“Yes” is a magical word. Three letters can open entire worlds of opportunity. And when you’re getting your startup or freelance business off the ground, you need every opportunity you can get. But on the flip side of the same coin, saying “yes” comes with a demand. You have to show up. And when you haven’t been in the game all your life, sometimes that means you have to jump out of the plane and build yourself a parachute on the way down.
In this episode, Jenn and Doug talk about the power of “yes” in their own lives as they grew from starving artists to successful entrepreneurs as well as strategic use of that two-letter sibling: no. Tune in this week to learn how and when to take advantages of the opportunities in front of you and how to crush the starving artist myth.
Doug Gay: Today’s topic, when to say yes or no. How to say yes, and figure it out later versus the art of saying no. We’re going to recap some boundaries. We’re going to talk about when and how to say no, and when to take an opportunity you might have thought was not the best opportunity, but it was really your fear telling you that. Let’s talk about it, Jenn.
Jenn Ocken: Oh, man. This is huge for me because I am a big boundaries person. I’m all about holding your power. I’m all about showing up for yourself and for your craft because that’s where you really, really, really, really can create and be something bigger than yourself. Then, you have these opportunities that show up and then you’re like, “Is that going to enable me or is that going to project me?”
Doug Gay: You know what makes or creates some confusion in that? You work on payroll, you’re working on your next project’s deadlines. For us it’s just keeping up with receivables and things like that, right?
Jenn Ocken: Day-to-day.
Doug Gay: So you get all this day to day stuff. It stresses you out and then all of a sudden boom, somebody calls and says, “I want to do this. Can you do this with me? Can you do this for me?” And you’re like, money’s not even an issue at this point. It’s, “Do I have the emotional and mental capacity to add this to my plate?” Well, yeah. You know, you should.
Jenn Ocken: Sometimes you just have to say yes.
Doug Gay: Sometimes you should. Sometimes you shouldn’t. It just depends. That’s really up to … We talked about, last week. We talked about the art of … what did we talk about with boundaries? How to set up, right?
Jenn Ocken: Mm-hmm. (affirmative)
Doug Gay: I think today’s … At what point, using your gut to really figure out, “Is this bad for me or is it just something I’m not ready for or is it something I’m just scared of?”
Jenn Ocken: Yeah. Here’s the thing about, you got boundaries. You got boundaries that are solidified, spaces in time that are gonna give you an opportunity to make a decision that’s gonna be beneficial for you, and essentially be beneficial for the person that your consumer or the person that is going to book you or not book you, or show up. Just the person that’s gonna buy your stuff, or not buy your stuff. The boundaries say, “This is where I can go. Can you meet me there?”
Doug Gay: Right.
Jenn Ocken: There’s a lot of education that goes into that part of, “Hey. This is what I can do for you. Is it gonna be good for you? Cause if it’s not gonna be good for you, it probably won’t be good for me either, so lets just part ways.” The opportunity then, is a space of education, cause this is what I can do. This is what I can bring to the table. This is who I am as a creative, and where I wanna show up for my craft, and for you, if that’s what you’re ready to receive.
Doug Gay: Right.
Jenn Ocken: That’s so hard for creatives to say that, because [crosstalk 00:03:27] they want that …
Doug Gay: It can be hard to identify them too.
Jenn Ocken: Well, cause they want that space where, I’m accepted. My heart is here, vulnerable, exposed. This is what I can do. This is why I do what I do. But, then, when somebody doesn’t see eye-to-eye to that, it can just be like, mm, right in the gut.
Doug Gay: Yeah. Yeah.
Jenn Ocken: Right in the gut.
Doug Gay: A big old punch in the gut. Yeah. Speaking of the gut, I mean, a great opportunity can feel the same way as the situation where you feel like you might need to set a boundary, because you get the same sense of dread in your stomach. You know, as an opportunity you fear, and something you know you shouldn’t do. It’s like, “Oh man, Now I’m confused. I feel the same way, but my mind is fighting, which way to go, you know?”
Jenn Ocken: Because, you don’t know how to define that opportunity.
Doug Gay: Right. You don’t know how to define …
Jenn Ocken: You don’t understand.
Doug Gay: You have, you …
Jenn Ocken: You don’t have enough information. You don’t have enough information to be able to actually make the educated decision on whether that is an opportunity or a boundary, or just something that’s gonna side rail you.
Doug Gay: Right.
Jenn Ocken: I talk about that a lot in the Thrive community, like when we’re down and getting nitty gritty with the lessons is that, you gotta understand where you’re at, as a creative, so that you can further yourself in your craft. When you further yourself in your craft, and you make those decisions to go forward in your craft and to show up, and do the things that make you really just like, “This is where it’s at.” Everybody wins. When, you start seeing those boundaries. You like, mixing those boundaries and opportunities, like, “What am I gonna, what, wait.” That’s when all it gets muddy.
