Learning to say No in business

Being in business usually means opening your doors to everyone, welcoming them in, building relationships and ultimately agreeing to do business together. Sounds simple, right? It can and should be. However, there are situations that can test you and one of the big tests is being able to say ‘No’ when you need to.


Setting limits, saying no when the time is appropriate and managing expectations are all lessons many entrepreneurs learn the hard way. Whether it’s your employees, customers, vendors or friends and family, you need to learn early on what is OK and what is not.

Sticking to those boundaries once you’ve set them will serve you well in business however you may find it challenging to say no at times. We’re here to help you!

Defining boundaries is vital to your business success

When making decisions in your business, you want a clear head wherever possible so you can base your decisions on your values, your goals, what’s best for your business longevity. The most successful leaders are those who understand the difference between value-based decisions and those made from coercion, confusion or guilt.

Sometimes, especially in the early start-up phase, it’s easy to be influenced, even coerced by others. They may be well meaning… or not! After all, your nearest and dearest just want to help, the vendor just needs to make a sale and customers are just after a good deal.

Here are the four areas where business owners are most likely to come unstuck when it comes to setting healthy boundaries.

Saying no to employees

Just about every boss wants the best for their employees. It should be a two-way street with employees also looking after the best interests of the business. Remember though, you’re dealing with humans who have needs and will push the boundaries to have them met.

A good place to start on setting clear boundaries with your employees is to know your rights, responsibilities and legal obligations. As long as you’re meeting those, you can be a little flexible with the rest. You might want to be a ‘yes’ boss most of the time but knowing when it’s important to say ‘No’ is the key. If it’s going to negatively impact, undermine or set up damaging patterns of behaviour it’s best to say no. Follow your gut and lead by example and you (mostly) won’t go wrong.

Saying no to customers

Saying no to a customer or potential customer can be difficult. You fear losing them, getting a negative response, a bad review or complaint, or worse.

Perhaps it’s an ‘in the moment’ decision that has to be made, or it could be something you have a little time to consider. Unfortunately, it’s easy to waver and act unsure. If you’re not being confident, firm and certain in your communication, you risk losing control, respect and credibility.

Whatever the scenario (and there are countless of them) when you have to say no to a customer, the rule of thumb is to find the most respectful way to do it. Acknowledge their request, concern, idea, complaint, and respectfully stand your ground.

Saying no to vendors

People have a knack of spotting weakness in others and may try to exploit it. Once again, the scenarios for vendors crossing the line are too numerous to mention. Most are based on them wanting to sell you something and get a foothold into your business. Fortunately, it’s easier to fend off vendors than most others.

‘No thanks’ might work just fine. If you need more time, then ‘Not at the moment’ will suffice. Remember it’s their job to sell you something and convince you why your business will be better off with their products or services. Be strong and stick to your values. The offer will still be there in another day, or week if you need it.

Saying no to friends and family

The trickiest ‘no’ by far is the one you have to say to friends and family. Only you will know how to frame it up and deliver it. It may be an older family member who wants to tell you how to run your business. They may have some valid ideas worth considering but the problem arises when you don’t want to take on board EVERY idea!

Then there are the friends and family who expect ‘mate’s rates.’ This can become a sticky situation if you don’t set out the rules up front. Be honest. Let your loved ones know your vision and plans for the business and what you’ll need to do to get there. No one likes hearing no. Explain how, if you offered mates rates to everyone it will negatively impact your business.

One solution is to devise a special incentive program for friends and family. Ask them to help you build the business by referring people, writing testimonials and doing social media shout outs. When they do, reward them. Hopefully they will want to play a part in your business success. For those who just want a handout, a firm ‘no, sorry’ might be the only way to go.

Listen to the ‘right’ people

It’s important that you don’t say no so much that you shut down from the people, ideas, feedback, advice and support of those who can have a positive impact on your business.  Vendors, employees, friends and family and some customers are mostly coming to you with their own agenda. What you need to do is work out those who are genuinely focused on helping you.

Your local customer base can be one of your most trusted professional resources. If you take the time to build relationships in your local community, your community will respond by supporting you and your business. These are the people you want to say ‘yes’ to, and some of them may well be your customers, employees, vendors, friends and family!

Join local networking groups, service clubs or the Chamber of Commerce, sponsoring local sporting teams or events. Fostering these partnerships will boost your local economy and help you gain valuable business insights from the people who want you to do well.

Keep saying yes!

When you learn to say no it actually makes it easier to say yes. Saying no can free up more time to focus on the important work of managing and growing your business. Learn more ways to attract new customers while keeping the ones you already have, whether you have to say yes or no to them! For more business tips, visit Bartercard.com.au.


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