I Hate Saying No, But It’s My New Favorite Word

I hate saying no.

My mouth struggles to form the word. My tongue cements itself to the roof of my mouth. My brain turns off. I just don’t ever want to say it, and here’s why.

For the past (almost) ten years, I’ve been a marketing consultant and an agency of one. I scaled up my previous firm, TBD, to a decent size, wrote six figures worth of checks to freelancers and other agencies every year, and enjoyed the freedom and flexibility of that life. It was great. I worked with many of my talented friends. I made a lot of great client relationships. And I never ever, not even once, said no to business.

When it is just you – and you are on the heels of the Great Recession – and you have three kids – wait, then you adopt three more children – and they all get older and college looms. Then, you say yes to work. When it is just you and you have both a broad set of experiences and a wide range of talented friends, then you discover it’s possible to hustle and put together just about any project that gets thrown your way.

Truth be told, I love the hustle. I’m a little addicted to it. There’s something appealing (thrilling!) about an unexpected email or phone call or text asking if you could meet with so-and-so about such-and-such. Something new? Yeah, I’m in.

Over the years, clients stayed around and eventually, I had half a dozen regulars plus new projects all the time. I was also moving into a new season of life with my children – as in they were starting to leave home. There was this urge to build something – something bigger than myself, something that took the best of what I’d seen in 20+ years of work experience and try to do something new in the marketing communications space. So I hired. We hired more. We hustled for new projects and we grew 40% last year.

John James and I started talking last summer and through the fall, we decided that we wanted to try and build SMACK together. We wanted to take his customer acquisition, e-commerce experience and blend it with my brand, content and shopper marketing experience and make something for the emerging omni-channel world. We wanted to see if we could build scalable marketing programs for brands struggling to manage all of the complexities and agencies that seem to be the norm in modern marketing. And we have.

Our first product launched over the summer. We have tests going into market starting in a few weeks and we have lots of brands interested in our scalable, measurable, business-building marketing program (go figure!). And now comes a critical point in our young company’s journey. We have to focus.

Which brings me back to the beginning. I hate saying no. I love helping start-ups figure out how to get traction. I love helping big complex organizations sort out their brand and communication challenges. I love helping brands create libraries of video content. I love the new, the next. But we can’t do that right now.

Right now, we are going to focus on turning our Digital Demo product into the best omni-channel marketing program available. We have a phase two product in the works that gives brands and their customer teams a scalable CRM solution for their consumers by retailer. And there’s some exciting new things that are just sketches on whiteboards right now.

We are starting to say no. I am starting to say no. I did it just this morning. I did it so our team could all work more on the same projects. I did it so our clients have the best of us and not the rest of us. I did it so that we can continue to do what we started out to do – build a company that believes that its culture is its differentiator.

We talk a lot about our values and our culture. We work on it a lot, and I think that Focus needs to be worked into it. Now that we are saying no a little more, it gives us a bit more time to do just that.