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Business Articles

Timely and relevant business advice and news curated by the Chamber. Offering essential information, we will help you succeed and stay current.

October 15, 2018

Article of the Week

5 Fun Halloween Marketing Ideas for Your Small Business

The spookiest time of year will soon be upon us, and consumers will soon be getting into the Halloween spirit. So, if your small business isn’t celebrating this festive holiday, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to connect with customers.

Halloween is a great time for you to get more shoppers to your door or website, by implementing some hauntingly effective marketing ideas. In fact, according to the National Retail Federation, over 35 percent of consumers perform online searches to find Halloween inspiration for costumes, decorating and entertaining; so the holiday is the perfect chance to be discovered by swarms of potential customers.

But if you’re worried your business can't stand up to the big-box stores that spend millions on their Halloween marketing, don’t worry. This is the perfect time of year to try out some creative and unique marketing ideas that will work for your small business and get people excited to shop with you.

Ready for some scary-good inspiration? Here are five fun Halloween marketing ideas for your small business.

Halloween-ize your products.

If your small business doesn’t sell any Halloween-themed products, you might be scratching your head trying to figure out how to get a boost in revenue this holiday season. But even if your business isn’t spooky in the slightest, you can still Halloween-ize your products or position items in a festive way to bring in those trick-or-treat loving shoppers. For instance, if you own a restaurant, offer up themed specialty desserts or drinks; for retail clothing, display some Halloween costume ideas based on your items.  

Be sure to let customers know about your new Halloween offerings by posting photos on social media that will tempt and convince them to stop by your store before All Hallows’ Eve comes to an end.

Host an online trick-or-treating promotion.

Boost user engagement and conversions by hosting an online trick-or-treating promotion. By holding a fun, gamified online promotion, you can invite shoppers to participate in your Halloween festivities from the comfort of their own homes; and you’ll make shopping on your website an entertaining and rewarding experience.

New York jeweler Kendra Scott does this well by offering customers the chance to search its website for hidden pumpkins that reveal store discounts.

This trick-or-treat scavenger hunt is a fun idea for shoppers, but you could also send an email marketing campaign where customers have to choose between two secret offers to reveal whether they receive a trick or a treat -- meaning a small discount or a larger discount. There are endless ways you can turn your online promotions into more exciting, Halloween experiences to ensure you capture the attention of customers.  

Halloween-ify your online presence.

Add some festive flair to your online presence: Let the Halloween spirit take over your social media accounts, like Facebook and Instagram, by posting Halloween-themed images and messages sure to attract many likes and shares from your Halloween-obsessed followers.

Dogfather & Co., a retail boutique and dog grooming spa, Halloween-ifies its Instagram account with photos of its furry clientele, to get viewers into the Halloween spirit.

Also decorate your website for the holiday so that users landing on your home page are filled with festive feelings from your brand. Just make some simple tweaks to your site by, for instance, adding a Halloween-themed image which utilizes a spooky font and festive elements like pumpkins or spiderwebs. Don’t want to hire a graphic designer? You can easily transform your regular website images Halloween using a tool like PicMonkey.

Publish Halloween-themed content.

Drive more holiday shoppers to your website by publishing Halloween-themed content readers will love. According to Demand Metric, content marketing generates approximately three times as many leads as outbound marketing and costs 62 percent less, making it the perfect strategy to boost sales for your small business this season.

Create content for your readers that will help them solve problems and ease their stress during this busy time. Blog post ideas, for instance, could include "Halloween Costume Ideas for Kids," "DIY Halloween Decor Ideas" or "How to Host an Awesome Halloween Party." 

HQhair posts a ton of Halloween-themed content for its readers, including posts that not only help readers but suggest products that the company sells.

You can also craft content that includes product recommendations from your store that encourage people to buy but aren't too pushy. Sprinkle in some holiday and buyer keywords throughout your post to make sure it gets seen by consumers who are in the shopping mood. And remember, when you provide useful and entertaining content to your readers, they’ll be more likely to share it with their family and friends, too.

Hold a Halloween costume contest.

Holding a Halloween costume contest is a great way to get people into your brick and mortar business. If you don’t have a physical business, you can hold a costume contest on social media and still get a ton of engagement.  

For example, the Texas theme park Kemah Boardwalk utilized Instagram to hold a Halloween costume contest that gave its followers a chance to win weekly prizes or a grand prize.

