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The Friday 5

No for Now: 5 Smart Steps for Pressing Pause

By Julie Bee

Sometimes, the best way to speed up is to slow down. Julie Bee, author of the new book “Burned: How Business Owners Can Overcome Burnout and Fuel Success,” explains how an intentional pause could save your practice. Plus, 26 ways to say no in almost any situation.

ways to say no

An Intentional Pause Can Save Your Practice

Most entrepreneurs live for new opportunities. The problem is, when you’re focused on growth, it’s easy to say yes to more than your firm can handle. Sure, you can juggle it all for a while, but eventually the stress catches up to you. Your attention is spread over too many clients, and no one gets the service they deserve. Plus, coaching, mentoring and professional development get the shaft. Before you know it, your team is drifting toward disengagement and all of you are headed for burnout.

The key is to make space for redirection and replenishment before that happens.

Dialing back is one of the hardest things for business owners to do because, for many of us, it feels like failure. However, I feel the opposite is true. An intentional pause can save your business. In other words, say no … for now.

The idea is to assess where your business is now, where it’s heading — and whether that’s what you want. When you’re ready to hit “play” again, you can do so with redefined goals and clarified priorities that will lead to sustainable growth, not burnout.

Five Steps for Pressing Pause

Here are five steps spread-thin lawyer-entrepreneurs can take to slow down, recenter, and get back to focusing on what you and your firm do best.

1. Carve Out Some Space

Temporarily say no to new. Just for a while, stop chasing new opportunities. That’s what got you here in the first place. You need to put your time, energy and thought into strengthening your business, not expanding it.

Think of this as saying “no for now” — not necessarily “no forever.” Maybe you do have a fantastic idea —but first you have to make space to properly develop and execute it.

2. Pause Projects That Can Wait

Of course, you can’t neglect the needs of your clients. But chances are there are some big-picture initiatives you can put on hold, like adding a new practice area or transitioning to new software.

This isn’t a permanent pause. By putting these things on hold, you’re helping make space to reassess so that when you do go back to “full steam ahead” mode, you’ll be moving in a productive direction.

3. Figure Out Where You Stand

Drill down on why you’re driven to do more. Are you afraid of failure? Do you feel that you owe it to your associates and clients to expand constantly? Are you trying to stay ahead of competitors? Are you working toward some (mythical) point where you’ll finally feel that you’ve made it and can relax?

Once you identify what motivates you, you can determine whether always doing more is serving you well. For instance, let’s say your fear of failure is prompting you to take on more clients than you can comfortably handle. Ironically, this is pushing you closer to failure — including possible ethics violations should you drop the ball — than you would be if you capped the number of clients.

Other people can often see this more clearly than you, so try to do this self-assessment with a mentor, your mastermind group, a fellow business owner or your leadership team.

Get Clear on What Overcommitment Is Costing You

Are you spending money you probably shouldn’t in order to deliver on your commitments? Are you doing the bare minimum in some areas so you can scramble to keep up in others? Are you able to invest the time you’d like with clients, employees, your family and friends? How’s your health? What about your stress and engagement levels and those of your associates and staff?

When you say yes to a new opportunity, you usually have a clear picture of what you hope to gain. But chances are, you’ve never taken inventory of how an overloaded plate harms you and your business. This cost-benefit analysis can be eye-opening — or even a full-on epiphany.

4. Assess Where Your Profit is Really Coming From

If you’re putting forth your best effort, but the business isn’t progressing, ask: Which services are making the most money (and which aren’t)? Which upgrades and processes are really improving efficiency? Which initiatives are attracting new business?

Look at the metrics — otherwise, you’ll be wasting time and energy on things that aren’t yielding the results you want. For example, I recently evaluated my use of social media and found that most of my new business came from just two platforms. I plan to reassess my use of the others.

Read: “What Should Be on Your Law Firm’s Dashboard” by Brooke Lively and “Key Success Factors for Law Firm Owners” by Sasha Berson.

5. Do Things Differently

Entrepreneurs often value their instincts. But when it comes to making decisions about your business’s growth and future, your gut might prompt you to go too far or in the wrong direction entirely.

When your instincts are pushing you in a certain direction, don’t ignore them — but try to back them up with research, data and trusted feedback. Like me, you might be surprised by how often your gut is not aligned with external evidence.

