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The power of no is vital to understand. No is one of the most powerful words in the English language. It’s a small word, but those two letters pack a punch. When you say no at the right time, you have the power to set healthy boundaries, reduce unnecessary stress, and protect your mental health.
But saying no can be really hard to do—especially when it involves work or money. Take it from me, a long-term freelancer. For years I was scared to turn down any opportunity, even if it meant becoming overbooked and burnt out.
Luckily, there are strategies that can let you harness the power of no to become more successful and happy. Instead of burning bridges on the road to financial freedom, saying no can smooth the pavement.
So let’s take a look at how you can use the power of no to your financial advantage.
Why Is Saying No So Hard?
From an early age, many of us are taught that no is a selfish word. Think about toddlers having temper tantrums: “No no no no no!”
We’re also taught that we should often put the needs of others above our own, to give instead of take. For many of us, pleasing others is just hardwired into our brains.
When it comes to the workplace, a freelance career, or even a simple side hustle, saying no becomes even more difficult. That’s because money is on the line.
Say it’s 5:00 in the afternoon and your boss dashes over to your cubicle and asks if you’ll stay late to put together a presentation that they forgot about.
Any other day, this scenario might be OK. But it’s your son’s birthday, and you’ve promised to take the whole family out for pizza.
Whatever your knee-jerk reaction might be now, I bet that, in this scenario, you’d say yes and miss the pizza party. After all, saying no might lead to you being passed over for a promotion, right?
Here’s another situation to consider. Say you’ve got a successful freelance writing career going and you receive an email from someone asking if you could write a 5,000-word report with a quick turnaround.
The thing is, the pay is less than your usual rate. And you don’t like even thinking about the subject matter. It’s totally beyond your niche.
But I bet you’d be tempted to say yes. After all, freelancers should never turn down a gig, right?
When Is It OK to Use the Power of No?
OK, so sometimes you absolutely can’t turn an assignment or job down. To say no would definitely cost you your position or lose you an opportunity you might never receive again.
You’ll know in your gut when to give a definitive yes. It’s clear that there would be a huge opportunity cost by turning it down.
However, it can be trickier to identify when a resounding no is in order.
Here are some criteria to consider:
1. Is your safety on the line?
This one should be a no-brainer. If someone is asking you to do something that makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, don’t do it—no matter how much money they offer you.
This runs the gamut from entering into a personal relationship with a boss to using hazardous equipment you’re simply not trained to use.
Entering a toxic relationship or getting hurt on the job simply isn’t worth the extra money. Use the power of no and moving forward, make sure you set strong, clear boundaries with anyone who asks you to do something outside your comfort zone.
2. Is the job in your wheelhouse?
If you do any kind of freelance work, you’ll occasionally be asked to do a job you just aren’t knowledgeable about—and you aren’t thrilled to learn how to do it, either.
If you can afford to pass on the income, definitely don’t do it. Hold out for jobs that excite you or spark your interest. Odds are, a better opportunity is around the corner.
If you could use the extra work, factor in how long it would take you to learn about the subject matter or do the task before saying yes. The gig might not be worth the time it would take you to get up to speed.
3. Will it get you closer to your goals?
If it seems like the offered opportunity might put a drain on your time or resources, turn it down. As an entrepreneur or even side hustler, you know that you have a finite amount of energy and time to give.
Successful people say no all the time. I love this quote from the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs: “Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”
Remember, your ultimate goal is to achieve financial freedom as soon as you can. Don’t say yes to anything that might send you on a detour or otherwise distract you from better opportunities.
4. Do you already have enough to do?
You might have read about the difference between having a scarcity mindset and having a growth mindset.
One of the nasty side effects of the scarcity mindset is that you tend to hoard.
Think of it like this: When people are scared that the store is going to run out of toilet paper, they hoard it. They load up their closets, basements, and every bit of storage space with rolls of TP.
It’s the same way with having a scarcity mindset about having work opportunities.