Doug Gay: It’s a rabbit hole. Yeah.
Jenn Ocken: Yeah, and then you’re like down deep and then all of a sudden you’re the victim.
Doug Gay: Look. We’ve talked about that a little bit on the last episode. We’re talking about it right now. Can you give me, maybe an example of, where you had originally toyed with the idea of doing something, and decided to move forward with it.
Jenn Ocken: I got a great example of the hardest thing that I ever had to do in my creative career path. I am a photographer. I also am from a family of photographers. Out of the five siblings, three of us are professional photographers. I went into the photography business, knowing that I had two brothers that were professional photographers, and I basically understudied. They’re my mentors. They are who … They are why I’m a photographer. I’m 10 years younger than them. I wanted to be like my big brothers, right? Amazing photographers.
I went through the first four years of my career, bouncing around, throwing myself under the bus, trying to understand what it is I needed to do, to be a creative, that my first priority was to make sure that they were happy that I was doing things for them, that we were all coming up together. I wasn’t gonna … It was just this like, amazing space. They were giving so much to me, that I felt like I had to give so, like tenfold back to them. I was literally throwing myself under the bus at times, because I didn’t understand that, that’s … I didn’t know how to hold my power early on as a creative, and understanding what was gonna make me create more, what was going to inspire me. What was I needing to do as my own personal photographer person, what did I need to do.
I bounced around. I went up to Chicago, started a business up there with my brother. It was just a really, kind of vulnerable place for me to show up, and just really start being molded as to, what I was going to do, where I was gonna be. Being in Chicago, I was able to kind of set my own foot out. I was going into portraiture work, which is really strong for me as a creative. I love portraiture work. I love being able to show up for my clients, and documenting their space, where they’re at in that moment in time. It just was a really great experience for me.
I understood that, when I was in Chicago, my heart and soul came to a space where it was about me creating and not about what I needed to create, so that my brothers were happy and also fruitious. I understood that they were gonna do it by themselves. They were gonna be able to make it by themselves. I needed to spread my wings. When I moved back down south, here to Louisiana where I live now, and had a space where I could be my own person, my own creative, I realized where my value lied was my own brand, my own space, my own definition, my own mission statement, my own vision statement, my …
Everything that I learned in college as a business administrative minor, I realized it was time for me to just really start getting nitty and gritty, and doing it, and following through the steps. That is what brought me into a space of creative, euphoria, because not only was I doing it for myself, which when you fill yourself up first, then you can start overflowing and where it started overflowing was my clients. It was from other people that I was creating for. It was for the people that wanted to show up and appreciate my stuff. My brothers totally love and adore me. They are my number one advocates. At the same time, I threw myself under the bus, because I wanted to support them. They weren’t asking for it. That’s what I thought I needed.
Doug Gay: Right.
Jenn Ocken: When I made that transition, and I set those boundaries.
Doug Gay: Right.
Jenn Ocken: It was a space.
Doug Gay: Right. And so [crosstalk 00:10:09].
Jenn Ocken: Yeah, no. It was just [crosstalk 00:10:12].
Doug Gay: It was your growth.
Jenn Ocken: It was just growth. And so, when I was like, “Oh yes, no, no. I can’t. I can’t. Yes, I want to. No, I can’t.” I finally said, “I gotta go and do something on my own, and said yes to myself, and set my own boundaries for myself. I mean, all three of us. We’re all still professional photographers. We all have different markets. We all work with each other, in a space of community, and accountability.
Doug Gay: Would you mind sharing a story you told me about your brother, saying yes on his own terms? That’s a little bit like saying, “Yes.”
Jenn Ocken: Yeah.
Doug Gay: It’s like [crosstalk 00:10:55] you said, saying yes now and figuring it out later.
Jenn Ocken: Yeah, I mean …
Doug Gay: I mean, would he mind, when he said okay?
Jenn Ocken: Oh gosh no. No. Absolutely not. My oldest brother, Bob, whose got us into photography, the three of us. He started the, I guess, the domino effect of all of us being photographer’s in our family. He was a journalist in, hardcore journalist for the press. In it with the Clinton era, he lived in Little Rock, Arkansas. Bill Clinton was going from governor to president. Totally, just, I mean, literally running alongside of Bill Clinton, taking pictures of him, while Bill was out on his, president [crosstalk 00:11:43] Clinton was out on … Yeah, on his [crosstalk 00:11:45] daily jog, before he was ever at the White House. I mean, for AP Press, right? That was his job. My other brother was doing France press. They were both in this journalism realm.
