3 Ways to Say No Without Saying “No.”

I think at some point in our lives as mompreneurs, we all find ourselves saying “yes” to things when we really should be saying “no.” This is something I struggled with long before becoming an entrepreneur or a mom. I’m a Yes person. I enjoy helping people, I feel honored to be asked to do things, I hate missing out, and I love feeling like I did something that makes someone happy. But too often I find myself saying “yes” to too much. I over-commit, over-promise, and over-extend myself, which really doesn’t do anybody any favors. As my plate has gotten fuller with a growing business and a growing toddler, the room left to say “yes” to things has gotten much smaller and I’m having to learn how to say no. I can’t say “yes” to everything and do a good job at it all. So I’m learning how to carefully choose what I can (and want to) commit to and let go of the rest.

A big part of the whole “no” issue for me is that I feel guilty. The moment someone asks if I can do something, I feel like I’m letting them down if I can’t. I want to be a problem solver, and saying “no” feels like I’m leaving them in the lurch. But this doesn’t have to be the case! These are my three go-to answers when I want to say “yes,” but have to say “no.”

1. “Not now, but later.” Sometimes the request is for something I really want to do, but the timing’s just off. I really really do want to go to happy hour and catch up on gossip–but my family needs me more this week. I really really do want to attend every play group–but I have to complete my invitation orders instead. I really really do want to help you with your new logo, but I can’t devote the time until after wedding season. So the “not now, but later” response helps ease that fear of missing out. I’m not saying, “I’m too busy for you,” I’m just saying, “This week is really busy, next week would be better.” The tricky (but important) part is finding the time that does work. Sometimes a whole month is just crazy and I have to say, “Gosh, I am booked all month, which is insane! But I really want to see you, so let’s plan on getting drinks the first week of April.” Whether you have to say no for the week, the month, or even the whole season, pick a time that does work and communicate that. If you can’t find a time that works–then it’s probably not something you really want to say yes to.

2. “Not me, but her.” One of the greatest blessings of attending Stationery Academy is that I met two dozen incredibly talented designers that I get to call friends. People have asked me, “But aren’t you all in competition with one another?” and I can honestly say, “Not at all!” We all have unique styles and our own areas of expertise and it’s fabulous. One of my struggles as a designer is that I’ve tried to be everything to everybody. When someone asks, “Have you ever done ___?” my answer was always, “I haven’t, but I can!” I guess I was afraid to ever turn down any orders. Well as my brilliant friend Natalie Chang put it, “Just because you know how to do something, doesn’t mean you should.” I can’t be everything to everybody and still be true to myself. And–news flash–I’m not the solution to every problem! So sure, I can design whatever it is you’re asking about, but that doesn’t mean I’m the best person for the job. I’ve found that when I say “yes” to jobs that aren’t my specialty, I spend way more time than I should on them and the client doesn’t get the absolute best design she possibly could. That sounds like a lose-lose to me. Now that I know so many great stationers, I can say, “You know, I’d absolutely love to work with you, and while I’d hate to turn you away, I know that I can’t do as great a job on that as you deserve. But I know just the girl for you! My friend specializes in exactly that style and she’ll take great care of you!” At first it felt weird to turn down orders, but it really is the best solution for everyone. My time is freed up to work on what I love working on, the client gets a better product working with someone who specializes in that style, and a friend gets a job that they enjoy!

3. “Not this, but that.” Sometimes I receive inquiries for products I used to offer, but have discontinued. It’s always hard to say, “You know, I don’t offer that anymore.” Again, it’s something I can do, something I used to do, and I hate to let people down. But I have to remind myself why I stopped carrying those items and stick with my decision. (Usually because they took more time than they were worth or because I couldn’t get the quality as perfect as I wanted.) So I’ve tried this strategy: instead of just saying no, I say, “Gosh, I’m no longer able to offer that. However, I do offer this!” and point them toward a similar, but better product. And they often say “Yes!” Usually more excited about the new product than the old one. Another win-win in my book. The customer gets what they need and want, and I feel good about working on it because it’s a product or design that I’m proud of.

So these examples are pretty specific to my life and line of work, but I think they really apply to almost anything! If you need to say no, but feel guilty or don’t want to miss out, rry out one of these strategies: pick a later date, refer a friend, or offer a different option that you wouldn’t mind saying “yes” to!

I want to hear from you! Comment below and let me know what you’ve been afraid to say “no” to. What can you say instead of “yes” that will be a win-win?


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