How to Say No in Business

How to say no in business

I have a confession to make.

In the world of business, I suffer from SOS – that’s Shiny Object Syndrome.

This means I see golden opportunities and shimmering possibilities everywhere. The main symptoms of this syndrome are saying yes to everything and often overloading yourself with work – often the wrong kind of work.

If you are also an entrepreneur, chances are you suffer from the same thing.

There’s only one known treatment to SOS. Saying no!

Why Should You Say No in Business?

In theory, the more time we spend honing our craft and building our businesses, the better we become at what we do. Simultaneously, the longer we work, the wider our networks grow. Because of this, more opportunities naturally come our way.

Great work + wider networks = more opportunities

All these opportunities are excellent, and many should be taken. At this stage, I should point out that I am still very much an advocate of saying yes. By saying yes, we open ourselves to new opportunities. 

Yes is good.

However, by constantly saying yes – especially to the things that are not your core business or product – you will often find yourself in challenging situations. 

By focusing on work outside of your core offering, you will be heading down the “Generalist” route rather than the “Specialist” route, meaning you are diluting your expertise.

Consequently, I suggest you commit to only spending time on the stuff that excites you or makes you money… then saying no to the rest.

It sounds simple in theory, but can be trickier to do in practice.

Clarity Makes Saying Both YES and NO Much Easier

To figure out what to say no to, it’s important to understand when we should be saying yes.

For example, I worked with a client for two years. I did most of the work that came my way, which included taking on work that was outside my expertise. Tasks that were not part of my expertise would take me much longer to do than someone who WAS an expert. Not only did the client not get maximum value from my work, I also was unfulfilled doing it.


Soon, this client started offering me more of this work, which was still outside of my expertise.

I had to do something. I had to take a step back and figure out exactly what I wanted to do, which would make my decision process a hell of a lot easier.

This was around the time I had begun to productize my services. I will write a separate article on this effective process but, for now, here is the concept and why it is relevant.

When you productize your service, you are crystalizing what you are good at and what you like doing, then selling it as a product. This allows you to define exactly what it is you want to do.

For example, try it now by using the following template:


For me, that would become: “I help business owners build for 7-8 figure exits by creating turn key operations.”

Making a statement like this can really help you communicate your message better to your target customer.

Repeating this statement across all platforms, to your clients, and even to your team, can help everyone understand what you do and how you do it.

This means you can tell people no much easier, because you know exactly what you should be saying yes to.

How to Say No in Business

Saying no in business? It’s easy:

Client: “Hey Gray, are you able to do this for me?”

Gray: “…NO!”

Client: “Oh…”

This scenario may seem cathartic – and in some circumstances warranted – but it’s not the best way to go about things!

It perhaps goes without saying, but saying no should be done politely

Regardless of whether you never want to work with the client again, or are simply turning one thing down, you don’t want to burn bridges by throwing a bad no around.

Instead, here are some tips on saying no politely:

Be straightforward

Don’t beat around the bush – if you are saying no, say no. Don’t say ‘Maybe another time’ or ‘I’ll think about it’ unless you are actually going to consider doing it. Otherwise you are simply prolonging the inevitable.

Offer an explanation

Optional, but sometimes you may want to explain why you are turning down the work. Are you too busy? Is it not your expertise? No need to go overboard, a simple sentence will do.

Provide an alternative

If you have a co-worker, teammate, freelancer or some other trustworthy party who is able to do the job, then provide contact details (inform the other party first!). Or, if you think you can do some of the work or do it at a later stage, then provide that as an alternative too.

Don’t budge

This is important. If you find yourself saying no, then being convinced to say yes, you may eventually become known as someone who is easily persuaded. If you changed your mind this time, maybe you’ll do it again? Say no, then make that your final answer.

Putting it all together

Whether it’s face to face or via email, a basic template to use could be:

Hey [NAME],

Thanks for thinking of me for [PROJECT] – however, I am going to have to turn this down.

My plate is too full at the moment, and by taking this on I wouldn’t be able to give your project the attention it deserves. 


Thanks in advance for your understanding.

All the best,


You can check out some more specific templates here.

Obviously, you can tailor these to what it is you want to say no to. It could be turning down a project, or just a meeting or a phone/video call. It could even be an invitation for drinks after work, when you really just need to go home and catch up on Netflix and sleep!

It’s also useful if you are taking a vacation and need to cement the fact that you are not available.

Remember: practice makes perfect.

It can be a little unnerving to say no sometimes, but your life will become A LOT more liberating when you learn how.

Bonus Points: Every time you send a great “NO” email, save it as a template for next time.  

What is your favorite way to say no in business?

Questions? Comments? We’re here for you at!

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