Somebody approached Bob and said, “Hey Bob will you do our wedding? Will you photograph our wedding?” He was like, “Oh. Yeah. I guess I will.” I mean, it was nice money. Weddings are great money. It’s a no brainer. For a photographer, weddings are great money. He was like, “But I gotta be able to photograph it the way I wanna photograph it. I gotta be able to document it. I gotta be able to use my [inaudible 00:12:29].” He just had all these terms that he needed to show up for this client, so that he could provide a great quality service.
That story I used, when I moved to Little Rock and I started working for my brother Bob and I started selling for him, and being his photo rep. I use that story over and over again, because it showed our value as a photography company, and saying, “As long as I can tell your story,” and then that set it. Capturing the fine art of life. Capturing the fine … That’s what we lay down. Even all three of us. Even though we all three have our own businesses, we still all use that, Capturing the Fine Art of Life.
Doug Gay: That’s great.
Jenn Ocken: Yeah.
Doug Gay: That is super great. We talked a little bit about … You know we didn’t talk about …
Jenn Ocken: What didn’t we talk about?
Doug Gay: How to say no.
Jenn Ocken: How to say no, cause we’re yes people. We are yes people.
Doug Gay: Makes me so uncomfortable. I don’t like saying, “No,” to people.
Jenn Ocken: I know, that is a crappy thing to do.
Doug Gay: I’d say, the one thing you shouldn’t do, is not say no, like in, not talk at all. That’s terrible. Right?
Jenn Ocken: Absolutely.
Doug Gay: You cannot just ignore it.
Jenn Ocken: No.
Doug Gay: That’s bad business.
Jenn Ocken: No, because that’s gonna tell the consumer whether they book you or not. That’s gonna tell them, that you do not care.
Doug Gay: Exactly.
Jenn Ocken: Straight up. That’s it. That’s all it’s gonna say.
Doug Gay: I think people will respect a no, more than no reply at all. Don’t you?
Jenn Ocken: No. Absolutely.
Doug Gay: Yeah. Yeah. I very rarely say no. It’s hard for me to give a lot of examples.
Jenn Ocken: I kind of hardly say, “No,” either.
Doug Gay: Yeah.
Jenn Ocken: There’s got to be some.
Jacob: All right. I’m gonna pop in here real quick. This is Jacob [inaudible 00:14:16]. I’m one of the folks at Parachute.FM. I had a quick question as I was listening to Doug and Jenn on the topic of saying no, because as a yes man myself, I struggle with saying no. As a result, can overburden myself very quickly. Not everything is valuable when it doesn’t line up with my vision for my future, or the intent that I have for my future. Talk to us a little bit about, maybe discretion in saying yes, or at the very least, how to manage all the things that you say yes to.
Doug Gay: I can tell you, I very rarely say no. I have to have managers of my yes’s. I have a staff of 14. Three of which are my administrative staff. It helps to have people. I don’t want this to veer too far away from the creative soul lone wolf mentality, but …
Jenn Ocken: I think cause it’s what we’re doing. A lot of us start off as a onesie.
Doug Gay: Right. Before I had an administrative staff to help me, I just did everything on my own. I had to manage my time. Also, I managed my time very poorly. I was often, what are we calling me? Poopie pants?
Jenn Ocken: Poopie pants.
Doug Gay: Yeah. I was often grumpy a lot. But, I also knew that, touching again, a little bit on last month’s episode, I also realized that I had to say, yes to a lot of things. A lot of the things made sense. They just came so quickly.
Jenn Ocken: Yeah. How’d you manage that? What did you … I mean, what was that space in your …
Doug Gay: I worked 80 hour weeks.
Jenn Ocken: Yeah.
Doug Gay: 90 hour weeks.
Jenn Ocken: Oh what’s that … You own your own business, work 80 hour weeks, so you don’t have to work a 40 hour work week.
Doug Gay: Yeah. You have to put yourself in the head space of, do I want to do this or not. I could be a band director at a school, and work …
Jenn Ocken: Yeah, but why do you do what you wanna do? Why do you do that?
Doug Gay: Because, I love it. Because, I love it. Because, I love spending time … Okay. That leads us into a different idea of commodities. You know, time is a commodity. Money is a commodity. My time is very valuable to me. It has become so, since I’ve had children, a child. I have odd work hours. I always get the job done. I always manage to … You know, it’s kind of a different, maybe different topic.
Jenn Ocken: Yeah, we should definitely touch that. We will take on that.
Doug Gay: My philosophy is, if you don’t feel like this person who’s reaching out to you to do business is a creepy guy, girl, who you don’t want to do business with, you don’t get the willies from this person, and you think they really wanna do something special, then I [crosstalk 00:17:36] say, “Yes.” I say, “Yes.” It’s led me to some amazing opportunities. You know?