You can hold a contest that encourages people to submit photos of their Halloween costumes, or even just ask them to share your post or tag their friends for a chance to win a prize. Don’t forget to utilize Halloween-themed hashtags so that you can widen your reach and connect with a bunch of potential new customers this season.


These fun Halloween marketing ideas prove that your small business doesn’t need to spend a fortune to hold an awesome Halloween "party" that delights customers and boosts your revenue. Start planning and scheduling your seasonal marketing campaign as soon as possible so that by the time the most haunting night of the year rolls around, you’ll be able to focus on turning trick-or-treaters into customers -- instead of your being frighteningly swamped. 


October 8, 2018

Article of the Week

This Is the Right Way to Respond to Microaggressions at Work

A manager in a performance review says to his female employee, “You might want to try to smile more in meetings.” Someone at work says to a co-worker “He’s Christian, but he’s so open-minded.” Someone asks a group of co-workers if they want to grab a beer after work, while ignoring another co-worker nearby. A job application form only has “male” and “female” as gender options.

These are all examples of microaggressions, everyday verbal and nonverbal slights or snubs which aren’t frequently intended to cause harm or hurt feelings, but often their impact does just that. They communicate negative or hostile messages that are based solely on the person’s perceived marginalized group membership. Even though the recipient is the one who may feel that the message is hostile, it’s all our obligations to make sure we avoid using language that could be seen as a microaggression.

Some of the examples above may seem obvious, but microaggressions can happen unintentionally. It’s important to recognize and acknowledge them if someone says they were offended by something you said. People from underrepresented and marginalized groups experience microaggressions on a daily basis and after a while, it understandably will wear on a person—it’s like “death by a thousand papercuts.”

How to Respond to Feedback About a Microaggression You Said or Did

If you find yourself in a situation in which someone has approached you with a concern, here are some ways to handle it:

  • Listen to the person’s concerns. Do your best to understand the impact you had on someone else and avoid saying you didn’t mean it or you were making a joke—this can come across as making light of someone else’s pain. By saying you didn’t mean it, you can come across as trying to invalidate the other person’s experience.
  • Verbally acknowledge that their feelings are valid and underscore that it wasn’t your intention, but you understand that it created a negative impact.
  • Apologize, but do your best to not make it about your needing forgiveness. You might not get it and that’s okay.
  • Try to let it go and move on. These things happen and it’s important to remember we’re human and we make mistakes. It’s easy to hyper-focus on it every time you see that person, but that won’t help anyone.

How to Respond to a Microaggression About You

If you find yourself on the receiving end of a microaggression, taking a breath is the first step in figuring out your response. It’s really easy to get angry and lash out, especially if this is your one-thousandth paper cut.

Then, decide if you want to talk with the person about what happened. It may be appropriate to do it in the moment, but it may not be. It’s important to recognize that power dynamics can be at play here, so if you do decide to confront someone, you want to be sure you feel safe enough to do so.

If you decide to talk with the person:

  • Be clear that it isn’t about calling someone a racist or sexist, it’s about the act and/or words. Once you call someone a racist or sexist, the conversation stops. But if you focus on the action, it’s something that can be addressed.
  • Relay that this isn’t about shaming or blaming, but that you’ve come to this person because you wanted to express that you were hurt and perhaps that you value the relationship enough to have the conversation.
  • Ask how the person is feeling after you’ve share the impact of their actions
  • Wait and listen. Understand that you might not get the reaction you want. If the person is defensive, and wants to make it about “having a laugh,” you can try to have a deeper conversation, but again, it’s about your comfort level.
  • Accept the outcome and move on. However it plays out, you’ve done what you can to address the issue.

How to Respond if You’re a Witness to a Microaggression

Much like someone on the receiving end of a microaggression, take a breath and decide if you want to talk with the person about what happened. If you do talk to them, acknowledge that you’re sharing your feelings, as the person who you think was offended may not have been offended at all.

Then, you’ll want to follow the same steps as the above, but again, it’s really important to note that this is your experience, and it isn’t about fixing anyone.

Microaggressions happen all the time, so it’s important to know how to address them. There are ways to mitigate them in positive and productive ways through healthy dialogue, humility, and empathy. We spend a lot of time at work, and how we treat one another in an office environment is important to how we feel both at work and when we’re off the clock.

