When to Say ‘No’ to a Business Opportunity

When you are just starting out in a new position, or just starting to grow your company, the incentive is to simply get things done. At times it can seem like you are making no progress, that no matter what you try your efforts are having little impact. That is a time when you will take any win you can get, and if someone offers you an opportunity, you will jump on it.

But what if you’re not in a situation like that? What if your business is growing? What if you have a lot of projects already, and they’re working? That’s when it becomes important to learn when to say ‘no’.

What types of business opportunities are we talking about?

  • Maybe a partner proposes a joint venture with a surefire new revenue stream
  • Maybe an agency proposes a new campaign that will put your brand in front of a whole new audience
  • Maybe your team has come up with an idea for a new version of the product you already offer

The opportunities are varied, but they share one thing – they all cost money and time to develop and manage. And while it may seem like a no-brainer to say ‘yes’ when the potential revenue from the new opportunity is staring you in the face, what we are talking about is diverting attention away from existing activities to do something new. So you must have a minimum reward threshold that you measure the opportunity against.

Each business or person will have their own minimum reward threshold, which will depend on the size of the business and current growth projections.

For example, if you are managing a brand that is bringing in $1 million in revenue per year, $100,000 opportunity looks pretty good. That’s 10% growth. But if you’re managing a brand brining in $10 million, all the sudden that same opportunity might look a little puny (1% growth).

Because most of us are already stretched thin as it is, adding new tasks for such a small opportunity might not be the best use of our time. So we need to say ‘no’.

Saying ‘no’ is hard. It can feel like you are turning down free money. But we must take on a different mindset to make the habit stick. What you are really saying when you say ‘no’ to an opportunity that does not meet your threshold is this – My business is worth more than that, so I’m going to hold out for something better.

What Percentage of Your Time is Spent on Strategy?

Here is an exercise worthy of your time, one that will make you more productive by helping you prioritize the projects that get your time and attention.

Through the years I have found that nearly everything you work on can fit in one of four types:

  1. Day-to-day Quick: these are the small tasks you work on that take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours to complete.
  2. Day-to-day Long: these are the micro-level tasks that are not as quick or easy as #1, and are usually broken out over a number of days or weeks.
  3. Strategic – Low Level: thought-level analysis and planning for an individual project or exercise, covering a single aspect of the business or just one initiative.
  4. Strategic – High Level: like #3 above but more expansive, business- or brand-level strategy (rebranding or new business initiatives).

If you ask most people how much time they should be devoting to all four of these buckets, you will find various answers that usually involve some amount of time each week in all categories. On average, it will break out pretty evenly (25-25-25-25%).

But if you ask those same people how they actually spend their time, odds are most will say they spend much more of their time in bucket 1 than any of the others.

And while bucket 1 is important, we have to do whatever we can to make sure it does not eat up our time for buckets 2, 3, and 4.

Bucket 2 is often work we put off because we know it’s a time suck. Those are the things we know have to get done, but can’t get done today. So they’re easy to put off.

Buckets 3 and 4 are perhaps the most important, because that is how we plan and prepare for the future. That is how we grow our brands, innovate, and compete.

The best way to prioritize strategy work is to schedule it. When we don’t schedule it, its easy to put it off. “I’ll have more time for that later,” we tell ourselves, “but right now there’s this one thing I have to finish.” But when we put time for strategy on our schedules, we commit ourselves to it.

Make a goal to spend at least 20% of your time each week (that’s 1 full day in 5) to focusing on strategic projects. You will find that you are more productive, and spend more of your time working on things that will have a larger company-wide impact.

Plan for Growth

Growth is the goal for most marketers. We grow subscribers, sales, revenues, profits, margins. The growth of the business is why we’re there.

But growth doesn’t just happen. A good product or service or brand doesn’t grow on its own. We have to plan for it.

Planning for growth is simple, in concept. But the execution is harder, as is evident by the number of companies who fail to grow.

Here are some basic steps you can take to plan for growth:

  1. Identify what marketing efforts are working and increase those budgets
  2. Identify what marketing efforts are not working and shift those budgets to the ones that are working
  3. Identify the main reason(s) why customers are not buying from you and address them
  4. Identify new geographical markets that have yet to be exposed to your products
  5. Identify new industries or consumer groups who have yet to be exposed to your products
  6. Identify new pricing and promotion strategies that will bring in new customers and help keep existing customers
  7. Identify new ways of selling your product or service into existing markets
  8. Identify new uses for your existing products
  9. Add new products that compliment your existing products

Again, this is simple in theory but difficult to execute. These are very broad steps to take. Identifying new markets or new product uses take time and research. We need to test our ideas and prove that these opportunities exist.

But if you don’t start now, thinking about and planning for growth when you put together your marketing plans, then you will never even come close to the execution, and your business will flounder.