Knowing When It's Time To Break Up With Your Business
"You and me, we used to be together. Everyday together always.
I really feel like I'm losing my best friend. I can't believe this could be the end.
It looks as though you're letting go.
And if it's real well I don't want to know..."
Much like a long term relationship or a high school friendship, sometimes we outgrow, evolve or change and find ourselves ready to move forward. Alone. Without our business.
When I owned Auntie Loo’s, I began having this inkling after my move and expansion. I chalked it up to nerves and stress, and figured in no time I'd be in love with my business again. Then the panic attacks started. I fell apart over daily conflicts and obstacles. I openly sobbed and drank too much after work, and- not my proudest moment- during. I was desperate to find relief from this inevitable I just couldn't face. I tried looking for articles on if this feeling goes away for entrepreneurs and if there were real red flags for if it was time to close. I couldn't find anything relatable to a bricks and mortar food business. We all know how my story ended- suddenly, dramatically and devastatingly. For me and my beloved staff. I don't recommend it.
So how do you know when it's over? Here's 5 red flags.
1)You Hate Going To Work.
You probably got into entrepreneurship to work your own hours and do what you love, right? What attracts your customers, motivates your staff and grows your brand is your love and passion. You run into clients and they tell you how much they love you and your business, and although you may accept the compliment graciously, you're dead inside. If you have lost the passion and can't get it back, and this feeling has lingered more than 90 days, it may be time to consciously uncouple.
2) You Have Stopped Paying Yourself
Rent is due, payroll is next, and the suppliers are knocking at the kitchen door. Much like a new mum, entrepreneurs will put themselves on the bottom of the list. It's a dangerous practice. If you don't value yourself and your work, it will eat at your soul and work ethic. You must always pay yourself, just as you pay your staff. If you can't afford it, it's time to have a hard talk with yourself.
3) You Have Stopped Planning Ahead
Subconsciously you have lost interest and no longer see a future. You may not even realize it yet yourself, but you have stopped menu planning for the seasons, booking food shows and events, and attending networking events. It all seems like too much. Your staff have noticed(then can smell fear) and are looking to jump ship.
4) You Are Putting Out Financial Fires On The Daily
Your bank account is your personal daily torture. Checks are bouncing, deposits are late, you’re putting off payroll and maybe even rent, thinking you'll catch up on the next big dinner service or holiday. I have bad news: you won't. You have entered the slippery slope of a financial hot mess pit, and unless you get a financial advisor and maybe an investor in- stat- you probably won't recover.
5) You Are Not Yourself and Your Relationships are Suffering
Panic attacks plague your life, you're self medicating with food, alcohol, drugs and nicotine and can't relax. Your friends and partner have noticed, and maybe even expressed concern. You're not enjoying anything in your personal life, even in the things that used to make you happy. When you're with friends, all you can do is obsess over the business, nervously checking your phone every few minutes and only talking about issues at your business, in a desperate attempt to get relief from the burdens on your mind.
So What Now?
You've seen 2 or more of these flags and have decided it's time to get out. Your next step is how will you go about it? Here are some options, depending on your businesses’ state when you decide to leave it.
Option 1: Cash In Your Chips
You have a well loved brand, good location with a great lease and are profitable and relatively debt free. Begin posting in places like business forums and groups, kijiji, and the local rotary club one year before you're ready to go. Sit down with a money coach (we love Judith Cane) and put a number on your business.
Option 2: Bankruptcy
You're drowning in debts and it's not getting any better. You're behind on rent, late to suppliers, and haven't paid yourself in months. You can protect yourself with a bankruptcy. For this you will need to hire a trustee (we love Collins Barrow on Moodie Drive) who will explain all of your options to you. A good trustee will explain your options thoroughly, and be empathetic. They will also deal with all the collectors, your landlord, and the CRA on your behalf so you can rest and reflect on what you'll do next without having stressful phone calls every day. I'll warn you ahead of time- you will have to sign literally 100 pages with “your name, bankrupt”. It'll make you feel like a piece of garbage. My partner Chris and friend Nat took me for an ice cream after, and I highly recommend it.
Option 3: Go Out Like A Lady
I really wish I'd been insightful enough for this option. Sales have slumped, you're organized and on top of your cash flow and can see you probably won't make it through the year without losing your shirt. You cut short your lease, put a polite public statement of closure on Facebook and liquidate what's left. Onward and upward.
Closing a business is never an easy choice, but it is a sad reality most entrepreneurs will face. Remember it's not the end, it's the beginning of your next adventure. Take time and be kind to yourself, explore your interests and rest. Like grieving a person, be ready to grieve your business. I personally am coming up on 2 years since my closure, and I still cry for my shop and my former staff. It's a daily process of moving through and past it. I find physical activity, journaling, meditation and great therapist will take you far.
As my great auntie Joan repeatedly said to me in her lovely British accent after I closed my shop, “Chin up, dahling.”