When to Turn Down a Lucrative Opportunity?

Whether in corporate life or entrepreneurship, the recipe for success is clear: Win and execute lucrative projects. The reasons are obvious: Your business wouldn’t exist without money to run it, and the more, the better. But what’s less obvious is that at a certain point, not turning down lucrative engagements may actually thwart your future success.

After years of growing a business to the point where you’re in demand, it’s often excruciatingly hard to shift your priorities from gaining revenue and accepting every engagement to learning how and when to say no. Here’s how to determine when you should reject what would have been, in the past, tantalizing opportunities.

First, you can consider declining an engagement when your learning curve has flattened. In the early days of your business, a new type of project — especially a lucrative one — is incredibly exciting. It’s a growth opportunity that tests and expands the limits of your skills, perhaps enabling you to enter the much-vaunted “flow state.” But after a while, the novel becomes rote and you are, quite literally, doing it just for the money.

As Whitney Johnson and Juan Mendez note, “As we approach mastery, our learning rate decelerates, and while the ability to do something automatically implies competence, it also means our brains are now producing less of the feel-good neurotransmitters — the thrill ride is over.” That sense of ennui eventually leads to a lack of motivation and, in some cases, poor performance. If you can instead shift your attention to mastering new skills — aka “jumping the S-curve” — then you can continually stay engaged and make work much more enjoyable.

Second, you should think about saying no to the money when you’ve identified more-strategic ways to build your business. Michael Bungay Stanier began his career as an executive coach because he wanted to help leaders, but he recalls, in a rather unfortunate discovery, “At a certain point, I came to this insight that I actually didn’t enjoy coaching that much.” He was interested in helping people change behavior, but “it was too lonely, too isolated, the energy wasn’t right.” Even though he was finally making good money as a coach, he realized he needed to turn down that work in order to build a more scalable business model that better suited his personality. Today, he leads Box of Crayons, a company that trains managers in how to effectively coach their employees, leveraging his expertise and taking him out of the one-on-one coaching that he disliked.

Finally, once you’ve reached the threshold of your business being financially sustainable, you can begin to jettison work that you just don’t enjoy.

Jayson Gaignard, a Canadian entrepreneur whom I profile in my recent book Entrepreneurial You, had built a popular conference called Mastermind Talks. On the back of that success, it seemed like a no-brainer to start an even more exclusive, $25,000-per-year mastermind group featuring quarterly retreats with behind-the-scenes tours of companies like Cirque du Soleil, Apple, and the Aria Casino, followed by guest speakers and participants discussing their business challenges.

But Gaignard found that, in contrast to his Mastermind Talks conference — which was tiring yet exhilarating for him — facilitating the retreats was merely exhausting. “It just didn’t light me up. It actually drained me,” he says. “I thought I’d enjoy it, but I realized I didn’t.” Despite hundreds of thousands of dollars in forgone revenue, he shut the program down after two years. Sometimes, to preserve your happiness, you have to say no to the money.

Successful leaders got that way by prioritizing revenues, but you have to adapt your strategies to suit the circumstances. As you and your company grow, you can begin to weigh other matters in determining where to invest your time. Revenues are always important, but in some cases, other variables may be even more critical.

© Copyright Dorie Clark All rights reserved.


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