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How to say no to meetings

How to say no to meetings

“Dear John. Thank you for your email asking to meet me. I would prefer not to do so. I fear you are trying to milk me for free advice, are a timewaster, and cannot add to my business or me professionally. Also, I am running a busy concern, not a charity to help others. Thanks, but no thanks.”

How many small business owners would love to send that hypothetical reply to people who want to meet them on loosely related business matters, seek their advice, a favour, or add them to their network because they have too much time on their hands?

Instead, the small business owner does not reply to the meeting email or text. Or make excuses that they will meet another time when not so busy. Or have a quick coffee because it is easier than saying no. Or worse, waste half a morning meeting people who have little to offer in return.

Perhaps the small business owners meet the timewasters on the misunderstanding that all meetings will build their network, create business “karma”, and will “bank a favour” for when they need one. But the meetings inevitably take rather than give.

Then the small business owners wonder why they are working at midnight or on the weekend when precious time should be spent with family and friends. They lost too much time replying to uninvited emails, having coffee, or a lunch for unnecessary meetings. It all adds up.

Yes, you would never send the hypothetical email that opened this blog. I wrote it in jest. And that professional courtesy is vital, that helping others often helps your business in the long run, and that sometimes chance, uninvited meetings lead to unexpected business opportunities.

I know some small business owners would love lots of people wanting to meet them, do things with them, and share contacts and knowledge. A good problem to have, right? That is until they are at full capacity and dozens of meeting requests from potential employees, contractors, suppliers, distributors, former colleagues, advice seekers, young people wanting work experience, and so on, become incredibly distracting and drain their time and energy.

I also know technology makes it much easier for people to reach you, that business networking sites put you in front of more people than ever, that many people see networking as their life mission, and that a soft economy has more people seeking favours. The ability to email or text, in particular, has emboldened people who may otherwise have never tried to meet you.

As a busy small business owner, you have to learn to say no – firmly, professionally, and without destroying relationships before they begin. You need mechanisms to separate useful meeting requests from the rest, reply to them, and take it from there. Unlike executives, you probably don’t have an assistant to shield requests, guard your time, and pre-organise meetings.

Here are a few tips to consider:

1. Don’t ignore requests: We’re all guilty of ignoring meeting requests, via email, text or even phone, because it is easier than saying no. It sends a bad message. Have a template response for a quick reply. “John, thanks for your email. Unfortunately, I am too busy to meet right now. Should this change, I will make contact regarding your meeting request.”

2. Ask what the meeting is about: I still get suckered by meeting requests from people who want to explore “mutual business interests” or “share information on ideas”. You give yourself a mental slap for letting someone sell their business, or themselves, to you for 30 minutes. Ask for more detail on why they want to meet before agreeing to it.

3. Use the phone: How many emails have you received from someone “wanting to buy you a coffee” over a meeting? Why do uninvited meetings always have to be in person, or involve coffee? If you are unsure about the meeting’s merits, suggest a quick phone call. Or communicate via email, for now.

4. Set boundaries. Well before the meeting, say: “I’m happy to meet. But so you know, my firm is not looking to hire anybody or take on any new suppliers.” Or: “Happy to meet, but I can’t put you in contact with any of my customers.” Anticipating the meeting’s true purpose, and killing it well in advance, quickly reduces unnecessary meetings, in my experience.

5. Consider setting a first-meeting fee. A friend used to regularly meet prospective clients who milked him for free advice, before doing the work themselves or finding a cheaper supplier. Now, nobody meets him without paying for a 30-minute introduction session. The fee helps him be upfront: if the request to meet is for advice, they pay. It cuts his time-wasting meetings in half.

6. Organisation. Run meetings from uninvited requests back to back. Keep them short. Arrange them around other commitments. Make them come to you. Set time limits (without being over the top). Hold them during slower work periods, or when you are less productive (Friday afternoon?)

7. Value your time. Even if your business sells products, put a dollar figure on your time, at consultant rates. If you lose half a day each week on unnecessary meetings, emails or other requests, you might have given away $1,000 in time. Over a year, you’ve lost tens of thousands of dollars that could have gone into your business or personal life – all because you could not say no to uninvited meeting requests.

Original Article by Tony Featherstone: