Need to ‘Nope’ Out of a Business Situation? Thirty Scripts for Entrepreneurs Who Struggle with NO

If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re used to doing hard things. So why do you struggle with saying no?  Whether you need to turn down a prospective client, reject a misguided employee idea, or decline the invitation to chair a committee at a professional organization, why does that two-letter word get stuck in your throat?

Julie Bee says, for one thing, entrepreneurs are human. It doesn’t feel good to anyone to let someone else down. But there’s more to the story than that, she says.

“I think entrepreneurs in particular struggle with this because we tend to be growth-focused and are always on the lookout for new opportunities,” says Bee, author of Burned: How Business Owners Can Overcome Burnout and Fuel Success.

Still, at various points, we’ll all have to reject clients, projects, and other offers to keep our companies moving forward, our workloads manageable, and our mental health intact.

“That said, all noes are not created equal,” says Bee. “In some situations, you’ll want to let the other person down gently and leave the door open to future collaboration. In others, you might need to set a non-negotiable boundary. Sometimes you might want to explain the reasons behind your answer; other times it’s best to answer concisely and move on.”

In any case, it can help to have a simple script ready ahead of time, instead of winging it. This helps ensure your answer is clear, courteous, and firm—and that you won’t buckle under pressure and backtrack to a begrudging yes.

Bee, who coaches other business owners to get “unstuck,” work through challenges, and take their companies to the highest level, speaks from 15 years of experience as an entrepreneur.

Here, she shares 30 ways to say no. (“And remember, you can follow any of these with, ‘Thank you for understanding,’ to solidify the message,” she adds.)

Ways to Say No…

…When You Are Setting Boundaries 

1.     No, I do not have the capacity to [fill in the blank].

2.     I’m working on saying no more often; this is one of those times.

3.     No, but I have someone who might be a good fit. Let me check in with them [get permission from that person first].

4.     Right now and into the foreseeable future, I am focusing on [fill in the blank]. Therefore, I cannot move forward with/help with [whatever they asked for].

5.     No, I want to create more space on my calendar, which means I’m turning down some things I would have said yes to in the past.

6.     I am already over-committed/have a full plate, and I would not be able to give this the attention it needs/deserves. I have to say no.

7.     I recognize what you are doing is important/has value, but at this time I cannot participate/listen/attend.

8.     I promised my [kids/spouse/family/employees/etc.] I would say no to any new requests that interfere with [weekends/evenings/focused work/team time], so I am saying no.

…To Something You’d Like to Do, But Simply Can’t Right Now

9.     No at this time, but please follow up with me in [# of months] when I may have more capacity to review/participate/advise/etc.

10.  No, I have decided to pass on this project/request/etc. Thank you for thinking of me and please keep me in mind for future opportunities [if you want this].

11.  The answer is no for now, but the door is open for a later conversation in [# of months].

12.  I/We have other priorities at this time, so I/we cannot pursue this one.

13.  This is something I’d like to keep on the table, but I cannot currently make it a priority.

14.  No, I am booked solid through [fill in the blank]. Thanks for understanding.

…To Something That Feels Off

15.  My gut instinct is to say no, and I’m going to stick with my gut.

16.  I was initially excited about this idea, but upon review, I realize it isn’t a good fit.

17.  No, this does not align with our mission statement and/or vision.

18.  No, we are going in a different direction, but thank you for your time/offer/etc.

19.  No, I have found a more ideal option that suits me/us better.

20.  No, I do not think our companies/personalities are a match.

21.  I’m not the one to talk to about this—you need to speak with [so-and-so].

…To People Who (Try to) Make You Feel Bad About Saying No

22.  No, thanks.

23.  No, I am not interested.

24.  No, I’ve already exceeded my [fill in the blank that relates to the ask] for the next [number of months/years].

25.  No, I am not able to take on [fill in the blank].

26.  No, I am going to burn out if I take on anything else.

27.  No, and please do not ask again.

28.  No, I’m taking a break from [whatever they asked you to do].

29.  No, this is not in my wheelhouse.

30.  No, and I do not know of anyone who would be a good fit for [role/ask/request].

Learning to say no can be a lifesaver (or at least a mental-health saver). In her upcoming book, Burned, Bee explains that most entrepreneurs will have a brush with burnout at some point.

“Sometimes the catalyst for burnout is a big, unexpected event, like the resignation of a key employee or the death of a loved one,” says Bee. “But most often, burnout is brought on gradually as business owners take on increasing amounts of responsibility, both at work and in their personal lives. By the time they realize they’re juggling too much, it’s difficult to pull back.

“My point? The word ‘no’ is one of the most effective tools in your arsenal to ensure you don’t exceed your bandwidth,” Bee concludes. “Remember, opportunities are rarely once-in-a-lifetime. ‘No’ doesn’t have to mean ‘no for all time.’ It can simply be a ‘no for now.’”

Speak Your Mind

In Business Dailies

Sign up for a complimentary year of In Business Dailies with a bonus Digital Subscription of In Business Magazine delivered to your inbox each month!

  • Get the day’s Top Stories
  • Relevant In-depth Articles
  • Daily Offers
  • Coming Events