How to say "No!" if it’s not a “Hell Yes!”

We’ve all heard that we need to say no to more things.  By saying no to things that take our attention away from the core of our business, we are saying yes to what is important to us and our goals.

Thanks, we’ve heard it before.

But what about when real life kicks in?  

When you like the customer but the request is just beyond the boundaries you set for yourself and your business.  

Emotionally you want to say yes, but your gut is saying no.

I told you why you need to say No more often in this post.  But I realized I was only giving you part of the tools you need.   

I have been working with a client who has worked very hard getting the roadmap for her business set up and ready to take her where she wants to go.  She's refined what her core offerings are and who she wants to work with.  She has set boundaries for herself and her business so she can achieve her goals.   She knows what she should be saying no to.   

Recently, I was with her when one of her customers was asking her to change an offering in her business. 

I watched her fumble a bit thinking through the request, talking about how she could change it, and then saying “yes.”  

Right in front of me, her coach, who has worked so hard to help her understand what she needs to say “no” to!  AGH!!!  Alert, Alert!

I couldn’t sit on the sideline.  So I politely stepped in and asked her to think about it and get back to the client.  

I admit we laughed pretty hard about the whole situation.


I realized, in that moment I need to give you more tools to be successful in the execution of the concept of saying no.   

The other half of the equation, the HOW.  

 How to say NO! When its not a "Hell Yes!"

First it is all about mindset.  You need to get in the mindset of protecting your boundaries and having guts to say no when you’re used to saying yes to too much.  

Here are three ways to get in the right mindset: 

  • Self Awareness - listen to your gut

  • Practice saying No

  • Be prepared to miss out

1. Self Awareness - Listening to your gut

When someone makes a request your gut will give you the answer.  But sometimes your head and emotions are so loud they drown out your gut.  

You should be listening for a Hell Yes!  When I don’t hear a hell yes, usually that means that I’m trying to convince myself that this is good/acceptable/ok and muffle the voice that is my gut check.  

I have made this mistake too many times to count, slow learner I guess.  

If more people operated from their gut rather than their head, the world would be a better place.  

2. Practice

Below I’m giving you word for word what to say when you need to graciously say no to someone.

Practice it out loud.

I know, so dorky.   

But if you practice saying no in more passive situations, you’ll be ready for the challenging situations.

Have your spouse or friend start asking you do do extra, crazy things, just so you can work on saying no.

Here is a great example of how to use the tools with a significant other:

Other: Sweetheart, when you get home from work could you scrub the kitchen floor before you cook dinner tonight?

You:  Wow, that is a great idea sweetie.  As much as I’d love to have a clean floor I’m just not sure I can fit that in before cooking the wonderful meal I have planned for our family.  And to be honest; I’m really focusing on my core of cooking amazing meals.  I’m just not that great at scrubbing the floor and don’t want to let you down.  I have the number to a great maid service that is amazing and would be perfect for the job.  Let me get that for you!  

You’ll see that this answer encompasses the exact strategies of how to decline a request nicely. 

I feel like I’m channeling my inner southern bell.  They seem to have this perfected.  

Start practicing today.  You'll only get better. 

3. Be prepared to miss out

FOMO - Fear of missing out.  

It is true, when we say no to something we will miss out on it.  

Again this is all about mindset.  If you go into a situation with acceptance that you will be missing out on something, you will have an easier time saying no.

Everything can be an “opportunity”.  But “opportunities” that aren’t aligned with your goals and vision will suck money, time and energy out of your life and become huge distractions.  DON’T be fooled.  Hold Strong and say no to FOMO!

Take Action.  HOW to say NO!

  • Be appreciative

  • Its not you its me

  • Give an explanation

  • Stall if necessary

  • Offer an alternative

1. Be Appreciative

Often when someone makes a request of you or your business it is because they like what you’re doing.  They think so highly of you, they want more.  So rather than be annoyed with their request, be appreciative.  Lead off with a thank you before going into why you can’t do the request.

“Thanks so much for thinking of me!  I wish we could do that but……”

2.  It’s not you, it’s me

Be gracious when you decline a request.  Remember, this person loves your business so much that they have chosen to come to you. Don’t  crush them and make them feel bad for asking.   Or worse, make them feel like the request is stupid.  (Um, WTF, I’m a coffee shop not a bakery, of course I don’t make sheet cakes for your birthday party!)  

Instead, say something along the lines of:

“Wow, that is a great idea.  I wish we could make your cake, but we don't have the right supplies for it.  I think you’ll be much happier getting that from someone who specializes in that. If you need coffee to go with it, I’d love to help you with that part!

This shows them that you’re thinking of their best interest, you want them to be happy with the outcome.  Again - you’re thanking them for thinking of you, but are gently reminding them of what you do best.  

3.  Give an explanation

I know, you don’t have to give people a reason.  And I also believe “No.” is a complete sentence.  But sometimes, when you're face to face with a customer you love it is easier for both of you if you explain why you can’t fulfill their request.  Typically people are more understanding when they know why.  

“Thanks for thinking of us to rent our cafe space at night.  That is a great idea.  I wish we could do that, but we just don’t have the staff to keep the place open and clean up after an event.”

4.  When uncertain, stall

If you are uncertain when someone makes a request of you, stall.  It is perfectly acceptable to tell someone you need to check your calendar, talk to a spouse, kids, biz partner, employee, or just that you need time to think about it.  

it is a nice way to postpone the answer to help you build the courage to say no when you’re taken off guard.   And it will be an especially helpful tool as to use as you are adjusting to keeping your boundaries clear and saying no more more things.  

One word of warning; don’t let “Let me think about it” turn into “never gets back to you”  That is really unprofessional.  Have the guts to tell someone No.  

5.  Offer an alternative

This is your final step, and it goes a long way in showing your customer that your #1 goal is their happiness.  So after they make a request that you’re going to turn down, think if there is another business that you know could fulfill it.

I have a friend who is an excellent photographer.  But she doesn’t do baby sessions.  So when a client comes to her and asks for portraits of her newborn, she gives them the reply that hits all the points:

“Thank you so much for thinking of me." (appreciation!)

"I would love to work with you, but baby pictures just aren’t my forte.  (It’s not you, its me) I’ve done them in the past, but other photographers just do a much better job in this area than I do."  (explanation)

"My friend, Suzy, specializes in infant photos and is amazing!  Let me give you her card." (referral)

By sticking to what you’re best at, you actually build more loyalty in that area.  People trust that you’re honest with them.

Get your mind in the right space to start saying No.  Then take action and put that word to work!  You'll free up time and energy to focus on moving your business forward!