The Never Accept “NO” Entrepreneur

Here is a fascinating subject for all entrepreneurs (and everyone else for that matter). It is the world of auto-antonyms with a focus on one particular word in the English language. What is an auto-antonym you ask? Don’t worry; you didn’t miss anything in school. Until I looked it up, I had no idea about auto-antonyms, sometimes called a contranym. Simple answer – it is a word that can mean the opposite of what it appears to mean. Now that the picture is completely confused, let’s focus on the word . . . NO.

“No” seems like a simple word to understand – right? Not so fast. In my world “No” can actually mean “Yes.” Let me explain. Remember when we were kids and we bugged our parents for something? Often the default answer was “No.” But we became conditioned to realize that “No” could be changed to “Yes.” I remember a trip to Disneyland in Anaheim, California when I was five years old. There was one particular ride that I wanted to try as soon as I hit the park. My parents – in unison – said, “No” (emphasis not added). They reasoned that I was too young. But I continued to harangue them throughout the day and wore them down to the point that before we left the park that afternoon, they finally said, “Yes.” In fact I was too young for the ride and had no clue what to do – one of the attendants had to come and rescue me – but I was victorious in my quest to flip “No” to “Yes.” I guess that was the launch of my persuasive powers on the road to becoming an entrepreneur.

Too often, we hear “No” and accept it as gospel. We interpret the word as a form of rejection; feelings may be hurt, and we may become dejected and deflated. This next statement is very, very important. NO. DOES. NOT. ALWAYS. MEAN. NO. If we simply accept the word for what we think it means then it is Strike Three and game over. But if we see “No” as the starting point for getting to “Yes,” there is still a chance for extra innings. And who knows – we might win the game in the bottom of the 12th!

Entrepreneurs who hear “Yes” when they are told “No” are “No Flippers.” They understand that being told “No” just means that they need to become more persuasive and work harder to build their relationships. By doing so, they increase the odds of flipping the “No” answer to a “Yes” answer. When we are told “No,” we have a chance to zero-in and learn something. If we are helping someone buy our product or service, it is imperative that we find out why the other party has declined. By politely asking for feedback we might discover that a minor change in the product or service could result in a totally different outcome. Had we simply accepted the “No” answer, we might not have had the chance to make the tweak that led to a sale. Sometimes we are told “No” not because the other party does not like us or what we are offering, but the timing is not right for them. This is where relationship-building is critical. We remain in touch and work to serve the relationship in whatever ways possible while staying in front of the customer in a positive manner. But remember – there is a fine line between the obnoxious childish whining we did as kids to get our way and doing what it takes to be in the right place at the right time to serve our customers.

I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve been told “No” whether it was in raising equity from investors to acquire properties; securing a loan for an acquisition; negotiating the purchase or sale of a property, or trying to hire a particular individual to join our team. Maybe I am just thickheaded, but when I hear “No,” it is just a signal to step-up my game.

As entrepreneurs we need to become accomplished “No Flippers.” It may take a while and we will need to be creative, but eventually we will get someone to say “Yes.” Maybe it is the person we have been trying to convince all along, or perhaps it’s someone else. We use the knowledge we gain from hearing “No” to make the changes necessary to get to “Yes” and achieve success.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The (Stubborn) or (Persevering) Entrepreneur

Mules are interesting animals. They are a cross between a male donkey and a female horse. A mule is stronger than a horse and historically was used for heavy work in agriculture and timber. Mules are independent creatures and can be very obstinate and stubborn at times – hence the saying, “He’s stubborn as a mule.”

Tortoises are equally fascinating. They can live longer than 150 years and have hard shells that make them less vulnerable to predators. Tu’i Malila was the oldest tortoise on record, born in 1777 and died in 1965. If you’ve ever watched a tortoise, you know that they are slow, plodding reptiles. When they are presented with an obstacle, they find a way to go around it.

The metaphor for entrepreneurs is obvious. And notice that I’ve avoided the even more obvious example of the tortoise and the hare – that’s a whole different blog someday. Instead, the lesson here is about stubbornness vs. perseverance. As entrepreneurs, we are continually confronted with situations that require some level of perseverance. If we fail to persevere, we end up flitting all over the place and accomplishing nothing. But when does perseverance turn into stubbornness? Presumably stubbornness is not necessarily a desirable trait. The dictionary defines stubborn as “unreasonably obstinate; obstinately unmoving.”

The story of Milton Hershey is inspirational. He launched three candy companies in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago. And all three failed. Hershey moved back to Lancaster, Pennsylvania where he started another company that made a unique type of caramel. But he was convinced that chocolate was the wave of the future and sold his caramel business to start the Hershey Company. Of course, the Hershey Company went on to become a huge success in the milk chocolate business.

Was Milton Hershey stubborn, or did he persevere? Back to the dictionary which defines persevere as “to persist in anything undertaken; maintain a purpose in spite of difficulty, obstacles, or discouragement; continue steadfastly.” I believe Hershey epitomized the definition of perseverance. He had a vision. He was constantly tweaking and refining his products. He surmounted his obstacles and eventually became highly successful.

Stubbornness is evidenced when we keep banging our heads against the wall trying the same things over and over. And it’s not working. Suppose we have a business that is struggling to gain traction. We’re not making much money – maybe even losing money – and we continue to keep doing what we’ve been without making any material changes. Now that’s stubborn.

Let’s take that same example and overlay it with perseverance. The business has been struggling to gain traction. We’re not making much money – maybe even losing money. But we believe in the long-term vision and aren’t about to throw in the towel. Instead, we step back and analyze what we’ve been doing. We do the research necessary to identify refinements and adjustments to our approach. Perhaps we even make a major pivot. Think about the tortoise. He reaches an obstacle that he can’t go over. Does he keep trying to climb over it without success? No, he “pivots” and moves a different direction, eventually ending up achieving his vision – whatever that might be for a tortoise. Perhaps our business needs a different approach to marketing and sales. Maybe we need to eliminate a particular product and add another. Regardless, we must do things differently than we have in the past. We don’t quit. We aren’t a victim. We simply get better at how we play the game.

Stubbornness doesn’t require much brainpower. There’s a lot of wallowing that occurs. Perseverance is smart. The vision persists. The ideas flow. And success is ultimately achieved.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.