I’ve spent many dark, lonely nights laying in bed looking at my bedroom ceiling. I’d be worrying about business issues or a lack of money and a little teeny tiny voice in my head would say, “You know Michelle, maybe you should just…quit. Give up. Sell everything off. Move on.” Not going to lie, many of those nights the very IDEA of not having to run a business any more filled me with waves of relief. I could feel my whole body RELAX just at the idea of not being a business owner anymore. I would become almost giddy with excitement at the idea of never having to pay another business-related bill again or work on the weekend.
Sometimes I’d complain to my Mom about how business wasn’t going as well as I’d like it to, and she would say, “Maybe you should just give it up. You don’t need this kind of stress in your life.” Complaining to my Dad was worse, “You know Michelle, some people just aren’t cut out to run a business.” Of course when they said that I’d get all angry and defensive and resolve never to complain to them again. Then that night, when it was dark and quiet and my husband was softly snoring next to me, the voice would come back. “Maybe they’re right. This IS too stressful. I want a calmer life. I’m just plain exhausted. Maybe I should just quit my business.” That wonderful feeling of relief would flood through my veins again and I’d think, “Right. This is it. I’m going to get up in the morning and start making plans to close the doors.” Having decided that, I’d fall asleep with a smile on my face and with the tension having drained out of my shoulders I’d have a good night’s sleep.
The next morning I’d get up, go to the shop and start doing the ordering, making the baking list, working on a figurine, mixing up a batch of buttercream… and I’d forget entirely that I was meant to be getting ready to close the doors. I’d go happily along in my day, working in and on my business as though that late night conversation never happened. This same thing happened to me more often than I’d like to admit. It almost always happened during a crisis – either a financial crisis of cash flow, or an emotional crisis like a client complaint or staffing issue.
I’m guessing that story sounds kinda familiar to you, because most weeks I get at least a few emails which say something like, “Hi Michelle, I’ve been doing cake business for a year. I’m just not getting enough orders, I’m not making any money, my husband is not supportive at all, and I’m trying to take care of my toddler as well. It’s all too hard! Do you think I should just quit my business?”
First let me say that without knowing ANYTHING about you other than what that message said, I’m in no way able to give you a simple yes or no answer to that. Now I know that most of the time, the people who get in touch with me are usually seeking permission to let their business go OR they are hoping I have some sort of secret sauce I can give them which will fix it all. Sadly, I can’t give you either of those.
Second let me straight up say that if your main reason for wanting to quit is either, “There are too many cheap cake ladies out there,” or “Customers only care about price,” then quite honestly I think you probably should quit. People who are in this for the long term (who approach their businesses truly from the head space of a business owner) would be frustrated about those two things but neither of those things would be the real reason they close down. Neither would being “unhappy,” or “it’s just not fun anymore,” because it’s never that simple and you know it. Our lives and our circumstances are way too complex to use happiness as the measure of success. Businesses are like relationships. They take time and effort and not every day is rainbow unicorns and buttercream scented waffles.
This deep and desperate desire to close your business is something most business owners come across several times in the course of their careers. For some it’s reaching the “grow or stop” phase of their business, when they’ve realised that they are utterly overwhelmed by everything. Those people usually have a ton of orders and are struggling to keep up. They at the point of needing to decide, “Do I hire someone? Find a bigger premises? Or do I just give it up because it’s out of hand?” For others, it’s the disappointment of having kept their business doors open a while and the orders are simply not coming in as they need them to. They are desperate for more money or more orders or both. Cake was SO FUN when it was a hobby but lately…it’s not feeling so much fun anymore because the stress or pressure of money has come into it. The third category of people who consider closing their business are people who have had a major life change which has led them to reconsider everything about their lives. Maybe they had a baby, lost a loved one, got diagnosed with an illness, moved location. NO matter which of those situations are yours, it very upsetting and scary when that little voice in the night starts talking.
If you’re anything like me, when that feeling gets really bad you start acting like an irresponsible business owner. Secretly, you’re hoping that something massive will happen to force your hand. You start to ignore emails. You won’t answer the phone. You cut corners, make mistakes with orders, and kinda…lose your shit for a little while. Eventually you probably snap out of it and you’re okay for a while…but then you get tired or don’t get orders or your child gets sick and this wonderful, glorious fantasy of walking away starts to seem more and more appealing. And thus the cycle continues.
So – how do you find the answer to the question, “Should I close my business?” (Also let me point out here that I don’t like the negative connotation of the word QUIT. It’s a horrible word. It makes you feel and sound like a loser and ANYONE who’s had a try at being in business is NOT a loser in my book.)
