Lately we’ve met several service-based entrepreneurs who are in the habit of turning away work when they feel their plate is too full. We refer to this as “Turning Away Business for Dummies” – because it really is for dummies. Since most business owners are looking for more work, not less, the idea of turning away perfectly good business is downright maddening. Not only is declining good work a bad idea, it’s also a sure-fire way to make sure you never grow.
Of course, there can be sensible reasons to turn away business. We work with our clients to articulate their professional sweet spot – that is, what work they do best, most efficiently, and for whom. And while it makes sense to hustle in the early years and stretch to find the sweet spot, ultimately it pays to be crystal clear about what you do and who you do it for. Here are some good reasons to turn away work:
- The project is outside your wheelhouse. Your expertise and interest don’t lend themselves well to the work and you probably won’t be the best person for the job.
- You can’t work within the constraints of the job (not enough money, unrealistic deadlines, etc.).
- You just don’t want to work with that particular client.
Turning away work for these reasons makes sense and we’d actually encourage it. In these cases you may want to think about developing a referral list of trusted service providers to whom you can send the client. The referral will create goodwill not only with the referee but also with the client, who will likely appreciate that you didn’t try to take on more than you can handle, and may recommend you for more suitable work in the future.
But when we see entrepreneurs leaving good business on the table, it boggles our minds. Bad reasons for turning away work include feeling overloaded, not having appropriate infrastructure or feeling intimidated by the work. Here’s how to say yes to new business:
Staff Up. If you turn down business because you don’t have enough staff, hire more staff! If we had a dollar for every business owner who told us they didn’t have time to hire and train good help, we’d have ourselves a nice lunch somewhere. The truth is, if you can’t find the time to train new staff, then odds are good you’re not interested in growth. If you’re not sure you can maintain enough workload for another employee then consider bringing on help in the form of part-time staff or contractors.
Also, don’t fall into the trap of believing that every client needs their work done by you. If you train someone, then they can do the job on your payroll while you supervise, collect the cheque and solidify a client relationship that will pay you for years to come.
- Get Your House In Order. Investing the time in creating systems and infrastructure is the only way to grow a service-based business. Scalability is only an option if you create the time to deliberately add the needed resources.
- Get Over Yourself. There is a difference between taking on work outside of your expertise and stretching yourself to learn new skills. We encourage you to do the math on stretching outside your experience zone when it comes to new work. Ask yourself if a little discomfort and a learning curve (which you may not be compensated for) could give you new expertise you can turn around and sell in the future.
Staying hungry and stretching your comfort levels are probably among the reasons you started your business – so put them to good use growing your business.