Saying No is a Fundamental Skill for Founders

You might think saying ‘no’ is simply a luxury of an established business who has the privilege to turn down an opportunity that isn’t absolutely dead on perfect.

But you’d be wrong.

Saying ‘no’ is one of the fundamental business skills never taught in school, especially in business school. It can only really be learned by uncritically accepting opportunities or offers that appear out of the blue and suffering the consequences. This may already have happened to you. And I’m sorry.

It is essential to deploy ‘no’ in the early years when small CPG businesses often get approached by any all manner of predators. And I’m not talking here about strategically walking away from a bad negotiation with a retail partner.

Am I being dramatic? I wish I was. So, let me describe what kind of ‘predators’ I’m talking about.

Digital marketing agencies (the loners, especially). Accountants. Individual brokers (ugh). Angel investors with no track record in CPG. Short-term, high-interest loan outfits. Amazon agencies. Sales consultants. PR agents. PR platforms. Pay-to-play events with supposed ‘exposure’ for your brand. Trade shows looking to sell you booths before you’re ready. Even creepy PR agents claiming to work for Martha Stewart(!). Seriously, that really happened to one of my clients.

Basically, any individual offering any kind of service totally unsolicited by you is almost always an excuse to say ‘no.’ Chances are your Linkedin message box has already had many such unsolicited pitches from all manner of folks, offering things you didn’t even realize were things, let alone things you needed to pay for.

When anyone comes to you to sell something you didn’t ask for, you need to be concerned about three likely scenarios: a) they’re inexperienced and don’t have referrals yet, b) they’re not very good, so they can’t generate referrals/repeat business and c) they maybe were good once, and now they are scrambling for referrals that used to come easily. These three scenarios cover 90% of folks out there who approach founders with things that cost money.

There’s at most 10% of service providers of any kind you should do business with at some point. But it may not be now or even soon. Be very skeptical when folks approach you when you’re small. You have to step back and ask yourself a straightforward question, like a cold-shower: why would they bother approaching you? You are tiny. You probably have very little money to spend anyways. You may very likely go out of business, providing the service provider no ‘success’ story down the line. Look, it’s also easy to be flattered when you’re this vulnerable. Hey, someone’s paying attention to me!

Above all else, you have to say ‘no’ to the urge to seek external validation from ANYTHING else but the market.

You’ll notice that with a very few exceptions, you won’t find retailers coming to you (unless you’re standing at a trade booth they can easily walk by) at all. Since they are the keys to the CPG revenue kingdom for many of you (and they know it), they do not need to find suppliers. LOL. I wish they could taste the pain myself, but they never will.

Not now. Not the right time. Not ready. Or just plain ‘no.’ They all accomplish the same outcome. They keep you focused on following a plan you made, not succumbing to the whims of others with a desire to make money off of your mere existence.

Dr. James Richardson

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