The ROI of ‘No’

SMS Text

Want to improve your bottom line? The secret may be one little word –- no.

Saying no can be as simple as turning down a donut with your latte, but more often than not, it’s a complicated situation with mixed emotions. In business, we want to succeed for our families, our teams, our clients and ourselves. Success comes with more responsibility and this can quickly overwhelm our time and energy if we let it. In the frenzy of trying to please everyone, it’s easy to lose sight of your original vision.

The single greatest weapon I’ve learned to use as the CEO of Outspoken Media is the understanding and courage to say no. This isn’t always easy, and I still take on more than I should, but for anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit and business drive, this isn’t uncommon.

It’s difficult to quantify the ROI of “no,” but in an effort to do just that, we have been focused on better understanding their time over the past few months. How is it being spent? What tasks generate the greatest return for our clients? How can we trim the fat?

There are a number of tools that help us keep track of this work. We use a combination of Raven Tools, Basecamp and Harvest. I’ve also been using Rescue Time to monitor and manage my schedule.

Time is money. Saying no to the wrong projects and ideas ensures that our business is making sound decisions. I’ll give you a recent example. Friday. I had a call with a potential client. We were reviewing a six-figure social media marketing proposal. We knew we could deliver on our reputation and establish their social media presence within their industry. In order to do so, we’d have to hire at least one full-time employee. The client would benefit from our experience, training and lack of overhead on their part. Everything made sense.

My gut told me something different during the call. The more I listened, the more I realized that what they really needed was a full-time, in-house marketer. There were just too many pieces that would need to be coordinated. An agency wasn’t the right fit for their needs. So, I said it. The response? Silence, then shock, followed by appreciation. I was told that my opinion was refreshing and exactly what they’d been thinking. They were testing the waters to see what was out there, but they needed a push to prioritize hiring in-house.

Where was the ROI in turning down lucrative new business? For the client, they’ll see an immediate ROI. They’ll spend half as much hiring a mid-level, experienced employee, which means they’ll have more to invest in the department, tools and consultants for specific projects.

The ROI for us was in being true to our brand.

We’re Outspoken Media, because we’re honest about what we believe our clients need. If we had signed with them, the coordination needed would have quickly overwhelmed a single position cutting into the time needed to get the job done.

In addition, the client may have been satisfied with our work, but they’d always be wondering when they should hire in-house. They just needed a “no” to feel confident in their decision. Now, they trust us and when it comes time to train this new employee or gain guidance on specific social media campaigns, they’ll remember that we were honest and respectful of their time and money.

Beyond client matters, the art of saying no comes into play with hiring and firing. There is no single area of a business that is more important and costly than its manpower. Choosing the wrong team member can cause a business to hemorrhage dollars. Fire fast. It’s a lesson I learned the hard way and at this point in my career, I’ve been accused of being too good at firing.

To me, this is fueled by the fear of losing time and money on a bad relationship. Experience has taught me to say no for the benefit of everyone involved. It’s also shown me when to say yes and trust the incredible team we do have.

Trust your gut. Embrace “no” in the right areas and new opportunities will open, opportunities that are a better match for you, your clients and your business.

Here is some more advice on the strategic use of “no.”

Rhea Drysdale
Rhea Drysdale is Co-founder and CEO of Outspoken Media, which specializes in SEO consulting, link building, reputation management and social media. With more than seven... Read Full Bio
Get the latest news from Search Engine Journal!
We value your privacy! See our policy here.
  • Dan Reed

    Wow, great post! It can be so difficult to optimise on the power of ‘no’, especially when it is such a taboo word in business! Thank you for sharing with the world 🙂

  • Alan Bleiweiss


    Great article pointing out the value for all parties when it comes to saying no to prospective clients! If it’s not the right fit, it’s not the right fit for anyone- not just one party. Which means both benefit when it’s said. Now that I’m leading a team, I’m in more situations of the kind you’re used to than I had been as an independent consultant – more people, factors and considerations to bring into the mix when doing the evaluating.

    I have always admired your skill, knowledge and talent – now I appreciate it that much more though. And it’s great to be reminded of these issues from someone who has achieved so much success…

  • Kristin

    Thanks for the article on the ROI of saying no. It’s a hard concept for a lot of people to grasp especially when the mentality of business is business comes into play.

    Your example is the perfect example of why it is okay! The relationship could only hurt you in the long run if they were already questioning it.

    Thanks for the post! it’s something everyone who is any kind of business should read!

  • Bill Duff

    Great article. I am Managing Director of Fusionsoft, a small agency in the UK. It takes balls to say no, especially in the current climate, however, it is better to turn down opportunities that are not right for the business and the client, as you say, the client will think more of you in the long run.

    We build e-commerce websites as our core offering, although SEO / SEM is now fundamental to everything we offer, before we take a project on these days we start with the business goals and the marketing strategy, then we come on to the website. We turn down more jobs than we take on, most of the time we turn work down because the client doesn’t want to hear the advice, or believes they know better. On this basis it is often the right decision to turn the work down and walk away.

    We also turn work down if we believe the work would swamp our business, some projects are just too big, “I thought you were an Entrepreneur” I hear you shout! Yes I am, however, reputation is everything, having to delay a project whilst you recruit more resources can may be a bad start to the project, then you are playing catch up all the way through. Honesty is the best policy, we have several customers who decided that they would work with us, bringing in their own internal staff and using our expertise and knowledge to drive their strategy.

    So saying No is a good thing and a major part of every business.


  • Dave Durbin

    Love this post. Who knows what the future holds for your relationship with this company? Consulting for their in-house would now be a strong possibility. And beneficial to all involved. Good information isn’t always a “yes”. Thanks for writing this.

  • Wasim Ismail

    Saying “No” is definitely a tuff decision, especially in these economical climate, where every little business would help. But looking at the overall long term investment from your customers point of view, and also the work from your business, its probably a right choice to make.
    At times the customer would probably think were insane saying no to new business, but if educated well, and given the reason of saying no, I’m sure they would appreciate the honesty.

  • Moosa Hemani

    Another superb Post by Rhea, No defiantly is a tough but powerful decision and if you ask me I usually turn this down In the starting of my career but this leads to nothing but lack of focus at work and bad health (in case of over working).

    It’s still hard for me to say NO, but recently what prices I have paid I truly believe that it’s better to say NO then ended up losing customer relationship and trust on skill you have got!

  • John Sutherland

    It’s refreshing to see someone say no, even at the loss of potential revenue, when the match just doesn’t seem right. I agree that the respect you’ve gained from saying “no,” as well as the future referrals, are worth more than an unhappy and inefficient business relationship. A lot of people fool themselves into thinking a certain situation is beneficial even if many signs point to the contrary, and it’s good to know there are people our there who can see beyond the dollar amount to the ultimate business value. Great post.

  • Rhea Drysdale

    Glad you guys enjoyed the post. Tough lessons learned through experience, so it felt like an appropriate story. With Search Engine Journal’s focus turning to ROI it’s important to remember that sometimes we shouldn’t embrace every new technique or client just because we see dollar signs. I’ve been there and it’s worth staying true to yourself and your company no matter how cheesy that sounds. 🙂

  • Kim Wegner

    So so so true. I’ve felt like the ‘no’ lady lately and it’s so refreshing to read an article like this one. Thanks for posting it!