Over the last few years I’ve put a fair bit of effort into making myself a highly sought-after resource in the job market. I’ve used various mechanisms to achieve this both on and offline. Online tools like social media, keyword optimised resume’s on jobsites and my own blog as a platform for generating interest and leads. Offline I’ve been active in local, national and international events.

It’s proven to be a fairly effective technique for gaining the interest of potential clients. And as you might imagine, that doesn’t do any harm in terms of remuneration either.

So I’m now in a position where I get several phone calls and emails a day regarding various opportunities. If for some reason I wanted more emails and phone calls, all I need to do is ramp-up the content a little bit and some additional leads can very easily be generated.

In addition to consulting gigs, I get contacted about other stuff. Freelance writing gigs. Guest blog posts and articles. Web development. Technical support. Speaking engagements. Conferences. The list goes on and on.

Reasons to say No

It’s great to be in a position where I’m generating a large number of prospective clients. But the problem is I want to say Yes to all of the work available to me because, as a self employed professional – I’m never completely sure where the next cheque is coming from. I just need to know it’s coming from somewhere… Right?

But saying Yes to the work everyone else wants me to do (and are potentially willing to pay me handsomely for) means I never get to work on my own stuff. I don’t get to do the work that, as my wife would say – makes my heart sing.

I’m not following my own energy. I’m allowing myself to be led by the agendas of others.

If I want to build my own thing I have to learn to say No.

I have to know where to draw the line.

In order to say No I need to be able to draw a clear distinction between work that is right for me, and work that doesn’t fit right now. Probably that’s going to take a little bit of practice, so I made a list of some heuristics (rules of thumb) that help me do this.

No one is ready

If folk aren’t ready to start right now, why are we talking about it? Maybe there’s some planning to be done, but does it need to be done right now? In my experience, too much planning up-front means time spent re-planning closer to the time or further down the line.

Either way – if you’re speaking to me now but the work isn’t actually going to start until a couple of months down the road, then I’m not much interested in talking about it. At the very least I’m going to suggest we place some very tight constraints around how much time is spent on discussing “plans”.

Or, I’m just going to say – sorry. I’m too busy for this right now. It’s a No.

It’s not a fit

Before you picked up the phone or sent me an email or DM – did you actually read my resume or online profile? Did you take some time to see whether or not I actually have the skills you’re looking for? Am I interested in the kind of work you’re offering me?

I have a pretty good radar for whether or not the work is a good fit, but I expect others to carry out some due dilligence too. Depending on whether I think you have or not, my response will be more or less curt.

It’s a No from me.

I’m overloaded

It can be difficult to know whether you’re close to being overloaded or not. Unless you’ve actually been there, you may not know what the signs are to watch out for. For me, I pay attention to whether or not I’m able to fit in things that are particularly important to me – family and quiet reflection time. If I’m struggling with those then, yeah – I’m overloaded.

“Too much Work In-Progress” as they say in the Lean Manufacturing world.

Sorry – it’s a No.

It’s unrealistic or I can’t meet expectations

This can be a challenge, since my personality dictates that I like to stretch myself and learn new things. If I can pick up some new skills or learning while doing some work for someone else and ideally getting paid for it – then so much the better.

There has to be a line though. Some things just aren’t going to happen. Often for me, determining this one comes down to “do I have a good feeling about this?” If I don’t, exploring why I don’t feel good about the proposal will lead me to an appropriate response.

Probably it’s a “I can’t do this work in the timescale you’re aiming for” or “I don’t have the skills for this right now” from me.

It’s unprofitable

For most of the opportunities I’m talking about here, I’m trading my time for money. Is it a fair transaction? Am I going to feel like I delivered maximum value for the money your buck? Am I going to feel like I got fairly compensated for my time, effort, knowledge and skills?

If I don’t feel like I can deliver the necessary value, or like I’m going to get paid commensurate with the service I’m providing then – sorry, it’s a No.

You’re a time-vampire

We’ve all met them. Some folk just want to bleed you dry of all your time. I like to steer clear of time-vampires by wearing a metaphorical garlic necklace.


Some folk don’t respect the headphone approach though. So, if I suspect you of being a time-vampire and you’ve gotten through the headphone barrier, you’re going to meetup with my DISTURB-ME-AT-YOUR-OWN-RISK visage.

Normally, that’s pretty effective. If you manage to get through that then I’m escalating to DEFCON 2: In an assertive tone of voice – “I’m quite pushed for time. How can I help you, quickly?”

If you’re a particularly persistent time-vampire then DEFCON 1 = “Sorry, I’m too busy right now. Come back in <Xmins/hrs> when I’ll be less busy and can give you my full attention” (and by which time you will have hopefully solved the problem yourself).

I don’t know you

Honestly, if you’re contacting me and I don’t recognise your name, email address or telephone number – unless you have a very compelling opportunity, I’m very unlikely to respond. If you’ve sent me a form email or message, or something that looks like a broadcast, I’m definitely not going to respond to that.

If you want to work with me then I expect to have a relationship with you, so make it personal. Treat me like a human being and I’ll respond with the courteousness and respect you deserve.

If you don’t, I won’t even dignify you with a response. It’s a No.

Ways to say No

I appreciate that my No may not be your No. You may prefer something a little more tactile – in which case the responses below might work:

  • “Now’s not a good time as I’m in the middle of something. How about we reconnect at X time?”
  • “Let me think about it first and I’ll get back to you.”
  • “I’m not the best person to help on this. Why don’t you try X?”
  • “I can’t commit to this as I have other priorities at the moment.”

The key thing to remember here is WHY you’re saying No in the first place. It’s because you need to focus on your own thing, right? The work you were born to do. The thing that makes your heart sing. You have to fulfill your own purpose, your own destiny in life.

Please remember.

  1. Your vision is your permission.
  2. You are capable of your calling.
  3. You are much more powerful than you realise.
  4. Yes you can get everything you want.
  5. You are loved. You are enough. You are worthy. You deserve the very best of everything.


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Much Amazing Love  

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