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The Most Essential Lesson of All: A Proven Formula For Saying “No” [Part 3 of 3]

This is the third and final post in this series on “What I’ve Learned In 5 Years of Running DigitalMarketer…”
In the first post, I addressed the “5 Big Lessons I Learned,” and gave you 3 important (but non-essential) things you DON’T need to focus on during your first few years in business.
In the second post, I told you what is ESSENTIAL, and specifically 3 critical questions you must answer if you want to succeed in business.
This post will pick up where the second post left off, and give you the answer to what I believe is the most important question of them all…
“How will you know when it’s ok to say ‘No’ to seemingly good opportunities?”
But first off, I think it’s important that we address why learning to say “No” (and specifically, why having a methodology for when to say “No” and when to say “Yes”) is so critical to your success.

Why “Yes” Kills and “No” Can Make You Rich

“I’ve seen opportunity kill way more companies than bad luck…”
Those words were spoken to me by a prominent (yet private) venture capitalist, and I’m not sure if truer words have ever been spoken.
Yes, my friend, opportunity kills.
Think of opportunity like one of those insanely gigantic cheeseburgers that gets featured on those crazy Food Network shows. You know the kind I’m talking about…
When you picture opportunity, I want you to picture that.
Sure, it looks delicious.
But deep down inside, you know you can’t eat it all. In fact, you know if you tried, you’d get sick. Heck, it might even KILL YOU!
That’s opportunity! Opportunity is a thick, juicy cheeseburger stacked one patty on top of another.
So is opportunity a bad thing?
Of course not. Opportunity is wonderful. But like all things juicy and delicious, opportunity must be enjoyed in moderation, or it can kill you.
And deep down inside, you know this to be true.
Think about it…
Are you starved for ideas, or is your problem that you have too many ideas and not enough time to implement them all?
Or worse, you never even start implementing because you can’t decide where you should begin?
Yes…opportunity kills.

The Secret To Conquering Opportunity-Itis

So how do you do it?
How do you learn to say “No” when the opportunities before you are so amazing?
How do you learn to pass on merely “good” opportunities so you can leave room for truly GREAT opportunities?
The answer is, you need to plant a flag.
In short, your business needs a MISSION…
Now before you think I’ve gone all “namby-pamby” on you, you should know that this whole “mission and vision” concept is a fairly recent discovery for me.
It’s true.
Prior to 2014, DigitalMarketer didn’t have a mission. If someone asked, I usually answered (somewhat snidely), “My mission is to make money, and that’s good enough.”
But it wasn’t enough.
And that become abundantly clear as we headed into our fourth year in business.
As I described back in the first post in this series, it took us a while to lock in our business model, but by 2014 we had it.
Sales were up.
Profits were up.
Life was good.
We were FINALLY experiencing consistent success.
And with this new-found success came (you guessed it) more opportunity!
And so I started saying, “Yes!”
“Yes” was easy…
”Yes” felt good…
“Yes” made me feel like I was a successful and powerful.
And so we tried to do it ALL!
I don’t think I need to tell you how this story ends. In fact, if you’ve been in business for any length of time, you’ve probably experienced this very same phenomena.
Fortunately, I got lucky.
You see, I happen to be surrounded by some of the most amazing people on planet Earth. And that’s not an exaggeration. The DigitalMarketer team is truly astounding. Other teams may have better “resumes” and “pedigree,” but no other team can match our “give-a-damn.” (By the way, I spoke about “settling” for these very types of people back in the first post in this series, so if you missed it, you might want to take a moment to review that part now.)
Well fortunately for me, my team called me on my B.S.
One of my team members in particular, Molly Pittman (our VP of Marketing), was especially direct.

(That’s Molly Pittman on stage at Traffic & Conversion Summit 2015. No doubt I’m laughing at something incredibly smart and witty she just said.)

It was the end of the day, and we had just wrapped up a meeting that ran too long because I was giving some stupid “rah-rah” speech in a pathetic attempt to “motivate the troops.” (SIDE NOTE: Great people aren’t motivated by speeches. They’re motivated by a clear, yet challenging mission and vision.)
So as everyone starts dispersing (undoubtedly saying to one another, “Thank God he finally shut up so we can go home…”) Molly hung back.
I knew she wanted to talk about something, and in the back of my mind I was afraid she was going to quit.
“Morale is low, and I don’t know how to fix it, so who could blame her for quitting?” I thought.
Thankfully, she didn’t quit.
Instead, she asked me a simple question…
“Why Are We Doing This?”
That was all she said…
“Why are we doing this?”
And then she just stared at me. Intuitively I knew that my classic answer, “We’re doing this to make more money, and that’s good enough, DAMMIT!” wasn’t going to cut it.
But I didn’t have a better answer
And I knew that was a problem.
So I gave her the only response I could muster.
“I don’t know, but I promise I’ll figure it out. Just please give me some time.”
(And now you see why I haven’t written a book on leadership.) 🙂
And think on it, I did. (And thankfully, Molly was patient.)
The next day came and went. Nothing.
Then a week. Still nothing.
Then another week. Nope…nothing.
And another…
And another…
I was getting desperate. And I felt like a failure because I didn’t have a good answer to what seemed like such a simple question.
And then I received an email from a friend…