October 1, 2018

Article of the Week

Don't Wait For New Year's: Why You Should Be Setting Your Goals Now

Unless you avoid social media altogether, you know how the yearly ritual goes: As soon as Labor Day has passed, eager pumpkin spice fans start counting down until fall. And soon after, posting a daily ticker toward the holiday season. Even if you’re more Team Summer, setting benchmarks for the last three months of the year is a powerful way to achieve goals. And if you ask some experts, it is arguably a better season than the usual January 1, when the vast majority of professionals set personal and career-centric resolutions for the 12 months ahead.

Those who reap success don’t merely set guiding principles after the New Year’s Eve ball drops, but rather, they create short-term standards in order to practice frequent critical self-review. As Wendy Osefo, professor at John Hopkins University, explains, setting goals generally keeps you on track and motivated through every journey. If you aren’t working toward improvement, you might reach a professional standstill, no matter the month. “You want to keep pushing yourself to reach your full potential. [Setting goals keeps you] motivated to achieve more, depending on what is important to you. You don’t want to get stuck on a hamster wheel at work,” she explains.

Here is a discussion of the effectiveness of October goals and why you should start jotting them down ASAP.


Most people find themselves eying a mountain of leftover work at the end of summer. This makes fall the time when most companies buckle down to finish the year strong. To accomplish this, however, Osefo suggests making tangible goals to recalibrate from the more relaxed days of summer. Because everyone in your office will be refocusing too, you may feel inspired by their energy. When January comes along, not everyone will be on the same wave length—or quite as detailed as they are now.

To hold yourself accountable, apply the same nitty-gritty approach to your professional performance as you do to your vacation planning. As Dara Kaplan, the cofounder and cohost of the Pretty Electric career podcast explains, mapping out every daily step to meet a goal is often overlooked. “People can get overwhelmed with lofty goals, and it doesn’t have to be that way. It is imperative that you break those goals down to digestible steps that you can take every day in order to achieve those larger goals,” she explains.


Osefo says there’s a reason so many people scratch their heads in July, wondering how six months passed without taking a single step toward losing weight, being awarded a raise, or saving for that European escape. Often, instead of setting immediate feats, we set our sights on long-term ideas, providing the illusion that we have plenty of time to complete our aspiration. But since most humans are procrastinators, this method isn’t efficient.

October provides the same “new you” opportunity as the sand gives way to the leaves, but it also piles on the pressure. Since you only have three months to complete your checklist, you’ll feel more inclined to work. To improve your odds, Osefo breaks them down even more:

For the goals you have set in October, break them down for the last three months of the year. Then do a monthly check-in in at the beginning of November, followed by another in the beginning of December. This should be your guide to see how the goals are progressing and what is needed to meet your goals by the New Year. If you fall behind in October or November, remember you still have more time to push. Keep reassessing and figuring out what you need to do to make it to that finish line.


Blame it on the champagne or the promise of a new number to write on paperwork, but most are notorious for setting dreamy objectives in January without reflecting too diligently on the past. Though rose-colored glasses can help you remain positive, career and branding expert Wendi Weiner notes the value of self-reflection. Critically examining where you fell short and, more importantly, understanding why it’s October and you’re off track, will guide the remainder of the year. In other words: You turn those lemons of the past into lemonade for your future endeavors. “Make a list of goals that you did not achieve, but that you can retarget. Perhaps it was getting that raise you had hoped for and expected,” she suggests. “The last three months of the year can be instrumental to you gaining more momentum or perhaps regaining your focus. This might mean updating your resume and LinkedIn profile to prepare for an end-of-the-year job search. Let any rejection be your best motivation.”


Moguls, billionaires, and executives all have one thing that connects them: They never stop. Whether it’s a new pivot in a current business model or a completely new company, their ability to continuously evolve sets their value higher. So while you may pinpoint your targets annually, remember it’s not always about reaching a preferred destination, but rather, giving yourself the stamina to push past it and keep going. Amping up in the fall provides a three-month-long runway for the year ahead. “If you start planning in October for these goals, you will have been already taking the steps to achieve these goals by January. You will have already been on the road to progress, and less likely to give up when you do not get immediate gratification the week after New Year’s,” Kaplan says. Once you reach January, you’re not thinking about the year, but rather, about the second quarter. And by April, your eyes should be on the fall.


