The Therapeutic No

Take a good deep breath, flex your diaphragm, look into the mirror and with your most enthusiastic voice say “No!”. Now, don’t you feel better, more in control, maybe even richer? You should. In the right circumstances you have just rid yourself of a marginally profitable job, a too difficult client, a calendar or schedule killer, and it all took less air than it takes to blow out the candles on my birthday cake.

If you agree with the pundits, experts and prognosticators that we are emerging from the inside of the sales septic tank, I’d like to prescribe a quick bit of preventive medicine for you. We have been searching and scrounging for leads, talking to everyone, and gnashing our teeth about smaller jobs and shrinking margins.

We survived, thanks to those very same jobs (maybe mostly to them). But something else has happened: We have become accustomed to stretching further and making allowances or even excuses for our lower margins because of the times.

Well, we’re gonna kick that habit, maybe even go cold turkey. We’re going to get back to running a business instead of hanging on. I don’t think your post-recession clientele is any different than it was before the crash: Your customers wanted too much for too little, but they did appreciate the good and thoughtful service that separated you from Charley’s Rusty Fender Remodeling. These clients haven’t changed and you probably haven’t either.

You still try to give your famous service even though you aren’t being paid for most of it. Cars, gas, food, clothing, golf balls and fishing rods cost more now than they did a year ago, and so do we. So do we! Ever wonder why the materials suppliers didn’t lower their prices much if any? They didn’t have to. Where else were we going to go for product?

You have proved your mettle by staying in business and now it’s time to re-establish your margins so the service for which you are famous (or aspire to be) is once again your primary profit center.
We all know if no one says your price is too high, it is, in fact, too low. Attitude is a little like price and sometimes it needs adjusting. When you are dealing with a lead who is asking for too much or wants things to be done too quickly, it is time to upgrade.

You might say: “Mrs. Jones, I’m concerned that your conditions are not something we can meet and at the same time deliver our standard of service, so I think we had better pass on doing your work. We very much appreciate that you called us and wish you the best with your project.”

Yes, she likely will be stunned, but if you are polite when you say “No” she will probably ask why. At that point, you are at a crossroads. You can upgrade the job by explaining why your price is higher and sign it for your price or save yourself buckets of time (and money) by finding out the job is going for the cheap and you just dispatched a time-waster. In either case, the “No” should make you feel better because this “No” is a big positive.

At my company, I have told prospective clients for years that we know our price is higher than many, but we insist on charging enough to be able to deliver the excellent service for which we are known. Clients tell us “No” for different reasons. You will almost always be aware that a prospective job is going to be a problem in time to turn it down. Just say “No!”. You’ll feel better even if you need work because you need profitable work. Be nice but be confident that the work you take on has all the ingredients to make both sides happy at the end. That’s called being in the know. “No?” While you’re here ... .