Guest Post by Julie Schumacher :: I became a Founding Mom mere months after becoming a First Time Mom. My wee little business (Well Turned Words) and my wee little daughter (Loie Jane) have grown up as fraternal twins in a way. Each has presented unique challenges, things that make me smile, many moments of joy, and many moments of intense frustration. Each has made me stronger, wiser, more resourceful, and much sleepier than I’d ever imagined being. I’ve worried about their development, if I was over-invested, or being just the right amount of hands-off to allow each to grow naturally.
As a writer, I am tickled all kinds of pink that Loie is a pretty verbal kid. So it wasn’t too surprising when, after mastering “hot” and “bubble,” a new word entered her vocabulary. And with gusto. I’m sure all of you are familiar with it if your child has passed through that hotbed of awesome: “No.” And she is really good at it. Despite her nimble use of the word, her comprehension does not include me saying it. If I do, when she’s eating toilet paper or mulch or whatever else she pincer grips towards her four teeth, she smiles and laughs. I’ve tried sing-songy. I’ve tried firm. I’ve tried baritone. And bass. And I get laughed at. We try, in our house, not to say it often. We keep her safe so that “no” is reserved for toilet paper eating and hobbies we hope to discourage.
About the same time as it became a thing in our house, my husband pointed out that I had not learned to say no as a business owner either. I protested and pshawed. But as I struggled to meet this blog’s generous and given well ahead of time timeline, knowing full well that I wanted to write about mastering “no,” I conceded. Upon reflection, I know full well that I’m gun shy on the “no” with clients. And my logic is the same of probably every first time entrepreneur. I am so honored and delighted each time I get a project that I fear ever disappointing anyone, even on a tiny scale or with a “no, but” that might mean a slight delay. Because every new client feels like a victory, I remain convinced, despite all evidence to the contrary, that each new project might be my last. When budgets and egos are stressed, saying “no” feels impossible. Even before a request is finished I’m saying any number of variations of “yes.” Of course. Not a problem. I’ll get right on it.
But being able to say “no” to a client or a project (or an order that is just too large or a request too big, however it manifests in your world) is a critical piece of maturing as a Founding Mom and a First Time Mom. The key is to know how and when to wield it. To do so with confidence and compassion. And to know that you might have to say it a few times for it to feel as easy as it does for little Loie to hurl.
So, some thoughts:
1. “No” is sooo much better than “I’m Sorry.” I’ve yet to experience it because I’m all too willing, still, to stay up later than I should, work while parenting, and ask my husband for help. But I imagine the temporary and initial frustrations a client might feel when receiving a “no” or that you can’t get a request done in the time they want you to is far superior to saying “yes” and then dropping a whole slew of balls at once with that client and probably a couple others as you realize you’re behind in multiple areas and not likely to catch up anytime soon.
2. Like parenting, “no” is all about strategic use. If you wield “no” in mom life like a trigger-happy skeet shooter, it loses its value. It becomes a dull hum interrupting your kid’s fun, but only briefly and certainly not effectively. In business, you’ll have to make careful judgments about when you need to just say “no.” Especially in freelancing, clients sometimes don’t realize their “small” extra request may come on top of four or five other small requests from other projects or may cut into time set aside for another, equally valued, client. I often have clients who say they know I am working on other stuff…but…could I?
On the contrary, saying “no” because you want to hold out for some bigger, better potential project down the line may pay off. And it may not. As Founding Moms, we have to dig deep to think about just how much risk we can tolerate when dropping a no bomb to wait a better project out. Because you can’t just go back and say yes.
3. “No” Might Not Be Your Fault. As much as we carry mama guilt with us most moments of most days, it’s crucial to recognize that saying “no” might not be a result of some failure on your part. As a freelancer, I’m often creating a working calendar for the week in my head only to have it dashed by one or two deadline or timing changes with a client. If A says they’ll get me keyword search terms by Monday but doesn’t until Tuesday lunchtime, that’s a challenge for client B, project C, dinner, and me. Empowering yourself to say “no” when you need to means you can maintain some semblance of sanity (whatever that looks like to you.) And then you can relax over Thai food instead of tying to type with one hand and cook with the other.
If you don’t think you can adequately get something done or if a client comes back after a delay and asks for something rushed, you can say “no.” It can have a “but it will be my next priority” attached. This has been the most challenging piece for me, honestly. I like writing with people and hate disappointing people. So when the pipeline is clogged and I can’t de-clog it, it is terribly difficult to say “I didn’t get it in time so, sorry, no it won’t be back to you tomorrow like we originally discussed.” And when I say this is the hardest, I mean I haven’t actually had the guts to say it. Assuming I find that super power, a critical partner to that is falling on someone else’s sword a bit. If you say no because another client is delaying you, you can’t lay blame with eyebrows raised. Bad form, bad business, and it makes you look like an excusemonger. Instead, just say your schedule is full and less flexible than you thought, offer an alternative timeline, and work your butt off for them when you can.
4. “No.” It means you’re making it, Mama! I am not one to do the whole “ask the universe and it shall provide” thing. I’m wired far too anxious for that. But I will say that as I was pondering this post and sweating the deadline we had a lovely family staying with us with a dad who is in the entrepreneurial world. He mentioned casually over a very nice glass of wine, “You know, it’s weird. When you say “no” it seems like it makes those people and other people want to work with you more.” It feels a tad like my mom telling me to act busy when a boy asked me out in high school, but there seems to be truth to it. Saying “no” because you are genuinely busy means you are GENUINELY BUSY. By simply saying: “I’d love to, but I can’t. My day/week/Saturday evening is already spoken for” lets your professional suitors know your professional dance card is filling up.
These are not sage tips from on high, parsed out to you with sage wisdom and mastery. These are action points I hope to implement and live by as my business matures. Now, if one of you could just tell me how to get my kid to stop eating mulch, I’d be all set.
Julie Schumacher, the wordsmith behind Well Turned Words is a writer and editor based out of Oak Park, IL. She works with clients ranging from small business owners to national non-profits to bring their message, brand, and product to a wider audience via compelling website content or print copy. She’s also mama to Loie, a copper-topped toddler who likes mac&cheese and bubbles.