Surviving Rejection—Lemons to Lemonade

“To be, or not to be—that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and, by opposing, end them?”   Hamlet (William Shakespeare), Act III, Scene 1

Shakespeare understood so much about the problems and pleasures of life. I suppose that explains why, 400 years after he died (1564 – 1616), he remains the best-selling fiction author of all time, with an estimated four billion copies of his works sold (Wikipedia).  Shakespeare knew that life is about learning and sometimes the lessons presented to us are, or seem, harsh.

He understood that in order to build a satisfying life, we must learn to become ethical, wise and compassionate humans who are also equipped to take good care of ourselves and our families and manage to be good company along the way.  In his sonnets and plays, he showed us that resourcefulness and resilience, good judgment and good humor will help us to find the courage to face up to our faults and fears and learn how to overcome obstacles and disappointments.

Shakespeare’s lessons apply not only to the personal, but also to the professional zone of life.  Freelance consultants and business owners have many opportunities to show the world that we are capable leaders who can make our own way in the world, but there are the inevitable set-backs.  Acquiring a skill set that helps you move beyond rejection and defeat, as you make note of what you might have done differently, is the most effective way to bounce back from adversity.

Be objective

Realize that it was not you, the person, who has been rejected, but your business proposal.  There are numerous reasons that may cause a prospective business partner, investor, or client to turn you down in the final stage of evaluation, even if it seemed certain that you’d get the green light.  It is very painful to be unexpectedly denied and the incident can rock your self-confidence.  It is likely that once the facts were laid out and analyzed, the investor/ partner/ prospect realized that either s/he does not have the resources to participate, or that business strategies will require that they take a different direction and so your proposal must unfortunately be decline

Separate yourself from the proposal, look at what you might have been able to do better, if anything, and if you’ve found something lacking, and that could mean your choice of whom to do business with and not your proposal itself,  think about how to recognize a more promising prospect, or imagine how your intended might evaluate your proposal, so that you can correct obvious gaps or avoid potential misunderstandings.

Lessons learned

Depending on your comfort level with the prospect who rejected your proposal/ funding request/ partnership offer, you can ask why that was the case?  What is it that you are lacking, or what did you misunderstand? Maybe you can retool and make yourself a more viable candidate in the future.? Or maybe it is not a viable option for you after all and you finally accept that your efforts could be more generously rewarded elsewhere.

Without berating yourself, you can take stock of the new reality, even though it is not to your liking and devise a way to pick yourself up after disaster has laid you low.  You might choose to stay the course, with some adjustments (More specific talking points? A different target market?), or identify a new approach.  Maybe you can perform a beta test, or ask questions of a trusted colleague or client before you gamble on a roll-out.

Moving forward

If your proposals have been rejected rather regularly, consider that your intended target client group is not the best for you and that you might be well-advised to offer another product or service to a different cohort of clients, or pursue other types of business partners or investors.  If you are unable to get to yes with at least one or two clients, you must discover the problems and challenges that those in the target category really want to be resolved, regardless of what they admit to.  It could be so simple as the jargon used to describe either the problem or the proposed solution is not accurately expressed by one party or the other.

Disappointment is not easy to accept, but it is a part of life, part of the growing process.  How you handle yourself in the face of disappointment can help you to become resilient and resourceful and ultimately, better prepared to pursue and achieve success for your goals.

Thanks for reading,


Phaedra and Hippolytus, Pierre Narcisse Guerin (c. 1802)                                                   Image courtesy of Harvard Art Museums/ The Fogg Museum, Cambridge, MA



When “No” Is the Best Answer

“No” can be the starting point of the biggest sale of your career. Experienced and successful sales professionals know that “No” should not be confused with “Never”. “No” can mean that this is not the time to ask for the sale. “No” can mean that you are talking to the wrong person. After doing some homework to verify who can impact the sale and give the green light (that could involve more than one person), you may ask to speak with the real decision-maker, who will advocate for you and also re-allocate the budget if necessary, and you will strike it rich.

Rejection is a part of life and it is most certainly part of sales and entrepreneurship. Rejection is a challenge. In Mandarin Chinese, the same character represents crisis and opportunity. Resilient people — and I know that you are resilient, or you would not be a Freelance consultant — use a crisis to:

  • Re-examine the proposed value-added of your product or service
  • Reevaluate the competitive landscape
  • Refine your sales pitch
  • Re-engineer yourself to become more competitive
  • Re-approach that rejecting client and others as well
“No” can make us improve ourselves and become more relevant to prospective clients, now armed with a better message and better value proposition, or perhaps even an upgraded or more specifically tailored service or product. Try these tactics the next time rejection rattles you:
While it is a natural response to counter prospect objections, one would be advised to listen well. Is that prospect doing you the enormous favor of telling you how to re-shape, re-position or at least better describe your product or service?  Try to curb the reflexive defensiveness that every human has and listen with an open mind. What weaknesses are being pointed out to you?
Objections are not always rooted in misunderstanding or hostility. Learning the ways in which your product or service does not measure up is the most valuable information that can be presented to you.  After giving your perspective on the merits of the offering in question,  honor the client’s perspective as you do yourself  a favor and ask more questions about the preferred outcomes and what changes would perhaps be helpful.
The negative feedback that you receive is just one person’s opinion or the report of a single experience.  Nevertheless, listen and do your best to be objective about what has been revealed to you. Some or all of the negative report may be accurate.  Separate the probably relevant aspects from what may be unreasonable or unfixable. Here begins your list of action items.
After you’ve heard the complaints, thank your prospect for his/her candor. Hearing the truth is always a good thing, even when it hurts. On the spot, think of improvements or adjustments that can be made quickly and inexpensively (If it appears that might be possible). Has the prospect made suggestions that you can incorporate?
After you’ve reviewed what transpired a couple of times, you may decide that revisions need to be made in your services or products; business model; operations process; sales distribution; quality control; or marketing message. Before institution any permanent changes, do speak with other clients and assess their experiences when doing business with you. Are you hearing similar complaints,  or wish-list type of suggestions that clients had not previously revealed to you?
If common themes emerge, then changes are definitely in order. Draw up a list of recommended upgrades or alterations so that you can take the full measure of what needs to change. Which changes be made quickly? Which can be expected to have the greatest impact on customer satisfaction or billable hours?  Create a budget and time-table and then prioritize the tasks and if budget allows, perform first those that will have the greatest potential for positive impact.
Freelance consultants, entrepreneurs and sales professionals will face rejection for the entirety of our careers. In order to withstand the ongoing assault,  we must believe in ourselves, in our abilities and in our products and services. Yet over-confidence is not useful and is not a true indicator of resilience.  The ability to hear and accept occasionally painful truths and the courage to re-vamp, re-group, move on and succeed are the attributes that distinguish the winners among us.
Thanks for reading,