How to Say No, With Grace, Kindness and Zero Guilt

how to say no with grace kindness and zero guilt




Such a tiny word, such a problematic one for so many of us to say.

How many times have you found yourself on the receiving end of a request that you badly want to say no too but somehow the words that came out of your mouth were not “no”? Quite the opposite in fact, before you knew what was happening you seemed to be agreeing to something you never wanted to do in the first place all because you can’t say no?

Why we don’t just say “NO!”

That would be easiest, surely? No room for misinterpretation. We all know that no means no.

Here’s the problem though "no" is a loaded word, it provokes a reaction in us and in others, not always a good one. We don’t like to say no and we don’t like to hear it. Why is that?

Do you remember school discos and dances? Do you remember wanting to dance with someone but being afraid to ask in case they said “no”? Do you remember ever wanting something so much, screwing up your courage to ask for it and being told “no”? How did you feel? Crushed, frustrated, angry? Almost certainly it didn’t feel good.

The more a person hears “no”, the harder it is to keep asking other people for things in the future. That’s how we wind up “doing it all”, never asking for help, pretending that we don’t need anyone else and making ourselves utterly miserable in the process.

Even if you are someone who finds it easy to say “no” to the things you don’t want to do, consider what it may have taken for someone to ask you for something. The person asking may have used up all their courage to approach you for help - not always, but sometimes. Have a little grace, respect the vulnerability that comes with asking others for help and when you have to, say no with kindness.

Why kindness and grace are the keys to saying no

Because kindness and grace cost nothing. Zero, zip, nada. The vast majority of people haven’t asked you for something because they want to take advantage of your inability to say no. They’ve asked you because they respect you and because they value what you would bring as a solution to their problem. They don’t know that you are operating at your maximum capacity, they don’t know that three other people have already asked you for something today. Don’t make your problems their problems. Someday you will have to ask somebody for something. Consider how you would like them to respond to you if they are unable to say yes to your request.

What you can say instead of no

Ok, I’m going to spill my secrets now, because as a recovering people pleaser I say no a lot more now than I ever did before in my entire life (and according to my mother I was a strong willed child who had zero issues with saying the word no).

No, I can’t do this.

No, I won’t do that.

Just, no.

Post-burnout, I know my own boundaries and boy oh boy, do I know how to respect them.

I have become a master of the graceful “no”. So much so, that other people often ask me to decline things on their behalf “because you make it sound so much better!”

But that means that if you receive (or have received) one of the following emails from me then you will now know that I was formulaically declining you, hopefully gracefully.

Putting the Graceful No into practice

Saying no to a request to “pick your brains”


Thank you so much for thinking of me. I am so flattered that you would like my input on your project/business/problem.

Right now, my workload doesn’t allow for many coffee dates and those I do have are currently dedicated to friends and family who I just don’t see enough of due to work OR I am prioritising my non-work time just for me so a coffee date won’t be possible.

If you would like my professional input on your project/business/problem then I am happy to schedule some time for you during my working hours. My current consulting fees are on my website [insert link] and you can book a slot here [insert link to your calendar booking system]. 

Alternatively, you may find these resources useful [insert links to relevant blog posts you have written or articles you would recommend which you think could help].


I would love to refer you to [insert name of trusted person] who may be able to help you further.

I look forward to seeing how your project/business/problem evolves into the next phase.

Saying no to a request that makes you feel uncomfortable

Thank you so much for contacting me for this. I don’t believe that I am the right person to provide [insert topic of request here], which means that I am going to say no. But I am so flattered you thought of me.

I recommend contacting/reading/purchasing [insert subject here] to help you move forward with this.

Thank you again for thinking of me and I wish you all the luck in the world with [insert topic of request here].

Saying no to a friend asking you for business help, without feeling any guilt

I love hearing how you are getting on with [insert topic of request here], thank you so much for taking the time to update me, especially as I know how busy you are right now. I am going to have to say no to [insert topic of request here] on this occasion because I don’t have any capacity for free work at the moment / I’m not the right person to help you with this / I love our friendship too much to mix it up with business.

