The other day I was using my hole puncher when I thought back to my days as a kid when I would test the limits of our hole puncher by putting too many papers in, trying to save time. My parents had told me not to overload it, that we should only cut a few papers at a time, but I didn’t trust their experience and advice and instead chose to learn for myself. And I broke their hole puncher. How expensive it is to be a parent, where you kids need to learn for themselves, in the meantime breaking a lot of household items…
Similarly, when I started my business I was given a lot of advice, both directly and through books and articles. I took a lot of that advice seriously, but unfortunately some I didn’t take seriously enough. So I’m starting a new series about the advice I should’ve taken and the lessons I learned from my experiences. Maybe you’ll learn from my mistakes?
You hear it all the time that as a business owner, you need to learn to protect your time and business by saying no when necessary. And when is it necessary? For me, there’s a number of situations that I have deemed necessary to say NO.
- If I’m feeling overwhelmed by work or falling behind on projects, I won’t accept any new work or collaborations that will take up more of my time. That overwhelm will start to affect my personal life and family and I won’t allow that.
- If my gut tells me that a potential client won’t be a good fit for any reason, I need to say no. My gut has always been right and if a project just doesn’t feel right, I shouldn’t do it.
- If a project or collaboration isn’t a good use of my time or experience, say no. For example, when potential clients want to use me for projects outside of my expertise or when I’m asked to do a time-consuming collaboration that won’t help me reach my end goals.
But I wasn’t always so good at saying no. For example, in my early days of designing blogs a few years ago, I was a bit desperate for work. I wasn’t ready to say no to potential clients because I needed the money and experience, something I don’t regret because we all have to start somewhere. I took on a client who’s design still wasn’t a great fit for me and I ended up being her workhorse as she called all the shots regardless of my input and experience. The design never made it to my portfolio. But that wasn’t the mistake. She was one of my first clients and I learned a lot about customer service and how to share my opinions and feedback with my clients.
The mistake was just a few months later when I took on a friend of hers that saw her design and wanted to work with me. I knew I should’ve said no. If I hated working on that design, why would I want to work with someone that loved it and wanted something similar? But I wanted that money and experience so I said yes.
Each step of the process led to clashing as she made requests that my design experience said was a bad choice or her asking me to do things I wasn’t capable of. With each email I was more and more frustrated, ruining my day each time I had to work on any task for her project. It was making my job miserable and I knew she wasn’t enjoying the experience of working with me either.
Finally I listened to my gut and before we got too far, I told her that it wasn’t working out and I thought she would do better with a different designer. I refunded her the deposit, gave her some recommendations, and did all I could to end things on a good note. While the experience was definitely one I wish I could’ve skipped, I did learn the hard lesson of how to cut things short with a client when things aren’t going well, so it wasn’t a total loss!
That wasn’t the last time I said yes when I should’ve said no, as apparently I need a reminder every once in a while of why it’s okay to say no every. But I did learn that I should never ignore my gut just to make some extra cash. Learning to say NO has saved me a lot of time and heartache and taught me to respect myself as a designer and business owner. If only I’d caught on to that earlier!