You might not need an excuse or permission to dream, but CEO and founder of reacHIRE Addie Swartz says October goal setting allows you to break up everything you hope to accomplish, from the smallest task to the seemingly impossible pursuit. Say by the end of the year that you want to exceed your sales target, but within three years, you want your manager’s title. When you’re able to look at how each stride brings you closer to where you visualize yourself, the more likely you are to move toward what you thought was impossible a few Octobers ago, and is now your reality.

September 24, 2018

Article of the Week

Five Clear Signs You’ve Improved More Than You Think

When you’ve had the same title for what feels like years and it doesn’t look like you’re getting a new one anytime soon, it’s easy to feel stuck in a rut. You might start to worry that your skills are stagnating and you’re going to fall behind., but just because your title hasn’t changed doesn’t mean you’re not improving. Yes, your boss should be acknowledging when you’ve grown (and if you haven’t gotten a raise or promotion in a while it’s worth evaluating why), but it may not always come in the form of a promotion or raise.

Here are five signs you’ve definitely increased your skill set—without even realizing it:

1. You’re Getting More Positive Feedback (and Less Constructive Criticism) on Hard Assignments

Probably an obvious statement, but it’s also something you tend to overlook in the hustle and bustle of your day-to-day.

Notice how your feedback has changed over time. Maybe when you first started, you were constantly critiqued on your work and used to go through several revisions before getting it right.

Now you’re making your way through these same kinds of assignments with ease—and while your work isn’t always perfect, your manager’s clearly giving you more praise than they did when you started.

2. You’re Working Faster (and Smarter)

Not only are you receiving less constructive criticism, but you’ve also found that you can complete projects in half the time. You’re no longer flipping between your company handbook and that spreadsheet, or asking your colleague tons of questions before sending that email, or losing all your afternoon to writing one report (in fact, you can now crank out multiple in that time!).

Sure, speed isn’t everything (and sometimes it can work against you). But the sheer fact that you can work fast if you need to says wonders.

3. You’re More Confident Overall

A while ago you couldn’t bring yourself to raise your hand in meetings, carry out a task without asking your boss if it looked OK, or do anything that wasn’t specifically asked of you. Today, you’re a self-assured, outspoken, and involved member of your team. You feel confident of your value and in the work you accomplish, and aren’t afraid to push yourself and try new things.

4. You’re Receiving New Assignments With Less Oversight

Not only are you confident in yourself, your boss is, too. You’re not just asking for your boss’ approval or weigh-in less—they’re letting you move forward without it. This means your manager trusts you. This is big.

5. You’re Completing Projects You Never Thought You’d Be Capable of Even Starting

Think back to six months ago, a year ago, when you first landed this role. Did you imagine you’d be doing the kinds of work you’re doing now? If so, did you feel ready?

Chances are the thought of tackling your current to-do list would’ve terrified past you. If you’d had to or attempted to do them, you certainly wouldn’t have felt confident in the outcome. And yet now here you are, getting it done and done well.

What does this all mean? Well, it’s probably time to ask your boss for more challenging work and to take on more responsibility. Use your next one-on-one (or, sit them down) to talk about what you’re currently doing and other projects you could take on.

Or, use that time to actually advocate for that promotion you’ve been eyeing. See, it’s possible while you see these improvements, your boss doesn’t. So, prove to them you’ve made serious strives and deserve some recognition—this worksheet can help you organize all your accomplishments so you go to your manager with concrete evidence.

Finally, relish in this moment! You’ve come a long way, and that’s something to be proud of.

September 17, 2018

Article of the Week

Can’t Fill A Job Vacancy? Here Are Tips To Make It Easier.

As an employer or recruiter, you certainly want to fill positions with the best talent you can find. But this process can be challenging. Recruiting for new or highly technical positions can require a fresh approach and an updated strategy.

Keep in mind that many of these hard-to-fill positions didn’t exist 10 years ago. Others require such technical skills or specialized experience that finding appropriate candidates can seem utterly impossible. Some locations can be harder to find certain types of talent, too. So what’s the answer?

By combining traditional recruiting techniques, such as job boards advertising, with more modern approaches, such as tapping into employee networks and building online strategies, you can succeed in filling hard-to-fill roles.