I am so proud to see you pushing the limits of [insert topic of request here] and striving even harder to do something that means so much to you. I feel like we haven’t seen each other properly for ages. Let’s get together soon so that we can not talk about work together.

Saying no to requests for you to work for free

NOTE: First, decide whether you should work for free using this flowchart. Then...

Thank you so much for getting in touch. It is so flattering that you would want me to be part of your business/plan/project/team. Unfortunately, I need to say no to your request.

At the beginning of each year, I calculate / I have to be careful how many hours I can dedicate to free and voluntary work requests. I have already filled the slots I have available for this year / I don’t have any time available at this point. I would be happy to discuss taking this on as a paid project for you but I can’t offer the work for free.

If budget is the issue, could I suggest maybe [posting your request in this Facebook group / reading this article / diy-ing it with this free online tool]?

Let me know if there is another way I can support what you are doing.

Again, I am so grateful that you considered me for this and I hope there is a way we can work together in the future.

Saying no to someone who won’t take no for an answer.

Hey [NAME]

I love your persistence! The answer is still no. I’m simply not able to fit your request into my schedule right now. Believe me, I am not the only way that you will make this project work / achieve your goal but my role is going to be the one who is cheering you on from the sidelines.

I hope the resources/references in our previous email exchange were helpful.

Now go smash those goals, you’ve got this!

Over to you

How do you say no? Is it easy or something you find hard to do? And if you're struggling with how to say no to something I haven't covered, let me know and if I can, I'll resolve it for you with a template response.

The Best Books About Finance for Your Small Business

Given no restraints, I would read. All. The. Time. Just read. I love books, I love learning. But with only so many hours in the day, if I am reading for business, I need to focus that time. Each quarter, as part of my personal #learningproject, I choose a subject to centre my reading around. This quarter I chose "business finances". These are the best five books I (re) read and why you might want to read them too.

Profit First

by Mike Michalowicz

Hands down, this is the book that changed my business finances and took me from fearful to in control. It's the first book I recommend to clients who are also struggling to get a grip on their accounting and the one that has made the most profound shifts for me, and for them. I use the Profit First system every month to control my current and future spending. It has allowed me to pay myself a salary since the first month I started using it and make confident decisions about what my business can afford to spend. 

Worth Every Penny

by Sarah Petty

This was the first book I read which started to shift how I viewed pricing in my business. It's not strictly a book about finances, it is more focused on marketing but its sections on money were the beginning of a mindset shift about how to charge what my skills are worth to others. 

Money - A Love Story

by Kate Northrup

My clients know, I am not very "woo woo". I am more about the practical advice and action taking than waiting for the universe to provide for me. This book has moments where it veers slightly further into manifesting money than I usually would. That doesn't mean that it isn't worth reading. It absolutely is. The advice is solid, practical and actionable and if you are just at the beginning of getting your finances under control, this may be the gentle entry that you need. 

PACE - A Small Business Owner’s Guide to Cashflow Clarity

by Jesse Mecham

I'm a big fan of the You Need a Budget system so it wasn't a surprise that I enjoyed the book by its owner which is specifically focused on Small Business owners. In my opinion, this is the book you should read and implement after Profit First. Use the Profit First system to get things under control and then use PACE to level up and keep yourself ahead of the profitability curve in your business. 

Worth It!

by Amanda Steinberg

The newest book on my list and one I am still digesting the lessons from. There is a US focus to it, as the author runs Daily Worth, one of the largest finance websites for women in America. When I started reading this book and absorbing the research on how and why women struggle with financial planning I honestly wanted to chuck my kindle at the wall in frustration. Ladies, we have to get better at the money stuff. And if you are one of the lucky few for whom finances are easy-breezy, please, reach a hand back and help out those of us who struggle. This is going to be a team effort.

