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Letter to Leaders

What Are You Saying "No" To?

How changing my mind from 'no' to 'yes' saved my business


This is a true story.


It was 2009. Right in the middle of the greatest recession in the history of our country.


My company at that point was about six years old. A couple of years earlier, I’d merged my company with a CPA firm. I then rewarded their faith in me by watching our annual revenue drop 70% the first year. Then, it dropped another 70% the second year. Times were desperate, and so was I.


I couldn't find a way to get clients. We offered good, essential services. But there weren't any C level executives or business owners capable of making a decision. I was facing the possibility of bankruptcy.


At the same time, the owner of a local insurance brokerage had been nagging me. I wanted us to provide a hotline service for his clients. You know: a small business owner or executive could call an 800 number and say “I have an employee who is pregnant. What should I do?”

Greg took me out to lunch and asked me to do it. He called me on the phone and followed up.


But I kept on saying no. I couldn't figure out how to staff such a hotline. At that point, I only had one employee besides myself. I didn't want to offer a service that I didn't know for certain that I could adequately support.


Then one day, I was driving home. It had been a bad day; I'd spent half the afternoon trying to cover payroll. It was gut-check time.


I started thinking. I'd been offering people what I thought they needed. Instead, perhaps I should start offering what people were asking me to do.


I called Greg that night. Told him I didn't know how I'd be able to do a hotline, but we were going to do it.


Within a year, we converted 20% of their clients into clients of our own. Referrals built on referrals, resulting in profitability faster than I'd dreamed possible.


That decision was one of six major turning points in my business life, and likely the most important.


What are you saying no to that you should reconsider? What are you progressing towards that you should reconsider?


The trendy executive advice says we should say no more often. Well, if you're only trying to improve time management, you should say no more often. But no decision should ever be permanent.

More important: if you want to be more successful, “no” cannot be your default answer. You must find ways of making things work. That means taking a risk. It means going out on a limb. Great leaders take risks. Make the calculated risky decision and tweak it as you go. Don’t default to “no”.


Now, any moron can take a risk. But successful people find out quickly if something doesn't work, and they end it. Fast. You must have the courage to make decisions, but even more courage to recognize when you’re wrong. That's the definition of success.


That small insurance brokerage later merged with one of the world's largest insurers. They remain one of my most important, successful and profitable clients. I'm now working with the second generation of leaders of that company.


The decision to reconsider the “no” was a life changing decision for me. This month, we’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of my company.


What are you saying no to that you need to reconsider?

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