An Advisor’s Best Friend: The Ability to Say “No”

4 min read
May 12, 2016

Remember that movie “Yes Man” with Jim Carey, where he changes his life by saying yes to literally everything? Well, the irony in today’s world is that saying yes to everything might have made for a good Hollywood movie—or a really bad one according to Rotten Tomatoes—but in today’s world filled of noise, it’s actually our ability to say no that is incredibly powerful.

There are literally millions of things that we as humans can be doing every day. There’s certainly no shortage of things that we as advisors could be doing, too.

From meeting with a client to working on our blogs, updating our social media, refining processes… the list goes on and on.

Despite the countless opportunities to grow our businesses and help more people by offering our services to them, the fact remains that we only have 24 hours in a day. Our capacity remains fixed by the one constraint we all share: time.

The amount of things that can be done in any given day is always on the rise, and it can feel like it’s increasing at an exponential pace. As this happens, the value in our ability to say “no” also increases.

The Ability to Say “No” to Someone Who Will Pay You

There’s nothing advisors—myself very much included in this generalization—are worse at than saying “no” to prospective clients. The thought of saying, “you know that money you want to pay me for that thing I do to make a living? Yeah, just keep the money. I don’t want to work with people who don’t [insert what qualifies someone for your target market]” to any prospect is almost laughable.

But let’s be honest: the arguments for choosing a niche are good ones! As you narrow your niche, you can better focus your marketing efforts, improve the services you provide to your niche clientele as your expertise and service model become more focused, charge premium prices, and so on.

So why don’t advisors narrow their focus despite the strong case that can be made for the benefits? Why don’t we say “no” to clients who aren’t our ideal clients within the niche we serve?

In a recent conversation with Isaac Presley at Cordant Wealth, a firm that has done a tremendous job of getting niche focused on Intel employees, I mentioned that it’s a little scary to narrow our focus even further beyond young professionals.

He stopped me for a second and said, “It’s not a little scary. It’s a lot, lot scary.”

Bingo! It is a lot scary to say no to a prospective client, especially one who is ready to pay you. But as mentioned earlier, with each “yes” we give we tell something or someone else “no.”

The next time a client wants to pay you, ask yourself who or what you have to say no to in exchange for making an exception to the focused practice you’re trying to build.

Do It a Thousand Times, But Never Once

Belay Advisor had a great article and podcast recently discussing the things top advisors would approach differently if they had a chance redo their careers. The one that really stuck out was “learn to say ‘no’ to client requests so I can have a leverageable business model.”

You know those innocent client requests where they want one thing tweaked outside of the traditional process that adds little to no value?

This doesn’t mean we have to say no to every client request, but rather to ask ourselves whether saying yes to this request is something that’s going to be a one-off customization for a single client or something that could enhance the value and experience for all clients if built into a scalable business process.

If it is something that can enhance the value to all clients then by all means say yes and build it into your processes. But if not, then be willing to say no.

Doing More by Doing Less (Or: Practice Essentialism)

George McKeown’s 2014 book, Essentialism, should be something every advisor says yes to. Readers walk away with a clearer understanding of the importance of saying no and finding the few incredibly important things in business (and in life) that will drive the large majority of the results.

The whole premise of the book is built on the idea that saying no is arguably one of the most valuable tools we have as human beings. And it’s important to recognize that our ability as advisors to help our clients say no is a major source of value to them, too!

The takeaway for advisors is not to just start saying “no” to everything left and right, but “purposefully, deliberately, and strategically eliminating nonessentials.” You must be willing to recognize what those things are and then have the courage to say no to them.

We will all be better off as advisors by shifting our focus away from constantly looking for new things to add — whether that be new prospective clients even though they don’t fit our niche profile or the latest and greatest technology widget.


About the Author

Matt Cosgriff is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and personal finance expert for young professionals. He is also the intrapreneur behind Lifewise, a Minneapolis-based financial planning and investment solution for busy young professionals. When he isn’t helping people navigate the ins and outs of personal finance he is an avid hockey fan, foodie, and loves to read. You can reach him on Twitter @matthewcosgriff or connect with him on LinkedIn

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