How to Say No Like Steve Jobs


“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” 
– Steve Jobs
"People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things."  - Steve Jobs
How can a word that’s only two letters long be so hard to say? Entrepreneurs and innovators are always pushing forward, always saying yes, and often getting in too deep. Steve Jobs understood the importance of saying no to the thousands of things that don’t matter so you can focus on the ten you and your team have identified as crucial to your mission. But saying no to most of the countless offers you receive every day doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk to the well-meaning people behind them. Take a page out of Bunker Labs CEO Todd Connor’s book and learn to say no with grace, no matter the situation.

“Can We Set Up a Meeting?”

1. “Thanks for reaching out – I’m pretty booked up the next few weeks, but if you’d like to chat for 20ish minutes click the link below to find a time that works for both of us.”
Link out to Calendly or a similar service, or ask Clara to find a time that fits. Note: this isn’t saying no so much as punting the conversation to a better time – also a valuable skill to learn.
2. “Thanks so much for contacting me – I love what you’re doing. This isn’t really my area of expertise, but I’d be happy to offer some feedback from an outsider’s perspective. Can you send me some more information? I’ll pass it along to some contacts of mine I think may have a need.”
This approach lets the asker down gently – they may not have known you weren’t the right contact – and allows them to have a better shot at reaching the right person, either inside or outside your organization.
3. “Thanks for the note! I’m traveling a lot right now but I appreciate you reaching out – could you reconnect with me in early August? Thanks so much.”
Most contacts won’t follow up – a failure on their part which we’ll address in another post. On the off-chance they do, they’ve already passed one of the big hurdles for actually scoring a meeting – they’re hungry.

“Can you speak at/attend my event?”

1. “Thanks so much for reaching out and congratulations on putting together what looks like a great event. I know how much work that takes, so I applaud you and your whole team! I put it on my calendar, but I’m not sure if I personally will be available to attend. I’ll definitely pass the details on to those in my network I think might be interested. Hope you have a fantastic event!”
With this approach, you’re offering sincere congratulations to the event organizer (it is a terribly difficult and thankless job) and promising to spread the word without personally committing to attend. It’s a win across the board.
2. “Thanks for the note – I’m always thrilled to hear about great events going on in the community. My schedule is unfortunately booked solid that week, but I’d love for you to send me a flyer and few sentences that I can promote to my network for anyone who might be interested.”
Again, giving your sincere congratulations to the event organizer will go a long way toward breeding good will, while offering to promote the event is the kind of above and beyond action that will really leave an impression.

“Can I mentor/train your team/customers?”

1. [If the asker is someone you’d actually like to connect with] “Thanks so much for your interest – I’m always excited to present new ideas and perspectives to my team/customers/users. Whenever possible, we try to let those interactions happen naturally. In the past when we’ve dictated these types of training/mentoring sessions, the results have been underwhelming – it’s better for us to let it happen organically. To facilitate that, we regularly hold open houses/meetups/roundtables/panels in a casual atmosphere and allow the free exchange of ideas. We hope to see you at the next one – watch our website/Facebook page for details!”
If you don’t already have some type of forum available like this script suggests, you can easily create one. Every third Friday cater a simple lunch in the conference room and let your employees stop through and meet with mentors as they please. For your customers, perhaps either a monthly community open house or an online moderated chat room or webinar is the right answer.
2. [If you don’t ever want to entertain the idea] “Thanks so much for getting in touch – I really appreciate it. We just completed an intensive period of employee education/customer connection, and you can see the results of that in our blog/on our website/on Facebook. You’re more than welcome to reach out to any of those folks individually – I’ve found that letting these types of interactions happen organically rather than forcing them produces the best results for everyone. You might also consider getting involved with the [local business mentoring group]. We find many of our employees/customers have great results there.”
If the asker is really toxic and you don’t want them anywhere near your company, a simple “Thanks for reaching out, sounds great!” will effectively shut down conversation without giving them any ideas about future interactions.

“Can my company partner with yours?”

1. “Thanks for looping me in – love what you guys are doing. We don’t usually enter into formal affiliate or partnership relationships, but we are always happy to make referrals when appropriate. Do you have customers that are interested in ? Would you be willing to send them our way if it seems like there might be a fit? We’d be happy to do the same. I’ve attached some more information on our company and the services that I think would be most relevant to your customers. Feel free to pass this along to them. Thanks so much!”
If your company is on fire, you’ll be inundated with “partnership” offers from people wanting to ride your coattails. This approach helps you get your message out without feeling like you have to dive headfirst into a relationship with everyone who asks.
2. “Thanks for reaching out! Our partnership strategy is still a work in progress, but we’re likely going to be making great strides in this area in the next few months. I’d love to keep you in the loop as we move forward – stay tuned, and thanks again!”
If you haven’t really thought much about your partnerships program, this is a great way to kick things off into the future while you sort it out without losing some potentially truly great partners.
3. “Thanks for getting in touch – I love what I’ve seen from you guys so far. This isn’t something we’re super focused on right now, but I’d love for you to come to our upcoming open house/community event/roundtable/meetup/panel. There will be a ton of potential contacts for you there, including many of our customers. I’ve attached some more information – please distribute it to anyone you think might be interested, and I look forward to talking more with you in person.”
This is another great way to bring potential partners into the fold without committing to a firm relationship. It’s never a bad idea to keep ideas (and idea makers) flowing around your organization.

No Leads to Yes

Saying no to 1,000 requests that don’t further your goals will free you up to emphatically say yes to the ten that do. The same concept applies to selecting your vendors – especially your credit card processing company. Partnering with one great company that can do it all is better than trying to make it work with several inferior ones. We’d love for you to take 360 Payments out for a spin. Give us a call at 1-855-360-0360 or drop us a line on our website and we’ll show you how we’re shaking up the credit card industry.
PS – Need to squeeze more productivity out of your day? We’ve got some ideas here and here.
PPS – As you’re thinking about what really matters for your startup, here’s how to make the winning ideas a reality.


By |2018-05-31T13:01:41+00:00June 29th, 2017|Startups, Tips and Tricks|2 Comments


  1. Great read!

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