Warren Buffett once said that the difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.
This goes against the advice that many of us have heard over and over again. I remember when I first got started, and I joined a new, high-ticket coaching program.
One of the things that they taught us there was that you shouldn’t leave money on the table. What they meant was that, if you were a service provider or a coach or a consultant, and someone asked you, “Do you provide this service?”, your answer needed to be yes. If it wasn’t, then you were leaving money on the table. We were taught to say, “Yes, of course, I do,” to anything and everything. And then, after you close the deal, you find someone to partner with in order to deliver on that product or service. That’s, they said, how you could expand and grow your company.
I followed that advice for many years. I was always able to provide a good service for what I had promised by partnering with other people or by learning to do it myself. Unfortunately, I usually underestimated how much it was going to cost to fulfill it or the amount of time it would take to learn that new service. Also, I was never able to get it to become very profitable. The reason I wasn’t able to become very profitable is that I was trying to learn how to do everything.
There’s another saying about that: “Jack of all trades is a master of none.”
That’s exactly what was going on in my businesses. I learned how to do Facebook ads and landing pages and websites and social media. We built applications. We did pretty much everything under the sun with digital marketing, but we were not able to become experts in any of them because we weren’t confident enough at that time to say, “No, that’s not what we do.”
To paraphrase Warren Buffett, the difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people have learned how to say no to anything that is not their main project.
In fact, I was reading just the other day another story about Warren Buffett. During a sort of coaching session with someone he was working with, Buffet asked the man to make a list of all of the projects that he was working on. So, this person made a list and, when he was finished, he had about 25 different projects listed. Warren Buffet noticed that he had circled five of them.
Buffet asked, “Why did you circle five out of these 25 things on your list?” And the person responded, “Those are my top five activities, the top five projects that I’m working on.” Then Warren Buffett asked, “What about the other twenty?” He answered, “Those are for whenever I have some free time. Then I start to work on those other twenty projects.”
Warren Buffett responded with another question, “Isn’t it actually that those other twenty things are your distractions that keep you from being hyper-focused on your top five priorities? Do those other twenty things actually prevent you from becoming very successful?”
That’s the key here.
The key is that every time you say yes to something, you’re saying no to something else. This is a lesson that all of us need to learn in our own business and our own life.
Figure out your top priorities. What are the top things that you want to focus on in your business for this next year? What will help you to actually grow your company? Just because an opportunity comes to your door doesn’t mean that you should be saying yes, especially if you’re just getting started.
When we’re just starting out and we’re trying to scale our business from zero to $5,000 a month or $10,000 a month or $250,000 a month, we’re not able to focus on more than just one business at a time. Every time we do that, we are splintering ourselves and dividing our focus and our efforts. And, when we do this, we’re not able to grow our company and to scale it to the level that we could if we were hyper-focused on the project that is right in front of us, the real project we want to be working on.
One of the big things that people like to do every year is to make their big list of New Year’s resolutions. For entrepreneurs and business owners, this list of resolutions typically includes business goals. And, from there, those goals turn into marketing plans and new strategies that will help them achieve what they’re after.
Oftentimes the result of these well intended efforts are very detailed and complicated marketing plans, ones that span the next 365 days and include every single idea they have. If they are very detailed, they may even be planning out what they need to get accomplished every single day—or maybe the three things they need to do every single day. When they do this, they believe they’ll be able to meet their goals.
But, what actually happens is that we start to focus on fulfilling that plan, and we fall behind because we’re really good at thinking, “Oh, I can get that done in an hour,” and it doesn’t take an hour. It never takes an hour. It’s going to take six hours or it’s going to take a whole day or you’re going to have interruptions or you’re going to have blockers. We think that we’re going to be able to get these three things done every single day. But, when we start to work on them, we fall behind. And, suddenly, we didn’t meet our goals.
On the next day, instead of having three things on our list, we now have six things. We have the three things for that day and then the three things from the day before. Pretty soon, we have fifteen things on our list, and maybe we’ve got one done.
And then, of course, we get discouraged. We begin to be tempted to think, “Why should I even try? I’ll never be able to be successful. I’m not able to keep up with this plan that I have set for myself.”
Instead, we should tell ourselves, “Okay, I need to focus for the next ninety days on these three things. These three things will get my primary attention, and anything else that comes in, if it’s not in alignment with the three things that I’m focused on for the next ninety days, then it’s going to be no.”
Another way to look at this, which is so important, especially if you’re a mom or dad, is that every time you say yes, you are saying no to something else. Usually that no is to your family. A lot of us by nature are very helpful. As entrepreneurs, we want to solve problems when someone has a problem. We want to figure out how to fix it, how to solve it.
And every time we say yes to help someone else with their problem, what we’re saying no to is more time with our spouse or our kids. As entrepreneurs, one of the things we need to consider is why we are doing this in the first place. We say we’re doing this so we can spend more time with our families. But, at the end of the day, we actually spent less time with our families because we’re so focused on trying to make our business successful.
Again, this is why it’s so important to limit the number of projects that you’re working on. Focus on the top three to five projects at any given time. Make sure that every time you say yes to something, you’ve considered exactly what you are saying no to. As yourself, “What can I take off of my plate?” Despite what we like to tell ourselves, we can’t do everything. Thankfully, by not doing everything and focusing on the right things, we can actually hit our goals that much faster.