I will be the first to admit that I used to have a serious problem, one that still plagues me even as I write this. The problem is learning how to say "no" more, even when I'm really, really tempted to say "yes". To those that have never experienced this problem, or have never realized that you, too, suffer from it, you may have a hard time understanding why saying "no" is really a skill and one that takes a long time to hone. I have been honing this skill over the last several years and believe I've finally gotten decently good at it.
There are a lot of opportunities to say yes:
- When someone asks you for help working through a problem
- When someone wants to hire you for a project
- When someone asks you for your opinion
- When someone asks you to buy something
- When someone asks you to sell something
- When someone asks you to think about something
- Many, many more
With every opportunity to say "yes", there is also an equal number of opportunities to say "no". The interesting fact is that even though every single "yes" could easily have an opposite "no", we tend to say "yes" far more often.
Let me give a few examples.
A customer of a paid product opens a support ticket and asks if I can make a small tweak for him. The tweak is relatively simple and will perhaps only take 3 to 5 minutes of my time. In the big scheme of things, what is 5 minutes? Sure, I will go ahead and make the tweak, it's just one or two lines after all.
Another customer opens a ticket and asks if it would be possible to add a second, small feature. Sure, the feature only takes 20 to 30 minutes to build, so why not?
A person I have never worked with before emails me and asks if I would be interested in working on a small project with them. Being small, it is at most a 3 to 4 day project. Sure, why not, I'll say yes.
If you have worked as a freelancer, a business owner, a support technician, or many, many other positions, these kind of requests will probably sound pretty familiar to you. We all get them all the time.
Especially when working in support, it is very common to get users that have a simple problem, which you promptly fix, that then they follow it up with "oh hey, while we are here, could we look at the border color in my footer?", which is then followed up with "since you've helped me with this, could you also look at the spacing around my logo?".
This is extremely common, but what you may not realize is that these little requests quite literally take giant chunks of time out of your day.
It has taken me 4-5 years of doing customer support to finally realize just how valuable learning to say "no" can be for me, my business, and my own time.
Earlier today I had a customer ask if I could help him change a little spacing around in his site's footer. The fix was quite literally 2-3 lines of CSS, but I decided to say "no". This might seem a little harsh, after all what is a few lines of CSS really going to cost me? But it's not just this one instance of saying "no", it's the countless others that are to follow.
Every single day I get minor requests to help with this or that. When each of these take 5-15 minutes they can actually add up to a huge amount of time very quickly.
Is it too mean to say "no" to a 3 line CSS tweak? No, absolutely not. Why? It's simple: I'm saying no to the request, not the person. As a person, I am more than happy to help you (the customer), but that does not mean every request will be meant with a "yes".
Coming to understand the importance of this has quite literally saved me countless hours in the last year.
Let's look at a few stats.
Since my site opened, just about two years ago, there have been 1464 contact form submissions. Some of these are project requests, some are support requests, some are customization requests.
Since I opened my support forum, I have personally posted 4748 replies to support tickets, a large number of which are customization requests.
Since I opened this site, I have posted approximately 1500 comments in replies to comments left by readers.
Since I opened the Easy Digital Downloads support forum, I have posted 11,548 replies to support tickets, a huge number of which are responses to "can you tweak this for me".
Since I launched the Easy Digital Downloads website, there have been 810 contact form submissions, most of which are support requests and requests for minor customizations.
Since I launched the Easy Digital Downloads website, I have posted 1,067 replies to comments left on site articles.
That is a really big number when you add all of those together. 16,389 to be exact.
Obviously not every single one of those 16,389 items is something I have to respond to (some were responses I posted), but the point is that in those 16,389 items there are a huge number of opportunities to say "yes", and an equally large number of opportunities to say "no". Just imagine the amount of time saved if I said "no" to just 5% more of those than I said "yes" to? It's huge.
The point I'm trying to make here is not that you should say "no" to people purely for the sake of saying "no", but that you need to carefully consider exactly when you should say "yes" and when you should say "no". Once you have thought about it for a while, I suspect that you will find exactly the same thing I have over time: saying "no" is extremely difficult, it takes a ton of practice, but it is a skill that is immensely value once you have honed it to a nice, shiny, sharp edge.