“Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough.” – Josh Billings
One of the more interesting exercises we use when talking about growth is to help our clients create a business statement. I can hear your eyes rolling as you read that sentence. We’ve all spent the last 10+ years drowning in mission statements, vision statements, etc, and the idea of another statement that we create and then throw in a file cabinet somewhere probably isn’t that appealing.
But I would argue that it’s one of the more important exercises you can do. Part of the value is in determining what you will do, who you’ll do it for, and how you’ll deliver it. All very important. Those things paint a picture of what business you’re in.
I would argue, however, that even more important than knowing what business you’re in is knowing what business you’re not in. The secret to happiness is knowing what to say “no” to. Too many businesses want to say yes to everything. I think that’s the case largely because, for whatever reason, people lack the confidence to really believe that something better will come along. In other words, we agree to do things we aren’t good at or can’t deliver well or don’t like doing because we’re afraid if we turn down the work we’ll eventually go broke and starve.
This is all especially true if you’re looking at growth. Too many businesses agree to try and do everything that comes along because they want growth. They end up saying “yes” to jobs that can’t perform well (or don’t want to perform) just because they want the revenue. The relationship doesn’t last long because the customer isn’t satisfied or you’re miserable doing the work. Eventually you lose the customer, and by the way, while you were busy with that situation, you didn’t have the time or energy to go after some other work that was right in your wheelhouse.
We’ve been guilty of this ourselves. We’ve learned the hard way (why do most things in life need to be learned the hard way?) not to get involved in a situation that doesn’t play to our strengths. After several situations where we failed to say “no”, we finally figured out that we really were better off avoiding the “wrong” clients.
Focus on the things you can do well, and want to do well, and you’ll be on the path to long-term, sustainable, enjoyable growth. Don’t grow to be a business that provides things you’re not good at providing and don’t enjoy producing to people you don’t enjoy being around. Grow to be the business that does what you want to do for the people you want to do it for.