Create social media accounts for your company on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Develop YouTube videos and blog post series to recruit and network with candidates. Through these social media accounts, you can show prospective candidates what it’s like to work at your company and highlight why your employees love coming to work every day. Showing prospects why your company is so great is an amazing recruiting strategy for hard-to-fill positions.

Encourage all your employees, especially recruiters and hiring managers, to use social media to find candidates. Offer trainings for employees to teach them how to build their online networks, and how they can help you recruit candidates. Meanwhile, monitor which networks give you the most traction and results so that you can optimize your efforts.


According to ERE, employee referrals are the most powerful source of finding candidates. Employee referrals are typically higher quality, close quicker (they’re No. 1 in time-to-fill, coming in at 29 days on average), and tend to stick around at your organization longer. Who wouldn’t want all of that?

To implement an employee referral program at your organization and start hiring those hard-to-fill candidates, check out these four steps to building your employee referral program.


By creating and publishing unique and interesting recruiting content that matters to your prospective candidates, you can build your reputation as an employer of choice, generate and capture interest in your organization, and help applicants find your company easily when they search online.

For example, try using email, social media, and online content to invite and drive job seekers to a recruiting happy hour or company meetup, great ways to not only build interest in your company but also to get to know potential candidates face to face.


Use attractive language that highlights the benefits and rewards of working at your organization. Instead of listing off 15 things that candidates must have in order to apply, take this opportunity to hook candidates and convince them they have to work for you.

Obviously, job particulars need to be included. But remember to include company perks, benefits (e.g., free lunches, health care, paid vacation), career advancement opportunities, and interesting projects candidates can expect to work on.

Here, identify what sets your company apart from other companies, particularly your competition. Without naming names, what makes you the best? Include links to your company’s social media accounts and Glassdoor profile so candidates can see what it’s really like to work at your organization.

Lastly, make sure you’re not setting the bar too high. Read the job description once more and ask yourself:

  • Is this job realistic? Do I know people like this who really exist?
  • Is this job description inviting to my target candidate? Did I mention all the benefits and perks that this type of hire will care about?
  • Why work for us as opposed to someone else?


Want to win big? Target young adults early in their careers. The more you can do with interns and recent grads, the better. Implement job shadowing programs for high school students, create internship programs for high school and college students, participate in college recruiting, and hire entry-level grads for as many positions as possible. To focus these individuals, know where to look. Seventy percent of millennials say they hear about companies through friends and job boards. Additionally, it’s important to know what they care about–be sure to include growth opportunities, career growth, and company culture highlights in your job descriptions. Eighty percent of millennials look for people and culture fit with employers, followed closely by career potential–60% of millennials consider the most attractive perk to be growth opportunities.

While finding qualified job candidates for hard-to-fill positions is no easy task, these methods are effective ways to arrive at the finish line with the talented hires you are pursuing.

September 10, 2018

Article of the Week

How Employers Can Help Working Parents During Back-to-School Season

There's the morning parent orientation at a child's school, which overlaps with the weekly meeting at work. There are the half days that are designed to ease students back into the academic year but that leave parents either scrambling for child care or asking to work from home.

And this may just describe the first week of school for working parents, who must juggle job duties with family responsibilities most of the year—all while wrestling with the worry that colleagues and managers will view them as less than dedicated to their jobs.

"Back-to-school season brings an array of challenges," said Alyssa Johnson, vice president of account management for Waltham, Mass.-based [email protected], which provides employers with benefit programs to help workers care for children, seniors, pets and their homes. "New caregivers, new schedules and new after-school programs all require a period of adjustment that working parents are balancing with their responsibilities in the office." 

A 2015 survey by her organization found that 51 percent of working parents said that back-to-school interferes with work. During this time of the year, they were more frequently absent from work, less productive on the job and concerned that they would be perceived poorly because they were distracted by caregiving demands. 

In addition to the demands that accompany the start of a new school year come the pressures of the entire year's school schedule, said Ellen Galinsky, a senior research advisor at the Society for Human Resource Management who specializes in work/family issues. Many schools end classes between 3 and 4 p.m., which means working parents might need child care for several hours or must head home themselves. School holidays and spring breaks don't always coincide with an employee's vacation allotment. Inclement weather and teacher development days can mean that kids don't go to school at all.      

