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Business Owner's Handbook: How to Say No

Updated: Feb 12, 2023

How many times have you overextended yourself by saying 'yes' to too many things? You have you own set of tasks and responsibilities, but also a mountain of other items that you've found yourself agreeing to do. You always say yes, but sometimes is is perfectly ok to say, no.

Business owner planning her busy day by reflecting by a calm lake at sunrise

As a business owner, you're probably used to over-achieving and getting things done. You might view yourself endlessly capable and therefore committing to everything. You're likely that go-to person for people in need of assistance. You always seem have an answer, a helping hand, and some time to invest in the things you find most important.

Man riding a bike past a mural that is a big red letter no
It's not always a negative

These are all wonderful characteristics to have, especially as an entrepreneur. However, there comes a point where you'll need to learn how to say the word, 'no.'

It can be hard to turn down friends, family, and even employees when they are asking for help, even if it's small. But the results of saying no can be freeing and allow you to dedicate yourself fully to when you do say 'yes!'


It takes both practice and patience (mostly with yourself) to become skilled at saying the word no.

For this section of the Business Owner's Handbook, we put together a simple guide for you to follow to practice saying no.

1. Plan Ahead Each Day

daily planner on a desk with some writing utensils
Plan your capacity daily

Planning on saying 'no' is a lot easier than turning down a friend or colleague in the moment. One of the harder points of saying no is overcoming your deep desire to help. By planning ahead you're assessing what you're capable of helping with before the ask occurs.

It is very critical to understand why you need to say no in order to be capable of doing so. By planning ahead you're educating yourself on your limits so that you can better adhere to them as people approach you for help.

How to Plan Ahead:

Take the time to reflect on your schedule and how you're feeling each day. If you have a full plate, promise yourself not to take on anymore than you already have. Assess how much time, emotion, and brainpower you have available for others. Then allocate that bandwidth as needed throughout the day.

2. Don't offer an explanation

sign with a red circle and a man silhouette with a sticker that says trust.
Trust yourself to say no

When you do say 'no,' resist the urge to explain yourself. Excuses can lead to potential opportunities for your friends or family to change their requests as a means accommodate a 'yes' from you instead.

For example, if you say you are busy at a particular time, they might adapt and ask when is best for you (a.k.a. when is a time that you can accept the task).

This might sound harsh, but setting boundaries and understanding that you do not owe others an explanation is a critical to your own well being.

How to Avoid Explaining:

Politely decline the task and offer up a respectful apology without details. Something like: "No, I apologize but that is not within my bandwidth for today"

3. Offer an Alternative

two business women sitting next to each other networking
Networking can help you say no

Whenever possible, offer an alternative suggestion when you turn someone down. If they ask for your assistance with a particular problem and you can't help, but happen to know someone that can, connect the two.

Plus, this has the added benefit of still maintaining the persona that you're the person with the solutions. Even though you couldn't help personally, you still knew who could or gave positive direction.

How to Offer Alternative:

This one is likely much easier for you to accomplish than the others. But do not fall in the trap of giving detailed advice. Instead, ensure that you point them in the right direction and then remain hands off.

For example: "I unfortunately cannot help with that, but I think John can help. Here's his number."

two small business owners high fiving to celebrate their ability to say no!
Cliche High Five!

Ultimately, the top tip for saying 'no,' is to just do it. Once you start saying 'no,' it becomes easier over time!

If you find yourself constantly at the limits of your capacity, you might also want to consider bringing a business coach on board. They can help you prioritize, but also can help coach you on things like saying no.

Curious? We offer free consultations to help acquaint small business owners with the concept of business coaching. Schedule your free consultation below!

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