How to Say “No” In Business With Confidence

If you’re a micro business owner, the chances are you work far longer hours in your business than you ever did when you had a ‘proper’ job!

Your business becomes your passion, and you commit to it wholeheartedly. And in the early days you may take on more work than you can really handle. The need to say “no” is not even acknowledged as the drive to fill order books and attract more customers and clients takes precedence.

There will however come a point, when saying “no” simply becomes something you have to do.

Perhaps you need to reclaim your time or create and maintain an appropriate lifestyle that suits your commitments. Whatever your reason, learning to say no with confidence can save your sanity and relationships!

But have you noticed it can be surprisingly hard to get the words out?

What’s more, there may be all manner of reasons that get you tongue tied. Perhaps you’re a people pleaser, or maybe you feel guilty or possibly you’ve just got into a pattern where others have got used to you always saying yes to extra work or last minute demands.

Know this. Learning to say no confidently need not be difficult. And with a bit of thought and some strategies up your sleeve, it can be managed in a way that leaves you, and the person you say “no” to, feeling good.

Check out these four strategies for saying no with confidence…

1. Set boundaries

When you don’t understand what’s really important to you, you can’t protect it.

Alternatively, if you have a clear idea of your priorities, and know the values of those priorities in your life, then setting acceptable boundaries becomes much easier.

For example, how much does family time matter to you? Or time to exercise?  Are your weekends sacrosanct? Are you willing to accept phone calls from customers, clients or staff in the evening, or is your phone a no-go area after a certain time?

  1. Decide what really, truly matters to you.
  2. Then set yourself some boundaries, which are non-negotiable.

2. Explain your boundaries

“Why” matters.

The “why” creates the emotional connection with your ring-fenced time and helps you to safeguard it. The chances are your ‘why’ will reflect your dearest values. It also makes it easier to share with others.

So share your “why”. For example, Sundays are a completely family oriented time for me. It’s the one day a week my husband and I get together, so that time for me is out of bounds to any work related activity, or even friends that we don’t share. Being able to explain this to others helps them to understand why I turn down invites for Sundays, which means saying ‘no’ becomes painless and guilt free.

You already say “no”, but not to the right things

Get this…

Every time you say “yes” to someone else’s demands, you say “no” to yourself, your family, your health or something else you love.

Knowing this can help you to put other people’s demands in perspective.

Saying yes to a client’s last minute order can mean saying no to your child’s school production. Keep that phrase uppermost in your mind, and think long and hard about what you’re really saying no to.

3. Say no helpfully

I always think it’s good to be as helpful as you can be in any situation. But if you are going to be affected, try offering an alternative option.

For example, tell your customer that whilst their order can’t be fulfilled at 5.30pm on a Friday, you’ll make it your priority on Monday morning, and then keeping your word. Perhaps drop them a quick email or text Monday morning, reassuring them that you’ve started on their job.

Look for a win-win situation that makes your customer feel valued and important, but still allows you to maintain your own boundaries and say no gracefully.

What to say if you’re put on the spot

Sometime it’s easy to get caught out and be put on the spot with a request.

How do you respond?

In this situation, I recommend giving yourself some breathing space and time to think. Saying something like ‘Give me ten minutes and I’ll get back to you’, can buy you some time to work out if what you’re being asked to do is feasible, or even if you want to do it. You can then consider the above points to help you make your decision.

4. Let go of the guilt

If you follow the above guidelines, you’re less likely to feel guilty about saying no.

Remember, other people are requesting you spend your time on something to suit them – it’s your choice whether or not you do that.

Learn to recognise when others might be subtly manipulating you and deal with it logically, not emotionally – they might feel they need to speak to you at 7.30pm, but ask yourself how much it will matter in the long run if they don’t?

If you’ve set and communictaed your appropriate boundaries, then it won’t be an issue anyway.

And remember. A happy, stress free micro business owner means happy stress free clients and customers in the long run!

Have you found any other ways to say “no” that work for you? Please tell me in the comments.

micro business actionToday’s Micro Action

Identify one thing you need to say no to then write out and implement your strategy for making it happen.

Susan Ritchie

Sue Ritchie is a confidence and business coach at You Time Coaching. She delivers “Motivational Masterclasses” for business & the “Strategies for Being Brilliant” coaching programme for individuals. Sue is a professional speaker as well as a regular guest blogger at Virgin where she writes about powerful motivational strategies to help you be brilliant in your career.

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  1. I came across this model for Saying No when I was a management trainer. I’ve been using it to great effect ever since. it is called EFA and has three components. 1. E is for Emapthy. Show the other party that you have listened (truly listened – not easy) to their request and replay that back to them eg “OK, I understand that you… want next Thursday off…. BIG POINT before step 2 DON’T SAY “BUT”. “But” is a stopping wording and kills anything your about to say; I suggest taking a little pause and a breath before point.2. F is for Fact. This is where you put your reason for declining the request eg “The fact is….”I have two people off that day already and…” Don’t give too many reasons; one is best, two if you have to but more than that is overkill. Finally, try to help if you can. A is for Alternatives. In other words offer options, if possible. eg “I can’t deliver it today but I can prioritise it for tomorrow” or “you would be welcome to pick it up from the store later today”. If you add EFA to the very good ideas contained in the original article you have a very good way of Saying No in the future. i hope it works for you as well as it has worked for me. Good Luck.

  2. Paul,
    That’s a fabulous piece of advice, thank you! I like it very much, and completely agree with the ‘But’ sentiments 🙂
    Susan Ritchie recently posted..Comment on 5 Tips for Getting What You Want by coachsueMy Profile

  3. I have read this a couple of times now and have felt compelled to comment

    I personally know what it is like to be the person who says Yes to everybody, all of the time as it was me up until about 18 months ago and can confirm what the effects of this are on your physical & mental health. I was working long hours, all week including weekends with no time for me or my wife.

    This came to a halt 18 months ago and it took a year for me to even come close to a full recovery.

    I now work 5 days per week and give my clients 100% focus during these days and evenings (attending client meeting outside of ‘normal’ office hours to help my clients avoid losing valuable time to just meet their accountant), I do not work weekends.

    Fairly recently I have had requests from potential new clients to meet on a Saturday, which I politely declined stating that I work for my clients during the week but my weekends are for me & my wife to enjoy, one of these businesses is now a client.

    Since recovering at the beginning of the year & knowing how to say No, my business has seen a steady growth of new & happy clients.

    You don’t lose good business by saying No when necessary

  4. This is quite timely advise for me as I look over the large workload I’ve agreed to for the next 2 months…..
    Jo Waltham recently posted..Can you get a website for less than £1000?My Profile

  5. Hi Mark,
    I applaud you for recognising your priorities and putting those boundaries in place. You are a great example of how successful this approach can be, and proof that when you respect your own boundaries, others will too 🙂
    Best Wishes,
    susan ritchie recently posted..Comment on 5 Tips for Getting What You Want by coachsueMy Profile

  6. Hi Jo,
    It’s never too late! Smile and take a deep breath lol 🙂
    susan ritchie recently posted..Comment on 5 Tips for Getting What You Want by coachsueMy Profile


  1. […] Yes is linked to what’s important, no to what’s not important for us. […]

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