When freelancers worry that they’ll run out of jobs, they tend to hoard as many gigs as possible, regardless of quality.
You know what? The majority of the time, this hoarding behavior is unwarranted. And it can lead to burnout.
Just as a TP hoarder’s house will be jam-packed with Charmin, your calendar will be so full that you’ll neglect an important job, double-book yourself, or spread your talents too thin. And none of those scenarios lead to financial freedom.
5. Does it pay enough?
You should ask yourself this question anytime anyone offers you any opportunity.
It’s so easy to sell yourself short in the name of exposure or experience. Although everyone needs to start somewhere, accepting an opportunity that doesn’t pay fairly is never a good idea.
For example, it’s one thing to do a fun, relatively brainless but low-paying activity like taking online surveys in your spare time. It’s another thing to do it in place of opportunities with better pay.
Sometimes taking a lower-paying job when you’re desperately short on cash or to get your foot in the door at a really great company is fine. Just ask yourself: Will this opportunity get me closer to financial freedom?
And definitely don’t take on a job that would end up costing you money, rather than earning it. So when a friend comes to you with a sketchy multi-level marketing (MLM) scheme, run in the other direction.
How to Use the Power of No: How to Say No
Here are our top tips for saying no.
Once you’re ready to be a Negative Nellie (but in a good way), it’s time to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Here’s some advice on how to do it.
1. Be clear about your boundaries
Before you turn any opportunity down, be sure that you thoroughly understand where your professional or personal boundaries lie.
A great way to do this is by writing a mission statement for yourself. For example, you could write something like this in your planner or notebook: “I am a professional freelance writer who works in the personal finance field. My rate of pay is $50 per hour. I don’t need to work more than 30 hours per week, and never on the weekend.”
Before responding to the opportunity, repeat this mantra to yourself. It will help you stay firm and not cave in!
2. Be polite and honest in your response
Never, ever make up an excuse or give a vague response. Thank whoever made you the offer but give a clear reason why you can’t accept it.
There is certainly no harm in saying, “No, thank you. The rate is lower than what I normally receive.” Who knows? They might go back to the drawing board and make you a better offer.
Likewise, saying that you’re already booked up or that you don’t feel knowledgeable enough about the project will likely earn you respect.
And if you’re polite, the offer maker might come to you first the next time they have a project more suited to your pay scale and experience.
Here’s a pro tip: If you’re nervous about turning down an opportunity, there’s no harm in writing a script for yourself to read.
TIP: If you’re nervous about turning down an opportunity, there’s no harm in writing a script for yourself to read.
3. Don’t feel guilty
Feeling guilty and sorry for yourself takes up precious time and energy. Don’t waste any resources on beating yourself up for saying no.
Instead, get out there and hustle your way along the path to financial freedom.
To learn more about achieving financial freedom, check out our Financial Freedom in Uncertain Times course:
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the most frequently asked questions about the power of saying no.
Do freelancers have to give notice?
Freelancers have no obligation to give notice unless it’s written into your contract. However, it’s considered good etiquette to give a client a heads-up that you’ll be ending your relationship at least two weeks in advance. This gives you both the chance to tie up any loose ends.
How do you say no to a boss without sounding rude?
First off, no reasonable boss expects an employee to agree to their every demand. Saying no in a polite way can actually show your employer that you have initiative.
If you can’t fulfill a request because you already have too much on your plate, clearly explain that the task they’ve asked you to do will decrease your quality of work.
And if it clashes with a family obligation, be polite and honest about that. Your boss will likely understand. And if not, look into working for yourself!
The Bottom Line
Saying no can be scary. But instead of thinking of it in a negative way, focus on its positive power of no.
After all, saying no can lead to better, more lucrative opportunities. By using this powerful word at the right time, you can better control your own financial destiny.
Remember the corny old saying, “When one door closes, another opens?” In the quest for financial freedom, that tends to be the truth.