03.11.20167 min read

The Ultimate Guide to Rejection (and Why It’s a Good Thing)

by Jeff Ficker

We’ll pass.

We’re moving on.

No.

When rejection hits, it can feel personal, particularly for small business owners whose ideas, charisma, and sheer force of will often drive an entire enterprise. Once the sting and disappointment begin to fade, you’re hit with the stress that comes with running a small business. 

Then the indignant questions come: Didn’t your sales prospect read your impressive presentation, which offered a brilliant, spot-on solution for her company’s crippling challenges? Or, how could your client—for whom you’ve sacrificed nights and weekends to deliver exceptional service—fire you for a cheaper, less-experienced firm?

Whether it’s losing out on a big RFP (which has happened to all of us—including me) or failing to raise additional funding, rejection is never easy. But like any proverbial cloud, there is a silver lining. The next time you’re faced with a dismissal or rebuff, follow these simple steps to push through the disappointment, find the opportunity to improve and recognize that it may be for the best.

Step 1: Take five minutes to wallow

Yes, wallowing in self-pity can be indulgent—and even counter productive—but taking a moment to grieve for your loss is a necessary step in moving on. You worked hard, you gave it your best shot, but you came up short. 

It stinks.

So jump into that pool of pity. Flop around. Mope. Moan. Vent to a friend or commiserate with a coworker who will offer a few kind words and an emotional pick-me-up. Take solace that you tried and that you’ve got an ally in your corner. 

Be careful, though. Too much wallowing can send you into a tailspin of bitterness or inaction. You’ve probably wallowed more than enough if your friends look at you and say, “Are you still talking about that?” 

Step 2: Accept it

OK, time to climb out of the pity pool. Dry yourself off and accept that you, or rather your work, has been rejected. 

“To succeed, you must learn how to cope with a little word ‘no.’ Learn how to strip that rejection of all its power,” says life coach and entrepreneur Tony Robbins.  “The best salesmen are those who are rejected most. They are the ones who can take any ‘no’ and use it as a prod to go onto the next ‘yes.’”

And rejection isn’t always a bad thing; rejection can eliminate a difficult path or a potentially bad outcome, freeing you up for the right opportunity.

For instance, a client didn’t like you? Well, those interpersonal situations rarely improve—in fact, they often get worse. You want to work with customers who need and appreciate your product/service.

Did a prospect say you were you too expensive? That’s OK. It’s better to lose an underpriced job than be on the hook for work that doesn’t generate a profit for your company. I know from experience. At a previous job, we took on an underpaid assignment because we really wanted the job. The result? We made no money, and spent a ton of time on it in the process. Passion’s great, but remember that you’re here to grow your business and make a profit—a lesson I apply to all of my work moving forward.

Step 3: Learn from it

Accepting rejection doesn’t mean there aren’t lessons to be learned. In fact, there’s quite a bit you could and should be doing to enhance your business. Ask your prospect/customer what you can do to improve—and listen. 

Is it a common complaint you’ve been hearing or a one-off? If you repeatedly hear you’re too expensive, then you may want to assess your pricing structure or re-evaluate your original business model. 

Oh, and be sure to say thank you. Being the “rejector” isn’t fun, and no one wants to prolong the process by justifying a “no,” especially if comments are met with defensiveness or excuses. Giving honest, constructive feedback is a favor, one that can help you improve and become more successful. Be gracious. Who knows, your professionalism may lead to business down the road.

Step 4: Apply the lessons you learn

There’s truth in the feedback you’re hearing, even if you don’t like hearing it. Too often, as entrepreneurs, we worry that if we pull at the string of our still-developing business, the whole thing will unravel—or, worse yet, that we’ll suddenly realize we’ve invested a lot of time, energy, and money into something that can never succeed. 

Take a breath. 

Think of rejection as an editor. It’s an opportunity to improve a previous draft. If you received a negative online review, analyze it. Are people complaining about bad service? Evaluate the comments and make changes. Are you understaffing to keep overhead low? It may be time to add an employee. Do you have staff member who isn’t doing a good job? Talk to him about ways to improve. You may even need to replace him.

If your sales presentations aren’t connecting with prospects, change them. If your customers are dissatisfied with your product, improve it. Yes, it’s more work, but that’s what being a successful entrepreneur is all about. 

Step 5: Move on 

Above all, don’t let rejection cripple you. Small business owners, by their very nature, are bold risk-takers willing to stick their necks out to try something new. 

“Being an entrepreneur is about finding a problem and developing a solution for it,” says Jia Jiang, who repeatedly heard “no” from investors when he was fundraising for his own startup. His solution: 100 Days of Rejection Therapy, during which Jiang forced himself to make bold requests from complete strangers, ranging from borrowing $100 to making the safety announcement on a Southwest Airlines flight. He recounts the experience in a TEDx talk and credits the experiment for freeing him from the fear of rejection and empowering him to face adversity. 

If there’s one thing any entrepreneur understands, it’s adversity. About half of all new businesses survive five years or more, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. Those entrepreneurs who have the resiliency to deal with rejection and the courage to push ahead are better equipped to succeed. With each rejection, hearing “no” gets easier to take. You become better. And tougher. 

Ultimately, rejection is a test of your moxie. Believe in your business, understand its value and make changes as needed. There’s a “yes” around the corner. 

Jeff Ficker is co-founder and chief creative officer at Casual Astronaut, a boutique content marketing firm that partners with companies to develop brand strategy and content. He has launched and managed integrated marketing programs for small businesses and global brands, including The Ritz-Carlton, CBS Television, UPS, Amtrak, Honda/Acura and Vanderbilt University. 

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