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The Power of “No, Thank You”

Hey everyone. A couple of years ago my wife and I made the mistake of hiring a home improvement contractor to help us prepare our home for sale. This gentleman came highly recommended to us, and initially he was on the ball and did good work.

However, within a week or so it became readily apparent to Sue and me that this contractor was in over his head in terms of workload. It was clear to me that he said “yes” to all job offers without thinking whether he actually had the time and/or capability of doing the work.

As a result, this man’s work for us slipped badly behind schedule, and the worse the situation got, the more difficult it was to reach the contractor in the first place. For our part, my wife and concluded that we would not use this contractor again, and we certainly would not recommend him to our friends given his recent track record.

This negative experience I had was actually highly enlightening because it illustrated my own development as an information technology (IT) services contractor. In this blog post I’d like to share my evolution with you, summarizing 14 years of hard-won experience into a few paragraphs that I hope you will find beneficial in your own careers.

Phase One: “Yes, Yes, Yes!”no1

When I first began contracting, I had dollar signs in my eyes. “Wow — my skills are really valuable!” I thought to myself. Truly, it is a fact that if you are an IT expert who also has the ability to teach and write well, then your services are in high demand in today’s marketplace.

The trouble was (and I see this only in retrospect) that I let my enthusiasm and greed get in the way of focusing on delivering top-quality product. At first it was okay to overcommit myself. After all, I wasn’t yet married, didn’t have a kid, a mortgage, and some of the other natural complexities of life. If I needed to stay up all weekend to finish a project on time, then so be it.

Phase Two: “Yes…Sigh.”

no2Over the next several years I got married, had a family, and maintained full-time employment to ensure consistent salary and health/retirement benefits for my family. The trouble was, I still habitually said “yes” to contract work offers without thinking them through.

What do you think happened? I got overwhelmed, and the quality of my work suffered as a result. I missed a few key deadlines, mistakenly thinking, “the client will understand.”

This is a very dangerous game to play as a contractor because, in my experience, the only way to get clients and to keep them is to build the relationship based upon trust, integrity, and solid, client-centered work.

I have contractor friends who play the “short game” of obtaining as many clients as they can, turning them over (quality be damned), and letting them go. Their mistaken assumption is that there will always be a steady stream of prospects, so the thought of maintaining good relations with existing clients never occurs to them. What a mistake this “strategy” is!

Phase Three: “No, Thank You.”

What I do now is weigh very carefully any consulting offer I receive. Before responding to the offer, I ask myself the following questions:

  • Do I truly have time for this job? In other words, can I deliver the product on-time, on-budget, and with the highest quality? Also, does this job mess with my personal/family life?
  • Is this job cost-effective? One awesome benefit of having valuable market skills is that I can pick and choose consulting gigs. I need to make sure that the work is worth my time, financially speaking.
  • Is this job intrusive? I always have and always will keep my consulting work totally outside the scope of my full-time employment. Besides that separation of duties, I also need to make sure there is no conflict of interest or competition issues  between the two “worlds.” If a consulting gig gets too close to what I do in my full-time job, then I say “No, thank you”– no exceptions. Again, I’m neither a gambler nor into playing dangerous games with my career…

Of course, I run any consulting offer past my wife. She is a much better judge of these issues than I am most of the time, so if a proposed consulting gig passes the “spouse test,” then I feel pretty safe committing to it. no3

In conclusion, I feel that carefully scrutinizing consulting contracts and saying “No thank you” whenever appropriate is important not only for preserving my professionalism, but also for respecting the client.

Although the client may be disappointed when I kindly and respectfully turn them down, I know in my heart that I am doing them a greater service by passing on their opportunity than committing to a job that I cannot complete with 100 percent effectiveness.

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