The Email That Changed Everything

The email itself was fairly simple. In fact, it’s the kind of email I’m proud to say we get all the time at DigitalMarketer.
It was from a long-time member, Graham English, and it simply said…
“Thank you. Because of DigitalMarketer, my business doubled not once but TWICE this year. DigitalMarketer has literally changed my life. – Graham”
And that’s when it hit me.
I finally knew why we do what we do.
We don’t just do this stuff to “make money.” Heck, there are lots of ways to make money. We do what we do because we know we’re adding value to a tiny little sliver of the universe.
And that’s why people like Molly stuck around…through the good times and the less good times.
Although we had never articulated it, we had actually had a mission all along.
DigitalMarketer exists to help small businesses grow.
Specifically, it is DigitalMarketer’s mission to DOUBLE the size of 10,000 small businesses by 2020!

How To Craft Your Company’s Mission

So like I said, I got lucky. Twice.
I got lucky the first time when Molly asked the question that led to this search, and I got lucky the second time when Graham’s email hit my inbox at just the right time.
Without those two happy coincidences, I doubt I would have figured it out on my own.
So what if you aren’t so lucky?
While I still haven’t figured out a perfect, paint-by-numbers formula, there is a simple, 2-step process I’ve found to be helpful when advising other businesses. It goes something like this…

Step #1: Clearly articulate the value that you bring.

Fortunately, we already discussed this in the previous post, so if you’ve been following along you’ve no doubt already completed this step. If you haven’t, then now would be a great time to read “Part 2” of this series, because I explain, in depth, how to complete this first step.

Step #2: Future-Cast a Team Meeting 5 Years From Today.

Admittedly, this step is a little bit weird, but stick with me.
I promise, it’s worth it.
What I’d like for you to do is imagine that you are in your office, surrounded by all the key members of your team. Ideally there are lots of familiar faces, but there are likely some new faces as well. That’s ok. For now, just picture the faces you know.
Then, I want you to imagine yourself pulling out a bottle of Champagne (or the celebratory beverage of your choice). You pass out glasses to everyone in the meeting as an awkward smile begins to form on your face. Your team starts smiling, too, although they don’t know why.
And then you make your big announcement…
“I want to toast you all…everyone in this room…because on this day, we have officially accomplished what we set out to do 5 years ago. Today, we __________________.”
It’s ok if you don’t know what goes in that blank just yet. For now, I just want you to imagine your team as they swell with pride. I want you to picture them high-fiving…maybe even crying.
But they aren’t excited because the team hit some arbitrary sales goal.
They aren’t excited because you just announced a big bonus.
Or a sale.
Or an IPO.
They’re excited because you achieved your 5 year mission.
So with that picture in your mind, I want you to really think about what you would say in that moment that would cause your team to have that reaction. I know that when I announce to the team in 2020 that we accomplished our mission and officially DOUBLED the size of 10,000 small businesses that tears will be shed. Tears of joy, of course.
I can picture everyone’s faces so clearly in my mind that it’s almost like it’s happening right now.
Can you picture it?
If not, I want you to take just 5 minutes, right now, and see if you can figure it out.
Come on…do it. Assuming you completed Step 1, this step will be easier than you think. But you need to take the time to do it. Deal?
But we aren’t finished yet…

A Mission Is Not Enough

While I believe a corporate Mission is ESSENTIAL, I don’t believe it’s enough to truly eradicate “opportunity-itis” from your company.
To accomplish that, you also need to catalog:

  1. Your Values (i.e. How your team members will conduct themselves in the pursuit of the Mission), and…
  2. Your Beliefs (i.e. The shared ideologies that express to both your team and your customers what you stand for, and what you stand against)

