Knowing when to say ‘no’

It is difficult to turn new business away, but sometimes the situation just calls for it
Boardroom image via Shutterstock
Boardroom image via Shutterstock

On my wall I’ve got a framed list of appropriate times to say “No” (list created by Seth Godin). I review it religiously every morning as I sit down to work.

Every small business owner will tell you it’s damned hard to say No to a potential client: You risk losing the short-term revenue, AND the return business, AND word of mouth.

Whether it’s a company looking to hire my team for a “what-we-do” video or for website content and messaging strategy, there’ve been only three times I‘ve rejected a client. All three were startups disturbingly eager to serve up the same forgettable word salad involving some kind of “mobile social network, leveraging media sharing and proven pattern-matching chat-based paradigms for connecting you to interest groups of your friends’ friends around the world. And it’s free!

It’s bad business to take on a client you sort of want to punch in the face before they finish their elevator pitch.

But short of these characters, I’m not ashamed to say we’ve accepted some wacky ones. Yes, they pay the bills, but we also actually love the challenge of creating an attention-getting story from a bunch of PowerPoint-worthy bullet points.

Even once we begin, there are five requests we simply can’t (or won’t) fulfill. For better or worse, it’s become second nature to explain the reasons and re-steer the project to create a more productive and effective story.

Here are our Top 5 “Say No” situations:

1) “We want a 45-second video, tops.” They want to keep costs down. Understandable. Don’t want to bore the viewer. Got it. They’ve seen super-short videos they liked. Terrific.

The problems begin when you do the math. Without getting into the whole video script recipe, let’s assume time is necessary to establish the problem you’ve come to solve: creating a “must-have” vs. “nice-to-have” mentality. That intro takes, say, 10 seconds. At the end, you need an “outro” with a summary, your URL, call to action; another 5-10 seconds. So we’re down to just over half a minute left to explain the basic concept behind the solution (7 seconds? 10?), and a few feature points (three at 8-10 seconds each?). And then we’ve got no time for anything else that will inevitably come up as we build the script.

And what about those other videos they’ve seen? Watch closely: they aren’t a complete pitch. They might be teasers to get you to real substance, intros, or very superficial overviews of a single benefit or primary feature. And they might be great. But on your homepage, you’ve got one shot at telling your story to impress as many viewer personas as possible. You need time to do it. 60-90 seconds is the average, and sometimes (often for B2B) you need even more.

2) “We need the video script to address both our end-users and partners. Oh, and potential investors.”  No can do. Any good marketer knows the four-step magic formula: the right message, to the right person, at the right time, using the right media. Short of doing it right and spending the money to create multiple videos (my mantra: “Two videos can share plenty of artwork and text and so it costs less…”), the solution here is usually to stick with the end-user video, and simply use it as an intro for partner or investor meetings too. If they are convinced that your message is powerful enough to get customers excited, they’ll want to work with you.

3) “Can I pay you based on page views?” Well, no. First, I have no control over how you share this. If you have a social media team working night and day or a responsive newsletter audience of 34,562, it’ll be more successful than simply plopping it on your homepage, or worse, burying it someplace deeper on a How it Works page. Creating content is step one, publishing it is next and a separate challenge.

Second, let’s manage expectations. Very few product videos can go truly viral (I once made a quick video about this point). Again, it’s the right audience at the right time. The number of people who will truly get jazzed about a vlog tool for calorie-counting babysitters to compare notes about what they find in the fridge just isn’t going to burn out YouTube’s servers. Even if there are a lot of babysitters out there. The more you define your audience, the less viral — and more targeted — it’ll be. And that’s a good thing.

4)  “Let’s start the video with our logo”  Bad idea. The psychology of a promotional homepage video is to make the viewer feel immediately involved, like it’s a helpful discussion with a smart advisor who says something they can’t possibly argue with. You’re not being pitched – you’re being enlightened. Sticking a logo up there screams “This isn’t quirky-but-clever Brad from next door — here’s a company pushing something at you!”

Think about it — have you ever seen a TV commercial open with a logo?

5)  Before we sign the proposal, let’s meet to discuss your strategy for the script.”  Right. Basically, this is a request for the chance at 1-2 hours of free consulting advice. Might turn into a job, might not. (Here, I’d point to a great short post on the topic by Shira Abel.) Often, we don’t ever meet paying clients face-to-face unless they insist— email, Skype, DropBox, GoToMeeting and good ol’ fashioned phones keep communications flowing without wasting the travel time (and associated cost we’d have to pass on). Need confidence in our skills? Of course, I understand that: we display our online portfolio of dozens of sample videos, our website explains our approach, and of course we’re always standing by for a Skype intro. I’m always prepped to give my 5-minute shpiel about our approach to telling stories. And believe me: 99% of the time, potential clients-turned paying clients totally get it.

So now it’s your turn: what are some of the requests you just have to say “No” to in your business?

About the Author
Jay is the CEO of RapidFire Consulting, helping Israeli companies "tell their story" - figuring out what to say and to whom - through Explainer videos and the other dozen modes of web messaging.
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