BONUS: The Ultimate Guide to Personal Finance

by Ramit Sethi

Not a book, a website (and, if you want to give them your email address, a pdf download) but it's free and the content is excellent. Some parts are only relevant to a US based audience - everyone outside the US can skip past those bits. This ultimate guide from the creator of the I Will Teach You to be Rich website is definitely worth skimming through when you have half an hour to spare. If you are right at the beginning of getting your personal and business finances under control, this is a good place to start.

Now, it's over to you. What are the best books about finance that you have read for your small business? Are there any others that I should have on my to-read list? If there are, let's talk.

One Year of Notes for the Curious

Notes for the Curious a year in review

One year ago this week, I decided to launch Notes for the Curious, my fortnightly communication with the people who chose to sign up for my mailing list and have me appear in their inboxes on a regular basis.

I've learned a lot in the past year, and it feels like a good time to share those learnings with other business owners who may be considering a similar route to build a relationship with their audience via email. 

If you already receive the Notes then you will know that my mail provider of choice is ConvertKit. I am an all singing and dancing fan of Convertkit for my business. I am also an affiliate for them and I offer set-up guidance to help new users get the most out of it for their business. This is not an advertorial for Convertkit, that said, the Convertkit links are affiliate links and I want to disclose that up front. I only ever recommend what I use and love, and believe me, I love Convertkit.

What are the Notes for the Curious?

Notes for the Curious began as an experiment, to see if I could build and maintain genuine relationships with people through regular e-mails. I saw a lot of chatter on the internet about how you needed a mailing list if you wanted to get clients, and how you must have a mailing list in the thousands for it to be worthwhile and I thought, “Really? I don’t think that you do. Let’s test this theory.”

I don’t believe that vanity metrics are the metrics that you should be chasing. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter if you have ten thousand people on your mailing list or one hundred people on your mailing list, the only thing that matters is if they are reading what you are writing and actually engaging with it, otherwise, why would you bother putting time into creating it or asking them to give up their time to read it?

I truly believe that if I am going to take up space in someone’s inbox, knowing how hard it is to keep my own inbox under control and how many emails I am receiving on a daily basis then I have to show up with something that is more beneficial to my reader than it is to me as the creator. It’s the right thing to do.  

Which is how Notes for the Curious was born.

Why Notes for the Curious?

Quite simply because I am eternally curious and believe in staying eternally curious. I didn’t know how Notes for the Curious was going to take shape and it made sense to me at the time to invite other curiosity seekers to join me so we could see how things evolved together. That way I would know who I was writing to, and who I was writing for.

Fun Facts

I’m a bit of a patterns geek, I like to look for patterns in things and work out what they mean. From the very beginning I tracked various metrics for Notes for the Curious so that I could review how it was performing, I wanted to make sure that people were still enjoying it and also find out if it was still a worthwhile investment of my time for my business.

Over the last year, these are just a few of the fun facts that the data patterns have provided for me.

  • There have been 28 editions of the Notes in the last year, 27 regular editions, and a bonus New Year edition on goal setting.
  • My highest open rate was 73% in January 2017. My lowest open rate was 59% in October 2016. I have a semi-arbitrary guideline in my head that if open rates dip below 50% then I need to clean my list and if they continue to dip for more than three consecutive editions I then I need to review what I am sharing.  It hasn’t happened yet, but by tracking the data I can catch problems sooner rather than later.
  • Every edition of the Notes takes around an hour to compile (it used to take twice that time). The articles are selected as I come across them and plugged into the next available space within the relevant category. I will sometimes shuffle for better readability or to avoid more than one video or podcast per edition, but mostly they are written in exactly the format of the calendar. Which means that when I sit down to write each edition all I need to do is follow the pattern of the content calendar to stay on track.
  • There’s not really one category that is more popular than the others, productivity always does well, as does social media and articles which help people with tricky business situations like cash flow or client negotiations. Just about every category has had a “most popular” article in it. 

