For those of you who have read anything by Eckhart Tolle, you will be familiar with his teachings in his book "The Power of Now".

 If you follow what he espouses, you could be on the path to spiritual enlightenment - which is great for the bigger picture.  But what about the here and now of you and your business?   We don't always have time for such esoteric reflections and we need the practical tools to support our livelihoods.

I say it's about taking off one letter from the Eckhart School of thought and it's about the power of NO.

For a long time running my PR consultancy, I struggled to see the power of NO. The power of YES is what it was about. Always say yes to all work opportunities, say yes to their unreasonable payment conditions - even if it's two or three months late, say yes to overservicing and so on.

Yet, there are lots of situations where we say Yes in business and we should be saying a polite but firm no. It's not PR centric - this affects many who work in other industries.

By setting the boundaries you create a more equitable working relationship - remember a prospective client or existing one needs you just as much as you need to get paid! Own and respect your self-worth and all the career collateral you have built up.

Say no to giving your creative ideas away for free.

 I once had a contact who was a TV agent, who would meet me fairly regularly and then ‘pick my brains' for my creative/PR ideas. For free. I would go out for evening drinks with her and sometimes even meeting her celebrity clients.  It was fun and we all got merry over one or two Cosmopolitans.  But the fact was I was giving away my creative ideas for nothing. Some of which then got used not long after the Cosmopolitan. You may be able to justify the odd occasion of doing this, but my message to all creatives is know and respect your talent. And monetise it. 

Say no to timewasters.

Avoid prospects who want your business to spend days and even weeks putting together ideas for a tender and it's a competitive pitch of say 10 others. I've learned to say NO to these unless you are being paid a strategy fee for in-depth work and a whole smorgasbord of your ideas. There are some companies who think nothing about putting together ‘a beauty parade' and then, they decide not to choose PR at all. If you need to prove you can do the job - lead them to compelling case studies of how your business helped others, offer for them to talk to current or previous clients and do give them an outline proposal so they have a guide of what to expect, output or core KPIs and the fee.  But do learn to say NO to those on the make who will drain you of time and resources and where it's highly unlikely you will win the business.

Say no to "mission creep". 

For many years, as I built up my PR business, I always said yes to clients - even when they increasingly requested more and more - even if it was out of the agreement.  I wanted to show willing - to never disappoint- but the harsh lesson is the extra time and the mission creep; the broadening of briefs clients were asking would equate to more than double the fee than they were paying. We are all working in a marketplace and your time/your company's time is just as valuable as your client. It's hard to be rigid when you are building working /client relationships, but you learn to set boundaries and say instead "I could do that but not in the fee you are currently paying or we could look at doing an extra project". This is the way to build a fairer and more equitable relationship and flush out the users! 

Say no to over-servicing clients

This is a hard one. Particularly in certain industries such as PR where we don't like stop, until we get the results. But my advice is don't take the work on if you think it's going to be a black hole of time and it's unlikely to yield the results a client is expecting. Part of growing up in PR is you have a good sense of whether you can create the right news stories and features for your client and get the results. You've done your due-diligence and you know roughly how much time it will take to achieve this. But just as lawyers and other professionals charge an hourly fee and ensure their time is paid for - so too should those in creative/other industries be more mindful not to work for vastly more than their hourly or daily rate. If your client expects the moon and back in media for £1,000 a month, say NO.

Say no to late payers

Say no to late payers or unreasonable payment contracts. According to the British Business Bank, more than half (54%) of the UK's small and medium sized businesses are suffering as a result of late payments. According to research from Pay UK, an estimated £23.4 billion of late invoices are owed to these firms. This is where it's important to agree terms and negotiate the contract at the start. You may want to ask for 50% of the fee upfront and then the other half on completion to support your cash-flow of the business. One large global organisation, during the pandemic tried to make me agree to terms where I would not be paid for more than two months after I had done the work. I refused. I knew this organisation could accept the reasonable 30 days terms and they were just trying it on! Don't be forced into unacceptable payment contract terms just because your client is a giant and you have a much smaller business. The Unfair Contracts Terms Act 1977 also protects you if you are based in the UK.

Say no to bullies.

A very successful entrepreneur and mentor to me once said, that I should develop a thicker skin and it doesn't matter if a client is unnecessarily demanding or perennially disagreeable. "They're not your friend, Sam - you don't have to like them."  Thankfully, there have been very few instances in my 30-year career, where you encounter a ‘difficult' personality. And in some ways, when you do, it is good career and character building - there are always going to be challenging characters and you learn how to manage them in the right way.

However, where the power of NO comes into centre stage is when the difficult character is a bully or seeks to undermine you and your professional and personal self-worth. I will leave you with an inspirational example from a business contact of mine.

They were experiencing some extremely difficult personal circumstances and needed to take some time off work to regain their mental wellbeing. The person they consulted for (and was their main contract) was irked by this need. It was a busy time of year, so they turned up to their home uninvited and, unwarranted, lashed out and called them a nobody. It was a turning point for her as for more than five years she had been working on a lucrative contract for this person. Did she stick with it, take the money and this abuse? Instead, she took control and her response to that person was "Everyone is a somebody".  She resigned that afternoon, said no and has never looked back.

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