Jenn Ocken: You know …
Doug Gay: My enrollment has increased exponentially because of saying, “Yes.” Because of saying, “Yes.” One quick story. We had what do you call it, home school group as us to do a tour, of the facility and a workshop. They were looking at two to three hours. Okay. No problem. Let’s do that. What are we gonna do? Say yes now? Work it out later. I said, “Yes. We’ll do it.” Went to my staff, said, “Hey, what are we gonna do?” We can’t have these kids sitting there for two hours watching a band play. They’re gonna get bored. These kids are between six year old and 18 years old.
What we did was, we created a bunch of pit stops in the workstations, throughout my entire facility. We showed ’em how to record a song, starting with the vocalist, and then the backing tracks, whatever way we did it. Vocalist was probably last. We did organized tracks. We had computers in every room. We had sections of 15 kids at a time.
There’s like 80 kids at one time in the venue that we own. We had 15 kids at a time, moving around the studio and being a part of … Last section is where they get to play congas and bongo’s and shakers and tambourines and stuff, and be a part of the project. You know, it’s like, “How do we accommodate 80 kids for two to three hours? I don’t know, but I’m gonna do it.” Now I’ve got 80 kids sitting in my venue, who are potential clients. If we blow their minds, they’re gonna sign up for lessons.
Jenn Ocken: Right.
Doug Gay: Right? I could have easily said, “No way. I don’t know.” Freak out. Can’t do it. Or said, “Yes. Let’s do it,” and go to my clients, my employees and say, “Hey. Let’s figure this shit out quickly.” We did. You know, we’ve gotten a lot of clients through that. That’s just one example of, it’s not something we do. We teach lessons. We do this, and this, and this. We don’t do workshops for people in, especially big people, 80 people at a time. Why not? That is bringing our clientele, our client base into our place.
Jenn Ocken: Your target market. You’re [crosstalk 00:20:16] target market into a space. You are honing in on that.
Doug Gay: Right. That’s a small example of, say yes now and figure it out later.
Jenn Ocken: Yeah. You know, getting, certainly back around too, on the opposite side of what Jacob asked, is that, how do you manage saying yes all the time? You say, “No,” some of the time. You gotta say, “No.” There are plenty of people that I would love to work with, because they are the coolest people in the world, to photograph, because of whatever. They’re on my same level. They get what I do. They can’t show up for the price point that I put on there. I have to …
Doug Gay: That’s another big one.
Jenn Ocken: Gently say, “I’m sorry. [crosstalk 00:21:08] This is not my space. This is not …”
Doug Gay: That’s an easy way to say no, is your price point.
Jenn Ocken: Is my price point. Yes.
Doug Gay: Yeah.
Jenn Ocken: If you put that price point out there and you stand by it …
Doug Gay: That’s saying, no, proactively.
Jenn Ocken: Yes, it kind of it.
Doug Gay: People go to your website and go, “Oh. She said no.”
Jenn Ocken: Well, we don’t even have it. We don’t even have it on the website, because there are times when I have actually … The other point of that too is, that I’ve been able to show up to clients coming into me, with a price point, but they have understood all of the value, and the experience that they’re gonna get by choosing my company, not just me. It’s way bigger than myself now, right? Before it was just me, but now it’s way bigger than myself. They don’t even get me. They get a team of communication, of creativity, of accountability. They get all of that.
Doug Gay: Well, that’s another thing we need to talk about on a future podcast, is the perception. Your product is a perception.
Jenn Ocken: Absolutely.
Doug Gay: Right? There’s the truth of what it is, and then there’s what people think it is. Listen, one amazing thing about what we’ve done, when we were smaller, people wanted to negotiate with us on price all the time. They could see that we were Mickey Mouse small. You know? As we grew and as we developed our brand, no one questions anymore.
Jenn Ocken: Yeah, once you solidify that foundation, you’re golden.
Doug Gay: It’s crazy.
Jenn Ocken: It’s a totally different mindset.
Doug Gay: Yeah, it’s crazy. That’s a topic for another day, right?
Jenn Ocken: It is, right?
Doug Gay: It is time for our call-to-action Miss Jenn Ocken.
Jenn Ocken: Aah. It just goes so fast Doug.
Doug Gay: I know. I know. Talk to us. Tel us what you want everybody to know.
Jenn Ocken: All right everyone. If you really like what we’re talking about, and you wanna learn more abut how to lay down that foundation, you can find out more information at thethrivcommunity.com. If you so incline, join us in the Thrive community. Sign up to be a member. We’ve got a lot of stuff going on. There’s a lot of valuable information, a lot of valuable tools and concepts. They’re waiting for ya.
Doug Gay: Love it. I love you buddy.
Jenn Ocken: I love you too Doug.
Doug Gay: All right everybody.
Jenn Ocken: Peace.
Doug Gay: See you on the next one.