Here’s what to do: I think you need to answer that question with three more questions. REALLY take the time to answer this. Go out for a coffee by yourself if you need to. Mull over them. Consider them. Look within.
The first is: Am I feeling this way because of a temporary situation? or have I secretly felt this way for a while and it has NOTHING to do with something temporary? Temporary things might be – physical exhaustion, complaining customer, a few slow months, lack of money, fear of marketing. More permanent things might be – families growing or ageing, major medical concerns, life changes like divorces or partners losing jobs.
The second is: Why am I doing this business in the first place? The answer is not, “because I like cake,” there has to be something way, way, WAY bigger than that. Running a business is not easy, and especially not in the beginning when it seems like you’ve got to be the one who builds the ship from scratch and then steers it too. There needs to be a BIG WHY for your business. Just being passionate about decorating is a good reason to start a business but not a good reason to keep it going. If you don’t have a BIG WHY then that’s probably contributing to your frustration and your desire to close because you can no longer feel or see the purpose for doing what you’re doing, so it makes all the problems feel big.
The third is: The last thing I want you to do (stick with me here) – is close your eyes, look into your heart of hearts and imagine your life WITHOUT your business in it. Really think about what your life would look like in a few months from now, if you didn’t have your business. Sure, you’ll be less tired but I want you to think harder than that. Would you be missing it terribly? Would you be missing it a little but actually glad it’s behind you? If you were to close now, would you feel as though you’d given it your all? Will you be proud of all that you achieved, or will you have regrets about the things you didn’t do or didn’t try to do? By the way please don’t be ridiculous about this whole visualising thing. Closing your business does not mean that every day you will frolic on the beaches of Maui in a red bikini looking smoking hot and throwing around hundred-dollar bills in the air like you just don’t care. (I should know. That’s what my vision looked like. Didn’t happen.)
If any of you are in a relationship you’ll know what I’m talking about, because choosing a partner is a little like this. The moment you realise you can’t honestly imagine your life without them is the moment you know they are a keeper. So if you CANNOT IMAGINE your life without your business, that’s telling you that it’s not time to close yet, that there’s still plenty of desire and effort hiding there under the frustration and desperation. It means it’s time to change things for the better, take some time to think and plan, and work on making a better future for yourself. If you can EASILY imagine your future without your business and it really doesn’t bother you…. then yes, it’s probably time to seriously consider moving on.
So if you answer all those and think, I really, really don’t want to close… (my situation is temporary, I still have stuff I want to achieve, and I can’t imagine my life without it), here are a few options for how to move forward from here. All of these fall under the heading of getting shit done:
- Scale back the business for a few months so you can re-group mentally. Be “booked out” for at least one weekend a month, or just “book out” for an entire month if you can manage it. You must give yourself the time and space to make a plan to move forward.
- Consider taking on a part time job to supplement income (so your financial situation is not as desperate or pressured.) I think bridge jobs are BRILLIANT and I tell most people to get one if they can, even if it’s only for a few months to help you calm the hell down. It also gives you the mental space to think a little more clearly. Sometimes you need to just not think about your business a little bit. When we live in our heads 24/7 it’s very easy to get stuck there and turn mole hills into mountains.
- If before now you’ve never had a long term vision for your business, only “I’m doing it because I love cake,” then you need to DEVELOP a vision. You can do this by getting some mentoring with me, or doing some reading online about figuring out your business purpose and how to do it. You MUST HAVE a bigger picture or I guarantee you will return to this very spot in a few short months.
- Take a good, long look at your business and figure out which bits of it are not the best use of your time OR which bits give you the most grief. Then DO something to alleviate that. Outsource stuff, hire a part time helper, buy in those damn roses, just GET RID of stuff you do not need to do. Be absolutely ruthless in cutting crap out of your business. Scale down the number of products you make. Take one Saturday off a month. Declutter your business like you are Peter Walsh on crack.
- GET OUT. I’m not kidding on this one. Call a few friends in business (cake or not) and MEET IN REAL LIFE. Or join a small business networking group. YOU ARE NOT ALONE but I’m willing to bet that it feels like you are. Create a regular meeting with these guys – once a month for coffee on the first Tuesday night of the month. Make it a real thing and make it happen. You need the support of other business owners around you. Don’t have anyone local? Create a Skype group. It’s possible. MAKE IT HAPPEN.