How I put Notes for the Curious together

Promising to show up with good, valuable content every two weeks in people’s inboxes is no small challenge. This is not something that you can just throw together at the last moment. Before I launched the Notes, I took the time to work out a framework which would make it as easy as possible for me to continue producing them week in and week out. Something that could become a system which I just needed to plug and play with.

I designed a Google Sheet as my Editorial Calendar. The first columns have the months and dates of the editions, then the edition number (in case I forget and use the same edition number again! It could happen...)

From the basic framework, I decided that I wanted to cover five topics in each issue. There’s no science behind that decision, five just felt like an achievable target number at the time. I wanted to give myself some flexibility when choosing articles to use, and a good amount of variety for my readers. Since the beginning I have used 10 content categories which repeat every two weeks.

The calendar looks like this:

Notes for the Curious

Over the course of a normal month, this format means that readers will receive a minimum of 10 articles on 10 topics. Enough variety that they don’t get bored but not so much variety that it seems random and as if I’ve just thrown together the first things I’ve found from a Google search.

In the editorial calendar sheet, I have the title of each article hyperlinked so that I can quickly add them into the Notes when I sit down to write them. I don’t have to go hunting around for the link in my files.

Side note: Could we just take a moment to reflect on the brilliance that is Google Sheets? All I have to do is type in the title of the article click to add a hyperlink and Google Sheets finds the article for me. Just like that, all by itself. No need for me to go searching my files for it, Google Sheets finds it for me.

When I transfer the links to my mailing provider, Convertkit, I write “snippets” to go with them. I try to keep snippets to 1-3 sentences in length - I don't always succeed. I want the focus to be on the articles not on what I have to say about them, but I do want people to know why I found them important or interesting enough to share.

On the calendar, I will have also planned out if there is anything in particular that I want to say. For example, if I’ve published an article then that will get a mention or if there is an event coming up I'll link to it. I always let my readers know if I have a programme launching or 1:1 spaces available, but these things are never the focus of the Notes, in fact usually, I put them in as a p.s., and trust that my readers will keep reading until the end.

After I've sent the Notes and before sending the next one, I fill in the stats information cells in the calendar with the number of people I sent the Notes to, the percentage open rate and I highlight the most popular article in green which helps me see at a glance what the reader trends are.

And what do my readers say?

One of the nicest and most unexpected bonuses of Notes for the Curious has been the genuine conversations it has started with my readers. I frequently receive replies to the Notes from readers telling me what they enjoyed or what inspired them in that edition of the Notes or asking questions about the topics covered. This is something which I wholeheartedly encourage, after all, who wants to be shouting into the void and hoping that someone might hear them?

I have filled most of my Change Maker places based on the readership of the Notes. More importantly, readers who have become clients tell me that they got to know me even better through the Notes and it helped them confirm that I was the right person for them to work with at that point in their business.

What have I learned?

I always said to myself that if the Notes became a chore, I wouldn’t do them anymore. Loss of enthusiasm is definitely a worry with anything that you have to do over and over again. You can all too easily become fed-up of it, and stop putting your heart into it, something your readers will sense immediately. Fortunately, I haven’t felt that loss of motivation yet, I am still as enthusiastic about the Notes today as I was when I wrote edition one.

I’ve also learned how important it is to choose the right mail provider for your business. I love ConvertKit! It has made producing the Notes so easy and so straightforward. It’s not the right choice for every business, but if you just want something that keeps the focus on the content and gives you deep dive information into how people are consuming it so that you can give them more of what they want, then ConvertKit is fabulous. I’m not sure that the Notes would have been as successful in this format with another mail provider.

Most importantly, I’ve learned (and proved) that you can make anything a habit with the right motivation. We tell ourselves that habits are hard to create and hard to maintain but that’s not always the case. If the motivation to continue is greater than the incentive to stop then creating habits under the right circumstances can be almost effortless.

Here’s to the next year of Notes for the Curious. Long may it continue to bring you, and me, the joy that it does now.

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