(As published in the Sunday Star-Times, August 24, 2014: www.stuff.co.nz/business/small-business/10413294/Always-saying-yes-can-detract-from-your-focus)
When you own your own business, the ‘yes’ mentality is a good one. Yes we do that, yes we can do that for you, yes we’ll give it a go. Customers and clients love being told yes – it’s a far more positive interaction to have than someone who gives you a blunt ‘no’ and isn’t open to looking into whatever it is you’ve asked about. Saying yes can build you loyal customers and take your business to the next level. Saying yes helps you to be innovative, explore new options and tap into niches that are perhaps not being covered by other businesses. It’s a nice label to have, being the business where nothing is a problem.
But sometimes saying yes can get you into trouble. I was chatting to a client the other day whose business is building websites for customers. He’s one of those amenable guys with a can-do attitude – ask him if he can do something and the answer is always, “Yep, we can do that”. Even if he actually can’t do that or hasn’t done it before, he will figure out a way to do it. His word of mouth stats are admirable and it’s easy to understand why – his attitude make him a pleasure to deal with.
But it also gets him into trouble. Some of the small businesses he does business with have no IT infrastructure or IT support. Being clueless about this sort of thing, they’ve asked my client to help them – they see him as being technically savvy because of the industry he works in (website development). They call him about any of their IT issues – we’re talking about things like phone systems, internet connections, networking – even one lady’s personal mobile phone! Being the go-the-extra-mile-for-your-customers guy that he is, he’s been helping these folk. A call-out here, a call-out there. Last week he was out of the office for an entire afternoon, helping a customer retrieve their emails. He garners a lot of goodwill from doing this – like I say, his word of mouth referrals are huge – but the problem is, he’s not making much money from it. And it takes him away from what he should actually be doing – what he’s good at, what he charges decent money for, what his business is actually about: building good websites.
Even more worryingly, because he isn’t actually set up or qualified to do these IT services, it could come back and bite him if one day one of his client’s has a major server issue or IT meltdown. It’s just not worth it.
I’m all for being the business that says yes. I truly believe that if you give your clients or customers more than they expect, they’ll come back to do business with you again – or refer you onto a friend. But there is a limit to what you should say yes to. Saying yes to the wrong thing may actually be detrimental to your company. Because it’s not in your realm of expertise, you may do a shoddy job of it. You may lose focus on what you’re seriously good at. You may even confuse your customers about what your business actually does.
If you find yourself constantly saying yes to something that’s not your core business, ask yourself – does doing it make sense for your company? Does it add value to your offering? Are you making money from it? If all of these questions have a positive answer, you may have stumbled across a gap in the market or a new direction you could be taking. Think about how you can expand on it to make it a more valuable proposition for your company.
But if the answers are no, no and no, you’re going to learn how to say no yourself. Know what you’re good at and where you offer value – and stick to your knitting.