It's not an easy decision, but sometimes circumstances dictate it's the right thing to do.
I haven't spoken to an entrepreneur yet who has not thought about walking away from a business at one time or another, especially if the business is only a few years old. The grind, lack of money and pure fatigue are usually the top reasons why business owners are ready to throw in the towel.
Rene Syler, CEO and founder of lifestyle brand Good Enough Mother, discussed in a recent blog post that she is still surprised when people complain about how much work is needed to build a brand:
"This is hard! It’s supposed to be. If it wasn’t, everyone would be doing it. There is not a timeline, no expiration date. You just have to keep going until it pays off. Or quit."
Making the choice to quit your business is not an easy one. Owner and publisher Julie Wilson made the difficult decision this spring to close the doors of her Kentucky lifestyle magazine, Story, after almost four years.
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"My passion for storytelling was no longer what was driving my business, and therefore, it wasn’t honest," she says, adding that she knew it was time to let it go.
If you are business owner who is not sure if it is time to shut your doors, here are Wilson's telltale signs that it might be time to close up shop.
1. You don’t recognise yourself anymore
As a business owner, you want to be a better version of yourself. You may be a little different, but not completely unrecognisable. Wilson says she eventually morphed into someone she didn't know anymore.
"I realised that toward the end, I was working so relentlessly to save the business that I had become a completely different person," she says.
"I was no longer the wife and mother I wanted to be. The business version of myself was a bit uncomfortable, though. The Julie I knew would never be using terms like 'P&L statements' or 'accounts receivable,' but I did what it took. I drafted a real business plan, then a working strategic plan, and all of this has to be referred to on a regular basis to make sure you stay on track. The snowball effect takes over, and you just try to stay one step ahead of it."
2. It’s too much to handle
As a business owner, you cannot and should not do everything yourself. It is a recipe for disaster. A business needs someone to plan present and future strategy, handle day-to-day projects, market and promote and handle the finances. If the business is expected to grow, then you need a bigger team.
"For the majority of the time we were in business, we had a daily staff of two that did everything from sales to publishing," Wilson says.
With such a small staff, she admits that "marketing got the shaft."
"One of the heaviest facepalm moments that I still struggle with is that we received a huge order for our last issue (more than double the number from the previous issue), but we were just too small to meet the demand," Wilson says.
"We created a champagne product on a watered-down Pabst budget, but in the end, there wasn’t even enough beer left."
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3. The thrill is gone
It's thrilling to say that you own a business, to hand out your cards and to find your website in a Google search. But the business of running your business can eventually take toll.
As the boss, you are responsible for everything, including producing goods and services, payroll, providing health benefits and good customer service. It's a lot to juggle and maintain.
"I am a journalist by profession, but as the owner, the business side took more of my time than the creative," Wilson says.
"In the beginning, it was exciting – like I was doing research for an article about what a CEO looks like. Quickbooks, payroll, revenue reports – I learned all of it. I always felt like my type A/creative personality was a slam-dunk for playing the role of business owner. And I still think it is – I mean, I won the 2014 NAWBO Small Business of the Year Award – but when the business demands started overshadowing the time I could spend developing content, the creative spark was growing faint.
"When playing the role of CEO becomes a façade and not just a part of who I am, that’s a telltale sign," she continues.
"One area where I have stayed true to my personality is that I am one gutsy broad, and it took as much guts to call it quits as it did to start the business. For the first time in 15 years, I will not be working on a print magazine – and I’m OK with that."
For some entrepreneurs, quitting is not an option. I circled back to Rene Syler, who has been building the Good Enough Mother brand for the last 10 years and asked her if she has ever experienced any of the above signs.
"Yes, I have. Every single one of them. But they typically plague me when I am tired or stretched too thin," she says.
"How do I handle them? I put myself in time out. For real. I understand that what I am doing, building a brand, takes time. Building anything of value does. So when I feel myself getting burned out, I take a step back, understanding that this is a marathon, not a sprint."
Syler also believes in measuring your success in realistic terms.
"Sometimes, I take a look back at where I was a year ago and compare that to where I am now. That gives me a more accurate picture and reminds me that I am making progress, even if it's not as fast as I would like it to be," she says.
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"I would just urge people to ask a couple of hard questions: What are you going to do if you do throw in the towel? Are you willing to forego calling your own shots for a steady paycheck with less freedom? Is what you are feeling the result of short-term fatigue? Can you just take a step back and get rested? It's not for everyone, but as difficult as it is, quitting now is just not an option for me, and I can't see a time when it ever will be."
Saying goodbye to a business can be an emotional and conflicting journey. When I spoke to Wilson by phone recently, she told me that even though she's 99 percent sure she made the right decision in closing her business, there is still that nagging feeling that maybe she can start it again.
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