Where does our fear of being known for something come from? In a world where “no” is a four-letter word, it’s becoming easier and easier for designers, agencies, and interactive firms to want to always be saying yes to projects, clients, and work that’s not at all suited for them. You may wince at the thought, but sometimes, others are just going to be better than you at some things, and there’s no shame in that. In fact, saying “no” more often can actually help your business run better, attract better clients, and gain a great reputation in your industry.
Run business, run!
By turning down projects that aren’t aligned with your core competencies (you know, the things you’re best suited for), it frees you up to take on projects that are better for your company’s size, knowledge base, and experience. By continually saying “yes” to projects that demand more time and resources than you have, you’ll constantly overwork yourself and your employees/contractors and create an environment that’s less than pleasant to be in. It’s scary to think of saying “no” simply because you don’t have the resources to handle something because it seems so easy to solve (just hire some contractors and work late a few nights, right?) but it’s much more than that. By saying “yes” to projects you can’t handle, you run the risk of needing to grow in size way too quickly to do it well, and once the project ends, what happens to your increase in overhead? Do they get cut? Do you continue to seek bigger and bigger projects just to keep them busy without analyzing the type of work you’re accepting? It’s a vicious cycle.
Your best bet in these situations, if you must say “yes” due to financial or other reasons, is to partner with other firms who can supplement the areas you’re less experienced in. This will allow you to stick to your expertise, while finding other firms who can stick to theirs, giving each of you the opportunity to shine in what you deliver to your client instead of barely getting by. This also influences your reputation as a company that works well with others, making you attractive to firms who may need a partner in the future.
Laws of attraction
Saying “no” attracts more customers than saying “yes”. Why? Because saying “no” makes it much easier for a client/colleague/peer to understand out of the huge amount of things any designer, developer, agency, etc. what it is that you actually do. Elimination is the easiest way to get to understanding. Human brains can only access so much information at any one time, so if your bucket of services grows and grows and grows with yeses, your offering becomes more diluted and less appealing. By eliminating things that either aren’t interesting to you, others are better at than you, or you just don’t have the resources to manage, what you can offer someone becomes more and more clear, and thus, easier to remember. (See: Schemas)
Always saying “yes” leaves someone’s understanding of you open-ended, which is where most of us think we want to be in order to continually get work, but in reality, not only is it harder for most people to wrap their heads around your company, but you’re also doing a disservice to your clients by saying “yes” to things you’re not the best at.
Being the best: the American way
If you’ve never read the book, The Culture Code, I’d highly recommend it. In it, a marketing consultant and psychoanalyst explores what makes various cultures around the world tick. (His research is responsible for some of the most successful marketing campaigns to ever run.) He digs deep into the American culture and determines that because of our history as a country, we’re all seemingly stuck in the adolescent, “I want it all”, gimme-gimme mindset. It’s very eye-opening when you consider most of your business and personal interactions to date. Particularly in business, there is often a theme of wanting to be the best at everything, at all costs, because we’re all in it for ourselves. Unfortunately, this mindset makes for great high school reunion talk, but in actual practice, is harming our clients, reputations, and businesses. By wanting to take on more and more, despite not having a strong expertise in it, you’re delivering things to your clients that aren’t cutting it, and harming your reputation in the process. We’ve all looked at agencies, designers, and interactive firms work that was very obviously outside of their area of expertise and thought to ourselves, “we could have done it better” or “why would they even attempt this if they didn’t know what they were doing?” And sadly, our clients sometimes don’t know any better.
By explaining to our clients why a certain project falls outside of your strongest areas of competence, and sending them in a direction that would better suit their needs, you’re elevating the standards for your industry as a whole, which we all want, right? By also admitting that someone else may be better at something than you, you’re helping to strengthen your confidence in what you do excel at, and helping to better position your company for projects in the future.
Reciprocity goes a long way in business.