"Work has changed in this country," Galinsky said. "People work longer hours, they are called on sometimes 24/7, 51 percent do work e-mail during nonwork hours because of technology, and jobs have become more demanding. Yet school schedules have stayed the same. This is a real mismatch that is very stressful for families.

"In addition, kids get sick. Then the house of cards that parents construct to take care of their children begins to collapse. These gaps have been filled with after-school care and drop-in care, but they cost money."

How Employers Can Help

Employers can help by offering year-round benefits such as employer-provided backup child care for emergency situations, Johnson said. Such programs, she said, are proven to decrease absenteeism and to boost productivity among working parents.

[email protected] reports that employees who have access to backup child care work six additional days per year than those who don't have it. Services can help working parents find the child care best suited to their needs or navigate the complexity and confusion of finding the right care for an aging relative, Johnson said.

"More and more companies are realizing that maintaining an engaged, productive workforce means appreciating that breadwinning and caregiving are inextricably connected," she said. "Providing care support for their teams results in greater overall performance and bottom-line results."

Be Even-Handed About Flexibility

Managers may want to afford working parents flexibility during the school year. But how does a manager handle nonparents who may complain about doing more work because of these accommodations or who feel slighted that they're not afforded similar breaks just because they don't have children? 

"Benefits equality is critical to building a culture supportive of work/life balance, and it's essential to remember that 'family' does not simply mean children," Johnson said.  "If you're granting flexibility to parents dealing with a back-to-school schedule, do the same for employees who need to take a parent, spouse or themselves to the doctor. Additionally, with flexibility should come accountability. Encourage employees to be as proactive as possible in creating plans to meet deadlines and commitments as they adjust to back-to-school season, so that the work doesn't fall to someone else. If benefits are extended equally among your employees, nonparents are less likely to feel burdened on those occasions when they have to pick up the slack, because they know the parents on their team will do the same for them when they need it."

Galinsky, however, said that her institute's research indicates that complaints against "parent privilege" are rare. 

"On average, this is more of a perceived problem than a real problem," she said. "If workplaces are designed with the notion that everyone at one time or another needs flexibility—it may be for an elderly parent or car or house that needs immediate repair—then people are very accepting of flexibility because all can have access to it." 

Working Parent Worry and Guilt

A working parent's productivity may be stifled by more than just the scheduling challenges that come with back-to-school season. Parents can also be plagued by worries about how their children will do in school, Galinsky said, and that can distract them from job duties.

"Schools are so judgment-laden," she said. "There is continuous assessment [and parents may ask] 'How will my child fare against the norm? Will I like the teacher? Will the teacher like me and my family? What if my child needs extra support going back to school? Will I be available and able to manage it?' "

In addition, "it's not unusual for working parents to be concerned with how their co-workers and managers perceive them during back-to-school season," Johnson said.  "Common refrains are concerns that they will be viewed as less committed to their jobs, or that they will miss out on increased responsibilities within the company."

Employers can help by simply showing interest in the school year and how a worker's child is doing.

"The simple act of the manager asking about how the employees' children are doing in the transition back to school can mean a lot," Galinsky said. "It can mean that the wall between work and family is more porous than is traditional. It can mean that the manager cares about me and my family. It can mean that I don't have to sacrifice my kids for work. Small things like this—or even workshops to talk about this transition—can make a big difference." 

Andee Harris is chief engagement officer at HighGround, a Chicago-based employee engagement and performance management software provider. She notes that "personalization is especially important for working parents."

"When I'm upfront and tell my employees when I have to leave early to spend time with my kids, I know it helps people on my team feel more comfortable doing the same," Harris said. "For working parents that do work from home part time or full time, make sure to include them in video calls so they feel connected to team members, even when they're not in the office daily."

September 4, 2018

Article of the Week

6 Ways To Get Better At Saying No

Saying no is powerful. My toddler wields the word on a daily basis, and in many ways, I’m in awe of his unabashed claim of the word.

Despite being an empowering, commanding and beautiful word to utilize, many people struggle to say no. Bad habits, social conditioning, peer pressure, or power dynamics can make it difficult to refuse a request. The best leaders and CEOs strengthen their ability to say no, and do so thoughtfully and decisively. They know what they want, and insist on it.

It can take practice to harness the super power of saying no. The first time you consciously assert yourself in this way, especially at work, it may feel awkward, like you’re doing something wrong. If you’re trapped at work, or stuck with too many projects on your plate, and feel overwhelmed, here are six ways to say no, with word-for-word scripts you can use.

