Learn to say no and focus on your three critical business drivers

By Mark Schaefer

The other day a friend offered to post my content as a marketing column in his regional lifestyle magazine. It would require almost no work on my side and potentially expose me to a different audience. A no brainer, right?

I said no. Here’s why.

The critical three

I once worked with a business leader who would constantly ask, “What are your critical three?” He wanted to be sure you could tell him the three things you needed to succeed in your role, that you had plans in place to do it, and that you were focused on the outcomes. When one of the critical three had been accomplished, you could bring in a new priority.

As a busy entrepreneur or company leader, you must also maintain a laser-focus on your critical three activities, the priorities that drive your business. While there could be some benefit to this little bit of promotion I was offered, there is also a potential downside — distraction.

I primarily work with big companies like Dell, Cisco, and Microsoft, and this publishing channel probably would have sent me a flurry of small business leads. But I don’t work with small businesses, and processing those leads is a cost and a distraction from the core business, especially since I have strained administrative resources.

Even if re-purposing the content seems easy, there would be some work involved, like approving a re-write, responding to an administrative issue, or answering a reader question. If you keep accepting these nagging little responsibilities, they can gradually add up to one big distraction.

Beware of the “easy yes’s”

The entrepreneurs I admire don’t take the “easy yes’s.” They know that every moment of their time must be focused on their ultimate goal. Learning to say “no” is a lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way, believe me! I hate saying “no” to any opportunities, but every opportunity also has some cost.

In my own experience, when I found myself doing the “easy yes’s” I would look at my to-do list at the end of the day and find that perhaps that’s ALL I did that day!

One of Gary Vee’s famous mantras is that “one is greater than zero,” meaning that some activity — any form of self-promotion (even if it reaches 5 readers) — is better than no activity. At some level that might be true, especially if you’re just starting out and your business priority is to build awareness. But that’s not necessarily a smart strategy if you’re running a business and these little requests drag you away from your critical business priorities. And they will.

After all, a hundred of those “ones” add up to 100, and that’s not better than zero if it takes your eye off the ball and distracts you from your core business and ultimately leads you to exhaustion.**

**Note: This does not apply to Gary Vee. He seemingly does not get exhausted, but I do.

Your thoughts?

SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy of Flickr CC and Frank Elwood.

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