They say that one is the loneliest number, but “no” may be the hardest word for small business owners to turn into part of their vocabulary. What happens when an offer, agreement, request, or proposal comes your way that simply doesn’t line up with your business objectives? How can you best go about saying no to what looks like a valuable opportunity?
Refusal is a fine art, and one in which you have to be mindful of the fact that your decisions are not made in a vacuum – especially when dealing with customers. Some customer requests are simply outside your small business’ scope, and that’s OK. Make sure to communicate your understanding in clear language, and practice one key strategy: offer alternatives. If you can’t solve a customer issue, position yourself as an expert by knowing who can. You can still go out of your way to help, even if indirectly. This approach, coupled with empathy and kindness in your language and mannerisms, will help to avoid burning any bridges or incurring negative feedback that might limit future customer acquisitions when it comes to saying no.
Given the power of word-of-mouth and the need to keep your business active in the recommendation chain, communication strategies — even when saying no — must be forward-looking and as positive as possible.
What about that heady moment when someone makes an offer to invest in your business? The main reason that business owners might consider saying “no” to equity financing – that is, divesting shares of ownership in their company in exchange for funding – is the desire to retain control over the core decision-making processes that guide your long-term plan. Ceding control to outside interests can be exceptionally lucrative, but you run the risk of being pressured by outside forces to make decisions that you may not believe in fully. Perhaps the organization looking to buy into your business doesn’t pass scrutiny, or maybe you’re just not aligned with the same strategic ideas.
Saying “no” to such an offer is a delicate proposition: despite having to look elsewhere to fund a business idea, the willingness to stick to the guns of your original plan may create a publicity buzz of its own that fuels interest from other parties. Tech giants like Facebook and Twitter have had the conviction to walk away from huge sums of money and their businesses have certainly come away from it for the better. It’s also important to get your company appraised. Too many SMB owners over- or under-estimate their company’s value and end up disappointed after they sell.
Developing a strategy for negotiation that aims toward closing deals and making successful relationships happen is a great goal for any business owner. However, the power of “no” is undeniable in a business context, and may be able to help your business grow in ways you never expected.