Most of us work jobs where we’re used to saying yes to pretty much everything. Meeting request? Yes. Mandatory overtime? Yes. Expanded job duties? Yes. We’re so used to saying yes that we don’t stop to think about what we’re doing. For those that have “real” jobs, you might feel like it’s not possible for you to say no. Trust me, it is. For those that work in freelance, it’s very easy, incredibly therapeutic and often a hell of a lot of fun to say know. Let’s start with the fun stuff; saying no to potential clients.

I get it. You have bills. You have responsibilities. Lisa needs braces. Dental plan. But I’m here to tell you that not only will saying no NOT hurt your bottom line, it can actually improve it. How can turning down business be good for business? Let me explain.

As a freelancer, you have to balance what you have the time and ability to produce with what your clients require. You will, at some point, invariably come to a point where you have more client requirements than you have time and ability. It might not be all the time, but occasionally, things explode. My schedule is usually pretty flexible but every few months I am HAMMERED with work. So you will, at that point have to turn down projects because you just don’t have the time to do them. But what if you’re already working on projects you don’t love for clients you don’t like? You have to turn down “good” work in order to finish “bad”. This is an AWFUL feeling, which is totally avoidable. How? Don’t do shitty work for shitty clients.

Now you don’t have to be rude about it (although sometimes it’s a lot of fun) but when you don’t want to work with someone, say so. Feel free to use an excuse like “I don’t have enough time” or feel free to say “I just don’t think this is the project for me” but please say no. And here’s why. Your first impression of a project and a client is PROBABLY spot on. If you think they’re going to be a pain in the ass, they probably are. If you think they’re going to push requirement over and over again without being reasonable about scope, they probably are. If you think that by the end of this project, you’re going to wish you had said no…you’re probably right.

By not agreeing to work that you don’t want to do, you’re always working on things you DO want to work on for people you DO want to work with and for. This makes you happy and here’s the thing about being happy; happy people are more productive. Now I’m not talking “37 pieces of flare” happy or “I listen to The Proclaimers all day every day” happy. I’m just talking about enjoying your work and enjoying your every day interactions. You became a freelancer, in part, because you wanted to do what you loved, right? I mean, no one’s freelancing so that they can do the tasks they hate, are they?

So by saying no to clients that you DON’T want to work with, you get to say yes to more projects that you enjoy. Projects where scope is respected, where your opinion as the professional is respected, where you get to enjoy the process. Fill your day with projects you love because they will keep you WANTING to do the work, which in turn makes you more productive, which it turn lets you buy bling, or gold teeth or a Roomba or whatever the hell the kids are doing these days with there expendable income.

Ok, great. That covers freelancers. What about people who work “real” jobs and have a “real” boss and “real” responsibilities? They can’t say no, can they? The answer is, yes…you can. And if you do it right, your boss will respect you for it.

I’m not suggesting, first off, that sometimes you don’t need to pull up your socks, go all hands on deck and get shit done. Sometimes it’s necessary to go the extra mile at work, especially in a job where you’re respected for your work. I’m talking about being asked to go to meetings that have nothing to do with your duties. I’m talking about being asked to complete tasks you’re not trained for or that diminish your actual duties. I’m talking about what to do when you are NOT respected or when you are taken for granted. Here’s my advice.

  1. Don’t get your back up. There’s a PRETTY solid chance that your boss hasn’t considered the impact of this request. There’s a REALLY solid chance that this wasn’t even their decision but something that was passed down to THEM. So deal with the request, not the person. Don’t make it personal.
  2. Are you just whining? Honestly consider whether this is something you don’t feel like doing or something you don’t feel you should do. If this is just you being lazy (and honestly, it often is) try being exceptional rather than ordinary and get it done.
  3. Be honest. Ok. So you’ve decided this is something you need to say no to. Explain WHY you’re saying no. Ask for further explanation as to why this task was assigned. Explain the impact this has on you and your performance.
  4. Offer solutions. “No” is not a solution. “Figure it out” is not a solution. BE..A PART…OF THE SOLUTION. If you’re not part of the solution…well, you know.

If you’ve gone through all of this and you’re being asked to do something that you’re not comfortable doing for no explainable reason, this task is the least of your problems. You need to start evaluating why you’re working with/for people who think this way. I get it. You have bills. You have responsibilities. Lisa needs braces. Dental plan. But that can’t be your everything.