Consider your gut instincts as a starting point for business decisions, not the final decision-maker.

Critically Evaluate New Opportunities

Once you’re ready to “un-pause,” ensure that you have a better system for evaluating requests and opportunities. Your goal is to be more intentional and less reactive.

You might want to write down a list of questions like:

  • Do we have the time/resources/knowledge to do this?
  • Will it generate revenue? If so, how much?
  • Does it align with our core values?
  • How will it differentiate our firm?
  • Will it help us grow or just keep us busy?
  • Does this opportunity energize me and my team?
  • Who is pushing hardest for this? Am I trying to appease someone else?
  • What is the cost of saying yes? (In other words, what might we have to say no to?)

At first, it may feel uncomfortable to say no to opportunities you would have taken on in the past — but push through that feeling. Steve Jobs said it best:

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.”

These steps will probably feel uncomfortable or even scary, but the process is worth it. By temporarily taking a step back from your frantic pace, you are giving yourself the space to figure out how to sustainably propel your business two, three or more steps forward — in a direction and on a timeline that’s best for you and your team.

26 Ways to Say No

Whether you’re reluctant to disappoint someone, trying to avoid conflict, or wishing you could agree, “no” can be surprisingly hard to say. That said, it’s important to become fluent in the language of no. It can help to have a simple script ready that clearly, firmly and courteously conveys the point.

Ways to Say No When You Are Setting Boundaries

  1. No, I do not have the capacity to [fill in the blank].
  2. I’m working on saying no more often; this is one of those times.
  3. Right now and into the foreseeable future, I am focusing on [fill in the blank]. Therefore, I cannot move forward with/help with [whatever they asked for].
  4. I would not be able to give this the attention it needs/deserves. I have to say no.
  5. I recognize that what you’re doing is important and has value, but I cannot participate at this time.
  6. I promised my [kids/spouse/family/employees/etc.] I would say no to any new requests that interfere with [weekends/evenings/focused work/team time], so I am saying no.

Ways to Say No to Something You’d Like to Do But Simply Can’t Right Now

  1. No at this time, but please follow up with me in [number of months] when I may have more capacity to review/participate/advise/etc.
  2. No, I have decided to pass on this project/request/etc. Thank you for thinking of me and please keep me in mind for future opportunities [if you want this].
  3. The answer is no for now, but the door is open for a later conversation in [number of months].
  4. I’d like to keep this on the table, but I cannot currently make it a priority.
  5. No, I am booked solid through [fill in the blank]. Thanks for understanding.

Ways to Say No to Something That Feels Off

  1. My gut instinct is to say no, and I’m going to stick with my gut.
  2. I was initially excited about this idea, but upon review, it isn’t a good fit.
  3. No, this does not align with our mission statement and/or vision.
  4. No, we are going in a different direction, but thank you for your time/offer/etc.
  5. No, I have found a more ideal option that suits me/us better.
  6. No, I do not think our businesses/personalities are a match.

Ways to Say No to People Who (Try to) Make You Feel Bad About Saying No

  1. No, thanks.
  2. No, I’m not interested.
  3. No, I’ve already exceeded my [fill in the blank] for the next [number of months/years].
  4. No, I’m not able to take on [fill in the blank].
  5. No, I’m going to burn out if I take on anything else.
  6. No, and please do not ask again.
  7. No, I’m taking a break from [whatever they asked you to do].
  8. No, this is not in my wheelhouse.
  9. No, and I do not know of anyone who would be a good fit for [role/ask/request].

Remember, you can follow any of these with a simple “Thank you for understanding,” to help get your message across.


Burned Book Cover

Burned: How Business Owners Can Overcome Burnout and Fuel Success

In her new book, Julie Bee acknowledges that periodic stress, struggle and even burnout are givens when you own a business. The book provides tactical advice on how to make space for addressing burnout, fix any problems it has caused, and leverage its lessons while running a company. Burned is available for pre-order from major online booksellers.

Image © iStockPhoto.com.

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Julie Bee

Julie Bee is a business owner burnout strategist who has been dubbed the “small business fixer” by clients and peers. With over 15 years in the entrepreneurial field, she has solidified her reputation as a dynamic consultant, speaker, and leader who sheds light on the darker side of business ownership. Julie is the author of “Burned: How Business Owners Can Overcome Burnout and Fuel Success.” Learn more at thejuliebee.com.

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