Work in Progress: Saying "No"
This business (and my choice to pursue a career in an artistic field) has been a constant fight against the "no". The list is long. Everything from my extended family's disapproval regarding my non STEM major (this is a big no-no for the Asian culture), rejection from my dream university and dream job, to the extreme doubts people have about the success my business. I've had to face so much disapproval and disappointments that the main reason I keep going is to prove them wrong! I use it as motivation. Everyone's been on the receiving end of "no" and it feel so discouraging.
When I started my silly little business, I had zero clients and knew no one in the wedding industry. I was basically begging most my friends to let me do small projects for them. So when I finally got commission work, ANY commission work, I took it no matter how small or little profit it was! The fact I had day-job meant I didn't really need to make a livable wage from my calligraphy. It was a passion projects and self-sustaining hobby for a while.
It wasn't until a couple of months after I went full time on this business when the tables turned. I receive inquiries for commissions and collaborations regularly. I tried to say yes to all of them and I felt guilty saying the opposite to anyone. Early on, when a potential client said I'm out of her price range, I tried to give them discounts so that I could secure the project despite how it cut my bottom line. I tried to squeeze in as many last minute bookings and styled shoots as I could. This resulted in working 14 hours a day, seven days a week. When I knew I couldn't squeeze anymore projects in, I got really anxious when I checking my morning emails and did the worst thing possible: not replying. Before I knew it, I was overworked and underpaid. My husband felt like he lost his wife, and I felt like my business was barely surviving. I felt miserable. We were miserable. Something needed to change.
First, I started with raising my prices and eliminating my free services. This eliminated some inquiries; a few collaborators and potential clients who thinks I'm out of their price range. To be honest, it was hard to stand my ground and to resist the urge to lower the prices so that I could secure projects. It was difficult not to charge for the additional services because I was worried about how my clients would react. I was scared of missing out, especially for styled shoots. I asked myself, "What if this shoot I declined went big and got published everywhere?" I was very worried at first, but eventually I embraced this decision. I had to come to realize that if people didn't think my work was worth my asking price, then they were simply not the right clients/collaborators for me. There was another reason why I like this option, I'm not the one responsible with "no".
That being said, I was still overworked with barely enough money to cover my share of the bills. Then I remembered about a book I read during my very long plane ride to Bali. The book was Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. He talked about creating excellent habits, but one that struck a chord with me was the power of saying "No". How we feel obligated to say yes to please others and the explanations on how our "yes" actually backfires and bite us in the butt later on.
Okay, this might not make sense but let me explain how this works. Say you're working retail and you're supervisor needs you to fill in for someone on their emergency day off. You feel obligated and reluctantly say yes. This proves that you're a dedicated worker. You might be even rewarded with a pat on the back and a nice overtime paycheck. So far so good. But the next time the same situation happens, your supervisor will expect you to cover for people. You might have to cancel plans for things you really want to do with people you love! This means you lose points on both personal and professional relationships! And that just sucks, especially when you can win both the respect of your boss and family/friends by saying "no" in the first place with just a small disappointment and discomfort in beginning. You read it right, being "selfish" and saying "no" actually garners more respect from everyone rather than simply saying "yes".
I needed my weekends back. I wanted time to work on my business; go to local shoots, network with other wedding vendors, think about my expansion plan, research new products to sell, do my taxes, or even write my blog (ya this one!). I needed to spend more time with my husband and try my best to keep the house semi-decent. I wanted to enjoy a night out once in a while, or to just sit on my couch and play candy crush (I'm on Level 1,355 if you're curious) or watch movies! I needed more time.
For me, this was a two front battle. I was overbooking in order to make enough to cover my bills. In turn that diminished my free time so I needed to increase my prices even more. I had to take a good hard look at my products, assessed my profit margin carefully, and reduce or eliminate the ones that don't make as much return. I started charging a market rate for my services. I added a minimum for my custom orders. I became more strict with my additional service fee and enforced my rush order fees.
The next solution was (and this is still a work in progress), saying "no" to projects. I mapped out my calendar and tried to stick with it. I'm getting strict with projects that I can't take due to deadlines. I tried to stand my ground on revision requests and tried to not feel guilty saying "no" when I had to pass on styled shoot collaborations. But saying "no" after saying so many "yes" is not easy, and I know for a fact I'm not the only one!
This doesn't mean that you have to rudely turn people away. This also doesn't mean I say "no" to everything. There are exceptions. I still a "fast pass" list for vendors and previous clients, still way too easily move with sob-stories to squeeze in last minute appointments, and I don't think that will change anytime soon. And lastly, this also doesn't mean I no longer feel any guilt or fear of missing out every time I say "no". I still do. But in the meantime, I'm trying to be very selective and getting used to dishing out the "no" honestly, gracefully and respectfully.
Let me know what's your take on this struggle and you know how much I love reading your response!