Values and Beliefs are essential to an organization because they let everyone know that they are not to pursue the Mission “at all costs.” In other words, there are constraints to what we are able and willing to do as a company. There are things you simply WILL NOT DO, and that’s ok.
Furthermore, Values and Beliefs help establish a “Code of Conduct” that everyone in the company agrees to abide by BEFORE they start working with the company. So for example, at DigitalMarketer, you won’t get fired for being 15 minutes late for work, but you absolutely will get fired if you “Let your team down” on a regular basis. But at the same time, it’s ok to make mistakes at DigitalMarketer as long as you “Know the why” and “Make the decision and own the result.”
But woe to the DM team member who screws up and doesn’t own up to their mistake…
That’s a direct violation of our Core Values, and we can, and will, let you go…
…and not because you messed up, but because you failed to “Own the Result.”
Make sense?
Again, Values and Beliefs provide much-needed order and structure to what would otherwise be a chaotic organization.
And finally, Values and Beliefs create CULTURE. These days, everyone talks about the importance of culture, but no one really knows how to accomplish it. But depending on who you listen to, culture is a bizarre mishmash of foosball tables, free yoga lessons, bring-your-dog-to-work-days with the occasional Nerf gun battle thrown in just for good measure.
Now I don’t know…
Maybe that’s a perfectly fine “culture” for you, but I can tell you that those things DO NOT, in and of themselves, form a culture.
No. Culture is created when a group of people SHARE the same Values and Beliefs. THAT, my friend, is what builds culture. So if it’s culture you want, you first need to document what you Value, and what you Believe so let’s do that right now…

What Does DigitalMarketer Believe?

Honestly, I thought you’d never ask… 🙂
In all seriousness, since this series is all about what I’ve learned during DigitalMarketer’s first 5 years, I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you our Core Values and Beliefs, since (next to our Mission), I truly believe they were our most important discovery.
So for the sake of transparency (and so you have an example to reference when documenting your own company’s values), here are DigitalMarketer’s Core Values:
And now that you know what we VALUE, I think it’s time to share what we BELIEVE…

These are things every person on this team believes at DigitalMarketer…
Now, are some of these beliefs a bit odd? Even silly?
Yep. But you know what, that’s us. We’re both odd and silly.
So if you like odd and silly, then GREAT…you’re one of us.
If you don’t, then GREAT…feel free to leave. (The truth is, you probably won’t like us, and I know for a fact that we won’t like you, so it’s better that we figure that out sooner rather than later, right?)
But if you’re still here, then I’m going to assume that you’re our kind of crazy, and in that case we’re thrilled to have you. 🙂

Final Thoughts

As I write this post, I’m struggling with exactly how I should end it…
Nothing feels quite right, and I think it’s because this doesn’t feel like “the end.”
In fact, this series (which I have approached more or less chronologically) has actually “ended” where I would hope YOU would begin.
I mean that!
Whether your company is a startup, or a 500-year-old brand, I would hope that you would take a moment to clarify the value you bring to your market, along with seemingly unnecessary (but highly ESSENTIAL) topics such as:

  • Your Mission
  • Your Vision, and…
  • Your Beliefs

Once you’re finished, then you can proceed to Part 2 in this series where I covered two other “Essential Questions” you need to answer, and then and only then should you tackle some of the “Important But Non-Essential” questions I posed back in Part 1.
Because at the end of the day, as proud as I am of all that we’ve accomplished in our first 5 years at DigitalMarketer, I know we could be doing more.
And I know we could be doing it faster.
If I only knew in 2011 what I know today, I know we would have already achieved our first mission of “Doubling the size of 10,000 small businesses.”
That mission would be in our rear-view mirror, and we would be in pursuit of an even greater mission.
But that’s not how it happened.
Instead, we made a ton of mistakes, and through luck, grace, providence (whatever you choose to call it) we made it through.
My hope is that you don’t repeat our same mistakes.
My hope is that you accomplish far more in the next 5 years than we accomplished in our first 5.
And my hope is that you allow us to be a part of your journey. Because at the end of the day, it’s OUR MISSION to support YOUR MISSION.
So thank you.
Thank you for letting us ride along on your journey.
Thank you for helping us make it to our 5th birthday.
The fun has just begun, and we look forward to celebrating many more birthdays together in the years to come. 🙂

Ryan Deiss

Ryan Deiss

Ryan Deiss is the Founder and CEO of and Founder and Managing Partner of, a digital media and ecommerce group that owns dozens of properties. Ryan has been called one of the world’s leading digital marketers by Shark Tank star, Daymond John. A best selling author, founder of multiple companies collectively employing hundreds around the globe, and one of the most dynamic speakers on marketing in the United States today, he is undeniably a recognized expert on the digital era. Connect with Ryan on Twitter.

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