects on course. It means you don’t undervalue yourself and take on a project that you’re not being paid your worth for.

And, importantly, it means that you can still have time for wine, sleep and pizza, which in my book is reason enough to do anything.

So be brave. Learn how to say no, so that when it really matters, you have the freedom to say yes.

Clare x


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