As business owners, we are frequently offered “opportunities” that may deliver a significant return, but also have the potential to take up a great deal of time. You may be asked to provide your expertise, collaborate on a project, help organize an event, or partner on a new venture. How do you decide which of these offers to accept, and which to decline?

Take the chance?

The first thing to do is determine exactly what kind of opportunity you are being offered. Here are the five types of opportunities that business owners typically encounter, and some suggested questions to ask yourself about each.

1. Paying business with an immediate return. The project you are being asked to work on has already been funded and you will be paid for your contribution. If you are being offered your standard rate, and you have the time available, you will almost always say yes to these opportunities.

But, if the price offered is less than you could get elsewhere, ask yourself what would make accepting a lower price worthwhile. How likely is it that you will get that something else from this project?

2. Business with a possible future return. The project or venture does not yet have the funding to pay you. You are being asked to make your contribution in return for compensation at some future date. On a project like this, there is no guarantee you will ever be paid, no matter how good the promises sound. How much is at stake? Can you afford that much risk?

3. Unpaid work that may lead to paying work. You are being asked to contribute in return for market visibility, professional credibility, or community goodwill. How much of those benefits would make your contribution worthwhile? Are you likely to get that much? Would you be more likely to get what you need by contributing elsewhere?

4. Contributing to a good cause. You are being asked to donate your time, goods, or resources to support an organization, person, or cause. There may be no tangible return of any kind, or you may receive some public recognition. Is this an entity you enthusiastically support? Are you eager to help this entity regardless of whether you get anything back? Will knowing that you’ve done something to help be enough to make it worthwhile?

5. Having fun. Compensation or reward isn’t an issue here, but your personal fulfillment is. Is this an activity you truly enjoy? Are those who will accompany you people who you like to spend time with? Would you have chosen to do it if you hadn’t been asked? With the limited time you may have available for fun, is this the way you would most like to use it?

It’s difficult for many people to say no to new opportunities, particularly when a friend is asking. Years ago, professional organizers Pam Austin and Celeste Lane shared with me some of the tools they use to help clients manage their time and priorities as well as filing systems and paper flow. One of these was a checklist titled “Before You Say Yes,” which appears in a modified form below:

  • Are all your existing obligations adequately handled? If you are already struggling to meet deadlines, it’s probably not the time to take on something new.
  • What will this new opportunity cost you in time, money, energy, emotion, or stress? Do you have all that available to expend?
  • Do you want to do this 100%? It’s normal to feel some fear or nervousness about doing something new, but put any fear aside for the moment and check in with your desire level.
  • Is the person asking you a stranger? If so, have you checked him or her out? Celeste suggests you meet with someone new at least three times, and check some references, before you make a commitment.
  • Is there another way? Would there be an easier or cheaper path that would bring you the same result?

Whenever someone asks you to be part of something other than paying business at your usual rate, take the time to go through the above checklist. And memorize this phrase to use: “I’ll think about it and get back to you.”

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