There are some words that should never be uttered in a business context, especially during a recession. On two occasions this past week I've heard a phrase that I believe belongs at the top of that list. “We can't afford it.”

What's wrong with these four little words? After all, when times are tight or cash is low nobody should be wasting money on unnecessary expenses, right?.

Yes. But… If an investment is truly worth making, you should probably find a way to finance it. Decisions based on short-term challenges can seriously impact your firm's long-term prospects.

Of course, you can't leap on every solution that comes your way. So when evaluating your opportunities, think critically about their potential upsides. Here are four ways to think about and talk about opportunities:

  1. I don't have confidence that the expenditure will produce the needed impact — for all the projects that are just too unproven.
  2. This is not a good use of our resources — for those ok ideas that may well work out but are just not likely to have a big enough impact.
  3. We don't have time to evaluate this proposal — for those intriguing but too speculative projects. Choosing to forgo a possible upside because of time rather than money is much, much healthier.
  4. Let's find a way to finance this — for those projects that are likely to produce a positive result but you don't have the cash on hand. It focuses your effort where it belongs.

Not every opportunity is worth the risk. Not by a long shot. But in a recession, the words “we can't afford it” can become an easy, reflexive response — and one that can significantly impact your firm's ability to grow and prosper. Changing the way you think and talk about your challenges costs you nothing and may lead to a creative solution. If you are serious about business success, you really can't afford not to drop “we can't afford it” from your vocabulary.