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Knowing When to Fold 'Em

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poker game“Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.” – Kenny Rogers, “The Gambler”

Our impulse is usually to try to do everything. Opportunities present themselves, and we think, “If I turn this away, I may not get another shot. What if there’s nothing else coming down the pike?”

Early on in our careers, especially, it’s tempting to want to take on every job, collaborate with every potential strategic alliance, and never turn down anyone for anything. Sometimes, though, the best option is in the not doing.

But, how do you know when is a good time to hold and when is a good time to fold? Here are a few clues.

  1. It’s not your passion. I’ve talked with a lot of successful entrepreneurs, and one common trait among them is that they follow their passion. They know what lights them up and what wears them down, and they stay true to themselves and their mission at all times.
  2. Your gut is telling you something. Intuition is often a big influencing factor for successful entrepreneurs and small business owners. If they feel a strong pull one way or another, they learn to trust that instinct, and it rarely leads them astray.
  3. It’s not in the plan. Although passion and gut instinct weigh heavily on the decision-making of those who are successful, it’s still important to have a vision and a plan. Goals and intentions should be a driving force behind your daily actions, which will help you stay the course when distractions and obstacles get in your way.
  4. It’s draining you. There are clients and tasks that simply don’t match well with your own personality, strengths, weaknesses and working style. Instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, accept that (for whatever reason) you just aren’t the right fit for each other and move on.
  5. You’re spinning your wheels. There are situations where no matter what you do, you just can’t make it work. For instance, you might have a client who never takes your advice, does things his own way, and then comes back to you to fix it after the fact. It can be frustrating and wastes your valuable time on someone who will probably never change.
  6. You’re overextended. The more your business grows, the more selective you have to become with how you spend your time and energy. Although that should be the case from the very start, it’s not until things become increasingly demanding that you begin to feel the crunch and understand the importance of being so selective.
  7. You’ve hit a plateau or are floundering. Most successful people know that failed attempts, ruts and slumps are part of the game, but they also know when to say enough. Doing more of the wrong thing isn’t going to make things right, so they learn to ask tough questions and get down to the truth of a situation, rather than have it continually wear away at their energy and progress.
  8. You’re being undervalued. There are times when a client or a partner doesn’t acknowledge or appreciate the value you bring to the table, and when that’s the case, you simply have to get out of a toxic relationship. It’s not always easy, but is very necessary for your own success and peace of mind.

In business, there are times when you have to be willing to walk away or risk paying an even bigger price down the line — your success and ultimate satisfaction with your life and work. While it’s not the easiest thing to do, it’s just as important to turn away the wrong opportunities as it is to jump on the right ones.

What criteria do you use to weigh prospective opportunities and avoid taking on clients and work that isn’t well-suited for you, or that holds you back from success?

Image from Flickr by Tiago Rïbeiro

8 Responses to “Knowing When to Fold 'Em”

  1. Being stubborn to the end can be very costly! It is important to trust your gut BUT sometimes we can make these 8 an easy way to rationalize our way into self indulgence. We just must be honest with ourselves as to the true situation.

  2. I broke up with client — gently and nicely, of course — because I just didn’t enjoy the work. We stay in touch. I had a bad feeling about another potential client, so I contacted the person who referred me to the prospect. Turns out he had trouble with the client — so sometimes you can count on your gut.

    I know people fear that dropping a client or passing up an opportunity means no money — but think about how much more energy you will have in taking on TWO new clients that you enjoy working with? That’ll surpass one no so great client.

  3. Incredible! How apropos as I just had a conversation in which my supervisor seemed to give me 6 of the 8 clues, with no suggestions of how we can improve upon the current situation. Additionally, there is no personal development plan for the role nor does there appear to be one on the horizon. Spinning my wheels??? I would say so.

  4. The single best piece of advice I ever got as a then-new consultant was “Remember; there will always be clients, and projects from clients, that you do NOT want. The hardest thing to learn is when and how to say ‘No, thank you.'”

    Especially true when we’re at the bottom of a cycle and the tendency is to grab onto anything and everything we possibly can; we WILL get to a point where we can’t do it all to our own satisfaction (or the client’s); that will have repercussions later on.

    Simple lessons, yes, but still worth pointing out every so often, just on general principles.

  5. Great post, sometimes we’re victims of our own creativity. This account and URL I’m posting with wasn’t even our original product. However this software debugging seems to be more of our passion (your number 1 point). Hope everything works out.