In order to be successful as a small business owner, you need to internalize the power of “no.” This two-letter word has the ability to create value, conserve resources, and ultimately define your business- but only if you use it properly. Many small business owners these days look like they’re running a very long and hard foot race. I can see the sweat on their brows as they scamper along with heads bent down intent on expanding their portfolios, building their reputations (online and off), and developing their brands, all while juggling the ever-increasing demands of social networking: Engage, Follow, Friend and Be Friended. The underlying push behind all this effort- the proverbial carrot at the end of the stick- is to offer customers more for less, because these business owners mistakenly believe that is how you create perceived value. After all, we’re in a strong buyer’s market; aren’t most consumers looking for a good deal these days? While there is definitely a time and place for freebies, pro bono work, discounting, and the investment resources without an immediate pay back, the assumption that this is the way to create value is off. It is a fundamental truth that precisely in those places where you draw the line, that is where all the real value of your business lies. Here is where the power of “no” comes in. It may seem counter-intuitive at first, but learning how to say no allows for growth and development. To the extent that you can learn to set effective, well-placed limits, then to that extent you give your business the space to develop and expand and yes, increase profits. I will illustrate this point with three very common situations: 1. You find yourself constantly helping other people or businesses with free advice, promotion, or information. While these kinds of actions are a necessary part of networking and drawing interest to yourself or your site in a no-obligation way, you should nevertheless choose your engagements wisely. Not only will you save yourself a great deal of time and energy that could be directed to other, more profitable areas of your business, but you will also avoid cheapening your product or image. If you attach value to your work by assigning a price to it, then guess what? Your customers will be more likely to value it also. 2. You take on projects that require too much effort with too little return. Avoid the urge to hold on to every customer who walks in the door. If a certain job or client is sucking up too much of your time and resources, then walk away. And another point: Don’t agree to do a job at a certain price only to wake up afterwords and find out that you charged too little. Do yourself a favor and conduct a little research before offering a price on a new kind of project or service-especially if you are just starting out. 3. You spend an inordinate amount of time doing grunt work with little to show for it. Though this kind of situation may show up in several different ways, I want to focus attention on online marketing and social networking in particular. Just about any social marketing guru will tell you it takes time to build a loyal following- the kind of following that will buy your products or services and spread your message to their own contacts. There is definitely truth to this. But that doesn’t mean that you should throw you actions to the wind and see what happens. Plan your online marketing strategies carefully, and use whatever Return on Investment (ROI) measures and analytics that are available to you. Where an initiative is taking up too much time, or providing little current or potential value, then drop it. Bottom line: success in business requires that you be in touch with your core strengths and that you offer what makes you valuable in a valuable way; and sometimes that means you just have to say “no.” Thoughts?