Get very clear on what you want

People often say yes to everything when they aren’t clear what their one priority or goal is. What’s your biggest priority right now? What do you want most?

If your goal is to do a great job at work and please your boss, then it may seem like you need to do everything they ask of you. This is a poor strategy, however, because if you over-commit, burnout, or do lackluster work because you’re spread too thin, that doesn’t help your case.

Instead, ask your boss: “I want to do a great job here and support you and the mission of the company. What’s the most important thing I could accomplish in my first year here?” Align with them on the main goal, and your ability to focus will become far easier down the line. When your boss comes back and asks you to finish a project that seems unrelated, you can say:

“I’ve got three projects on my plate, and we’re focused on achieving {our main priority}. It seems like Project D is a distraction from this goal, unless I’m missing something.”

Without boundaries, you can end up saying yes to the wrong things.

Try using "no" as your default answer

Many people, especially women, have been trained to say “yes” as their default behavior. Without consciously thinking about it, you say yes to every request that comes across your desk and floats through your inbox. No wonder you are exhausted! Try this for a week or two, as an experiment: tell yourself you’re going to say no to absolutely anything and everything that comes across your desk.

Sound scary? This is a great way to rethink what your default patterns are, and disrupt your normal behavior. Here’s a script you can use:

“I’m booked with commitments these next two weeks, so I’m sorry, I can’t make it.”

The key here is not to make excuses, but to just say no. Pay attention to what makes you squirm the most, or which invitations feel the hardest to say no to.

Say no by creating tension for the asker

Often you’ll get requests from people who aren’t aware of your entire workload. Especially on dynamic teams, you can get flooded with requests and quickly have a backlog of work pile up. How to deal with a colleague that keeps throwing stuff on your plate?

Say no by creating tension. Give the parameters back to the person making the request, forcing them to make the decision. “This sounds like an amazing project,” you say, in agreement with the asker. “Yet we’ve already committed to Project A and Project B.” This adds clarity. Now, put the tension back into the mix:

“Which project should we put on hold so we can add this to our plates?”

This works for partners, too. When I pile too many things on the calendar, my partner pushes back and uses this on me: “We’ve already said yes to two dinner invitations this week. Which one can we switch or push back if we want to add this event to our week?”

Rewrite your understanding of the scope of what you're really saying no to 

The insidious part of being a “yes” person is that you are also saying no, but to other things you might not be aware of. When you fill your plate full of deadlines and tasks, you don’t have the bandwidth for a larger, more meaningful project when it comes along. You also are saying no to all the other things you might want in your life, whether that’s personal relationships, exercise or health, or a dream you have.

Ask yourself: what are all the things you’re saying no to or putting on hold by saying yes to everything else?

For me, one of the hardest things to remember to say “yes” to is time writing and exploring my book project. I finally fessed up to this in my replies to people, and eventually learned how to use it as a way to say no. Steal this script (and insert your own dream project).

“I would love to be a part of this event, but every event I say yes to means I’m saying no to the book I want to be writing. So, I have to sadly decline, knowing that you’ll all have a wonderful time, and that I’ll be pursuing my life dream of writing a book.”

Suggest someone else

Sometimes I get requests that I just cannot do. I was asked to travel halfway around the world for a conference the same weekend as my baby was due to arrive. In this case, I immediately thought of people that would be a great fit, and I realized this was a great strategy for other times in my life when I couldn’t pack more in. When my schedule is already full, I like to match great opportunities with people that could be an even better fit. It’s important, however, to check with the person you’re suggesting first and see if they are interested. It might not be the right time for them, either.

Steal this script:

“I’m already committed that weekend. Have you considered these other speakers as possibilities? They’d both be great and I’m happy to connect you, if you’d like.”

Don't be afraid to be firm

Practice speaking up. Draw finite lines. Your goal is not to be well-liked, but well respected. Saying no commands respect and attention. People may balk at your first use of the word no, but will grow to respect it overtime. When we defend our own time, we remind others of our boundaries and we are remind ourselves that we are worthy of it.

When all else fails, keep it simple. Thank the requester for their time, and simply decline. Here's one final script:

I appreciate you reaching out. I will have to decline this time. Thank you!

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