Many people start their service business quite willing to accept just about anybody who will pay them. It’s easy to understand this approach when you’ve banked everything on this new enterprise. However, without discernment about the work you will and won’t accept, the greater the likelihood you’ll find yourself boxed into unpleasant engagements down the line.

As many entrepreneurs have learned, it is always more difficult to extract yourself from a difficult situation than to say “no” in the first place. Discernment starts with careful consideration of the projects, clients and work you pursue – or accept – and ends with awareness of your capacity to serve them.

Case Study: Cathy is an ambitious woman in her mid 30’s. She works for a financial services company that offers independent agents training and support so that they can fulfill the promise of building a million dollar business within 5-7 years…if they follow the guidelines set by the company.

Cathy’s mentor was her role model for success, as were other colleagues she admired. The success model was built on this prescription: the most important thing you can do to succeed is make yourself available to prospects and clients at all hours of the day and into the evening.

Cathy was determined to be a top producer so, by her own admission, she dropped whatever she was doing to meet with someone at their convenience. This approach meant that her other priorities, whether business or personal, took a back seat.

I met Cathy at an event where I was speaking about one of my favorite topics, how to take the busy out of business. Cathy asked for my help when she realized that her take-any-appointment-when-they-are-available approach caused her to be less than discerning about who she met with. She was getting clients and meeting her quotas – and winning awards – but she wasn’t building her business the way SHE wanted to.

Cathy was busy, and her numbers looked good, but she wasn’t taking time to qualify the people she met with. You could blame the business model or point to Cathy’s goals – you might even agree with their approach – but you would miss the point.

MINDFULNESS goes out the window when you get so wrapped up in the numbers that you ignore other priorities. Good decisions start with careful attention to the present moment, while keeping the bigger picture in mind. It requires you BREATHE before leaping in response to what comes at you, even if for just one full breath of a moment.

If you’re an action-addict, by which I mean any activity is better than no activity, one deep breath might not be enough. You might need to go a step further and prepare a few questions you must answer before you act. Here are a few general questions to get you started with your own list.

  • Is this in my best interest?
  • Am I the best person for this job, task or challenge?
  • Do I have the energy for this now?
  • Do I get a good feeling from this person or opportunity?
  • Can I see myself doing the work required?
  • Do I need more information before I do anything?
  • Does this feel like the best course of action?

What questions would you ask to evaluate opportunities and requests?
What would you add or subtract from my list?

If you’d like additional guidance about how to establish policies and practices that allow you to do your best work, consider our eBook Dare to be Selective. It includes 3 intake tools that can help you enjoy a smoother working relationship with the people you serve, and weed out those who are likely to be trouble down the line.