NO is the hardest thing that someone in Small Business can do, but it is something that we all face at one time or another as businesses grow and change, sometimes in completely unexpected ways.
I spent all of December 2016 working my guts out. Long nights, early mornings, weekends and every other spare second that I could grab. I was convinced, firmly convinced, that come January it would hit a quiet period and I would need all the extra work and contracting and money that I had earned in December to put food on my table come January. Come January, I would have time to sort out my portfolio or develop that website for my Mum like I promised her I would or write a year worth of blog posts so that when I was busy I wouldn’t have to worry about it so much.
Well, January came and went, and I was still running helter skelter. And then February did the same – what a shock. And here I was, still running a million miles an hour hoping for a break. Well, guess what sunshine – it ain’t coming.
The problem is, as a freelancer or someone with a less-than-regular income, your whole life becomes about fear and budgets. How much money will I make this month if these 4 quotes or opportunities or ideas done come through? Will that be enough to pay our mortgage? Will that be enough to supplement my savings, pay my rent, fund my design program subscription etc etc etc. And so because you are always in this flurry of money, saying NO to work just doesn’t come naturally. It’s always about saying YES and making more, or enough, to survive and make it through another month. Maybe you might even bank a little for the ‘lean times’ that are ‘sure to come’. Yeah, right.
It all came to a tipping point in the last week of February. Where I was staring down the barrel of yet another project that I had agreed to do, even though I had absolutely no space in my week, and I was sitting there saying to myself, I simply cannot work any harder. There are no more hours in the day that I can use, and if I take any others I am literally going to lose my mind. And so, through this one crystallising moment, I stopped.
I stopped saying YES to everything. I started saying NO when a NO was really necessary. Sometimes it’s about saying ‘NO, but’, a sentence that usually ends in ‘if there is any room to move on the deadline to a period where I am not as busy’ (say, 3 weeks from now before someone else comes in and takes up all that time). Sometimes it’s about saying ‘NO, thank you’ – which for people who feed you work is really important. But it’s still not easy, it’s still not comfortable to say no. The fear is still there. What if that opportunity was what purchases my Mee Goreng noodles this month. What if the people I have just said NO to stop offering me work? Constant what if’s. And they are all completely valid.
Except when they’re not. If you love what you do, you are even moderately good at it and put a bit of effort into putting yourself out there, the work will always come. It might not seem like that in quiet periods, but there is ALWAYS work out there available for freelancers, contractors and people who can be more flexible and better at a job than someone else. So part of the saying NO has got to come back to your faith in your ability, your faith in your passion and your business and your talent. If you know that you can go and hunt down more work next week if you need it, or if the river suddenly runs dry that you can back yourself, then saying NO and variations on that same theme becomes easier – because then it’s about getting back to the core of doing what you can do, in the time available.
So if work is starting to consume you, make you cranky, make you overwhelmed and you are forgetting why you have bloody done this to yourself… stop. And say NO.
Even if it’s not quite out loud yet.
*side note – most of these thoughts can also be applied to those babes who are currently overworked in their jobs.