- If you feel this way ONLY because of a temporary situation (client complaint, etc) then work out a way to solve that thing so that it never happens again or if it does, you have a method by which to deal with it.
- And once you’ve done all of that….write a note in your planner for 3 months time, where you re-evaluate how you’re feeling about things. If literally nothing about your feelings or situation has changed, then there are issues here which are bigger than you first thought and it’s worth reading this post again. (Bookmark it!)
If you answer all of those and think, “I’m really and truly done. I don’t want to keep doing this,” (because my situation is NOT temporary, I have no freaking idea why the hell I’m doing this, and honestly YES I can imagine not having to deal with this thing – good riddance!) then first let me give you a MASSIVE virtual hug and tell you that I admire your bravery. Choosing to walk away is as brave a business decision as any you will make, truly. There is no shame in choosing to change paths. Let me repeat that. You are not a loser, a quitter, or a crappy business owner because you are deciding to change paths. You are simply choosing differently now. My tips for closing your business are:
- Take swift, decisive action. Pick a closing date and put it in your calendar in pen. Tell your loved ones the date. Declare it out loud to yourself, too.
- Don’t literally walk away and leave customers hanging. Choose your “closing date” to be right after whatever the future-most order you currently have is. Between now and then, give it ALL you’ve got. You owe it to your customers and yourself to go out on a high note. If your last order is in excess of six months from now, then I would pick your closing date, find someone to take your orders over for you (whose work is on par with yours and who you trust), and personally call those customers and explain the situation. Give them the option of working with the new person, or getting a full refund from you. Don’t drag this out longer than six months.
- Don’t make any huge plans for the immediate future, other than taking some time OFF to just breathe. Give yourself the time and space to close this business down with dignity.
- Go speak to the right people (accountants etc) and make sure you do all the right legal and financial bits and pieces to close the entity.
- Decide on how you’re going to answer the question, “Why did you close down?” because people will ask and I do not want you to feel like shit when they do. You know what, I don’t care if you lie. It’s not their business anyway. Come up with an answer you feel comfortable telling people. “I just decided to move onto other things,” is a perfectly reasonable answer. Anything more is up to you and frankly it’s not really their beeswax anyway. Don’t feel like everyone needs or deserves to know the whole story. Your business, your rules.
- Expect the following to happen: you will beat yourself up about the decision, you will suddenly get an influx of orders (because the Universe is funny like that) and you will doubt your decision and suddenly find your cake mojo returning. All normal. All okay. Just remind yourself of your closing date and the time off that which comes right after that. Then, take a deep breath, and don’t let this “ummm…maybe I shouldn’t close,” little voice in your head talk too much. If you let it talk, you will find yourself right back in the same “Should I close?” situation in a few months’ time.
For many of us there are real financial considerations here, especially if the business supplements or supports our families. In BOTH scenarios (close or go on) I want you to put on your Big Girl Pants and TAKE ACTION about the money part of things. Go see the accountant, talk to your husband, figure out what money you have and what you need and start being a grown up about it. I found that REALLY REALLY hard but let me tell you, the feeling of relief when you KNOW what is going on with your money is really, really nice. It’s like someone has rolled a big old boulder off your shoulders. Knowing is better than not knowing. It helps you make better decisions.
There are a whole lot of books I’ve read which say, “Just when you’re feeling the worst about your business, that’s when you’re on the verge of a breakthrough.” Some people call this an Upper Limit Problem (ULP), some people call it, “the darkest before the dawn,” and some people say, “as soon as you stop trying, that’s when you’ll get pregnant.” You get the idea. Those are real things, which is PRECISELY why I want you to answer the questions above and visualise what life would be like without the business. I don’t want you to make this decision just based on one day when you’re having an “Oh @%#&$# it! This sucks!” moment. I want you to take some time to really consider this stuff. You’ve worked this hard, for this long and put in so much of yourself – believe me when I say you can afford another few days or weeks to take the time to come to a proper, real decision about things.
Lastly – if you’ve been thinking about this and every week you find yourself making a new decision – this week I’m closing, next week I’m not and so on and so forth – then that tells me you’ve never really worked out your purpose for why you’re doing this. Having a purpose is what keeps you going when you least want to keep going.
Will you do something for me now? Comment on this post (you’ll see the button at the top of it). Let me know where you’re at. If you’ve closed and are happier, let me know. If you’ve closed and wished you didn’t, let me know that too. This blog is a community, and anybody reading this feeling this way needs to know they are not alone. Please share your story. If you’re not comfortable sharing your story, share the post with the buttons below. Chances are you know someone who needs to read it now.