When you start a business, the last thing you'd ever want to think about is the day when you might close its doors. Instead, you envision what some may consider more graceful or glorious exits, like having your business acquired. Or bringing on another qualified leader to run it in your stead so you can launch your next big thing, or have a lifestyle business. Nowhere in these visualizations is the thought of one day reaching a point where shutting your company down is your best option.
But sometimes -- this is the course you need to take. When I closed the doors of my PR agency, the decision surprised nobody more than me. I had explored every other option imaginable, but simply closing up shop ended up being what was best for me, my family, my new venture, and yes, even the PR agency itself. And when it came time to make this final decision, I had to face some tough considerations. Here are a few of the things I encourage you to reflect upon if you find yourself in a similar situation.
Why are you Digging in your Heels?
As a business owner, you take pride in what you've created. Sometimes the only reason you're holding on to something that is no longer serving you is because you want to save face. You wonder how it will look to your community, clients, team, and competitors if you walk away. You agonize over the idea that people will think you didn't work hard enough or plan well enough or otherwise not know what you were doing.
Don't beat yourself up. Every entrepreneur has this fear, and guess what? 9 out of 10 close shop. The most successful ones understand this is part of learning. They learn from the experience and give it another go.
Or maybe it's a feeling of responsibility you have for your employees and customers? This was what mostly did it for me. I wanted to make sure my agency fulfilled its promises to our clientele and not leave anyone in a lurch. I also lost sleep over the thought that I'd potentially be putting some really fabulous people out of work. Whatever your motivations, it's really important you take a look at the reasons you won't let go.
What are you Willing to Sacrifice?
Most business owners don't have this painful conversation with themselves at the start of their venture, mainly because they have no idea what they're going to be sacrificing. But once you're in it, you know. And eventually you have to be honest with yourself about what you're willing to give up and what would be a deal breaker.
In my situation, the PR software I had created for my PR agency had become its own company and received funding. It was proving to be a viable business unto itself and I was eager to devote my time toward it. Although I tried to remove myself from the day-to-day affairs of my agency, I kept getting pulled back in and this significantly took away from what I needed to give to my new business. I realized eventually that the software company is my true north, and I wasn't willing to hold back its' progress anymore. When I knew that an acquisition wasn't going to be an option, I painfully but truthfully went right into plan B.
Every company has a different story. Perhaps you're no longer profitable and actually putting in your own money to just make it through one more payroll. Whatever your circumstances, think about what you're giving up in order to hang onto the business. If you're good with the sacrifices, then fight tooth and nail to make it work. But if the sacrifices become a true hardship, and you're secretly praying for it all to go away, then it might be time to move on.
Who do you want to be?
Many entrepreneurs find that the turmoil of gritting it out daily in a subpar situation is also costing them their inner peace. Stress and uncertainty can make a kind person snappy, an optimistic person negative and a person of high integrity into someone who undercuts out of despair. You're not serving anyone (least of all yourself) if you've become an inferior version of yourself. Think of when you're at your best, and what steps you can take to get back to that person.
For me, I thrive when I'm all-in on something I'm passionate about. My decision to shut the doors of my agency was finally made when I realized two things: My talented employees wouldn't have a problem finding new jobs, and when I saw that the person I was when working on my software company was a completely different person than the woman running an agency. And I liked the former much better.
It was still the hardest thing I've ever had to do, but I was able to handle it with poise and follow through on the right decision for everyone involved.
So from one business owner to another, here's my challenge to you. If you're grappling with the state of your company, know that it's okay to be scared, anxious and unsure. Approach the decision by reviewing all your options and figuring out what's keeping you in the business. Then determine if that upside is worth the costs it would take to stay there. The answer might be yes (and you'll know it).
And if you do decide to turn out the lights, know that it'll be extremely difficult, but it just might be what you need to get back to your best self and your next great venture.