Finding Perspective When Your Business is Failing
How not to let the fear of losing your company ruin your life
Panic has been my default mode for the past seven months.
The sheer and utter panic that the bank will take my house, that this is the month I won’t have money for groceries, that I won’t be able to pay the company’s phone and internet bill, causing me to shut down the (meager) operation.
When you have a business, especially if it’s your first business, it’s easy to take it for your life. That’s how it feels to you. That company is your life. You dream about it, you spend most of your time there, you work 16 or 20 hours straight, maybe more.
This is not a healthy way of life even when everything is going well, but it’s when everything starts to fall apart that you’ll feel fear’s cold hand gripping your heart.
You want to save it at all costs.
You’ll throw all your money at it, you’ll borrow more, you’ll start selling assets to inject more money into the company, you’ll go through your savings, the savings of your family members, college funds, you’ll give your house and everything you own as collateral to raise even more money.
In many aspects, it’s very much like an addiction.
And it may destroy you and your family. And the worse thing is that it may work. Throwing money at it may actually work. You may find yourself in one or two years' time being grateful that you didn’t give up because business is booming and you were able to get all your money back.
That’s why it is so difficult to know when to stop.
Your company is not your life
You’ll have to surround yourself with knowledgeable and informed opinions from financial advisors and other entrepreneurs, you’ll have to be reasonable and pragmatic, but you’ll also have to listen to your gut. Develop your intuition. Meditate. This takes time if you don’t practice it already.
The one thing you can start doing today is to recognize that your company is not your life. There is life beyond your business.
You probably think that this work you do is all you know how to do. It defines you. Your work is who you are. That is a lie. And it may not seem that way, but you have options, I guarantee it. You may not like the options you have — that is a different story. But your life will not end if your company goes bust, not unless you let it.
So, here’s how to find some perspective amidst all the chaos:
Sit down with pen and paper and start writing a list of all the things you can do. You are an entrepreneur, god damn it, your abilities are by no means constricted to one or two simple tasks. There are loads of things you have the capacity and the knowledge to do. PR, office manager, sales manager, project manager, team leader, procurement, HR, accounting, teaching. This is just a sample of the many tasks any entrepreneur that starts on his or her own or with a small team will have to do to get the business up and running.
And I bet you’ll have even more specific things to add that will have to do with your company’s core business: technology, construction, organic skincare, catering. Whatever the case might be for you, you’ll have a specific set of skills that no one else has.
On top of that, there is the stuff you love and do effortlessly, but you never thought you could make money from. I am here to tell you you are wrong. Decoration, cooking, sewing, carpentry, house repair, car repair, painting, writing. There is money to be made with everything under the sun.
And if that’s not enough, you can move to another country, maybe somewhere where life is cheaper or somewhere where you already have a friend or family member that could help you find your footing.
So before you use up all your savings and assets trying to save your business, think long and hard if that is the right (profitable) thing to do. Take emotions out of it. This is a business, not a person. Don’t burn through your cash simply because you think there is no other option. There is always another option, plenty of other options. And it might be better to save your money and invest it in a new project than to keep throwing it at a dying business.
Struggling companies are leeches, they will suck you dry. In many cases, no money will ever be enough to bring them back to life. And in the meantime, you are falling behind on your mortgage or your child’s college tuition.
Just let it go. Leave while you still have some cash and some stamina left.
Your house is not your life
In other, more difficult cases, your personal finances are already entangled with your company’s finances, because you used your house as collateral, for example. That will be a huge incentive to try to save your business at all costs. In such a case the business may indeed cost you your home and that will probably feel like the end of your life.
And, look, I hear you, I am in that exact same spot if you haven’t guessed it already, but even if you lose your house or you have to sell it in order to get out of debt, your house is not your life. And maybe selling it to get rid of soul-sucking debt isn’t such a bad idea.
You will probably struggle with this at first, you may even be yelling at the screen right now, but do this simple exercise: allow yourself to sit quietly with the thought of giving up your house. Would it be so bad to sell it? Where would you go if it came to it? Is downsizing really that bad? How would a downsize look like?
Napoleon Hill said, “every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit”. I know it’s hard to fight the urge to tell Napoleon to come here and take a look at this mess and pray to tell where the bloody seeds are. I’ve definitely done that.
Today my ex-husband-to-be and business partner has been crying his eyes out because he had to sell his pickup truck. He already has a plan B (but zero cash to invest) and this was the car that he wanted to take along, so it feels like double the failure, double the pain and doubles the sorrow. So I know how Napoleon’s advice can sound empty and woo-woo.
On the other hand, it doesn’t cost any money and you’ve probably tried everything else, so look for the opportunities. Meditate. Sit quietly and visualize yourself doing something else. What would that be? How would that look like?
Make a list of jobs you might be qualified to do. Is there something you could start pursuing immediately, even as a side hustle? Do you have a business idea you could pitch someone? Is your house cluttered with things you don’t need that you could sell to make some money? If you end up moving, a less cluttered house will be a blessing.
Your business is failing but it’s not the end of the world, it’s not even the end of your world, I assure you. So before you start throwing all your money at it, sit down and take a hard, fearless, dispassionate look at your company and assess, to the best of your ability, if it is salvageable. If it’s not, save your money and look for opportunities.
The death of your first business will most likely make way for something better, but only if you let it.
If only someone had told me this a year ago…