What to do when… You’re not sure you can keep going

want to quit

My business started off so strong. But the last year or so it’s been really rough. The clients are there, but they’re so much more demanding. I’ve lost a couple of key team members, and I just don’t know how many more weekends I can work. My family is angry (and they should be) and my bank account isn’t showing the fruits of my labor. Maybe this entrepreneurial thing just isn’t for me.

First of all, let me say it: we’ve all been there. Even the “rock star” entrepreneurs — those folks writing books and giving speeches? — they’ve all got a moment, or more likely many moments, when the sky was dark and they couldn’t see their way forward. This kind of struggle is an integral part of starting a business (or starting anything for that matter). So don’t panic.

Even though we’ve ALL been there, it doesn’t mean the choice to stay in the game isn’t your own. It is. Everyone has to decide for themselves whether to throw in the towel or soldier on. It may be time to “come in out of the rain” — or it may be your “darkest just before the dawn” moment. Only you can decide. And while no one has a magical crystal ball, and you may feel like a blind man in a dark room, the truth is, you don’t have to GUESS what your best option might be. You can look at some key indicators that might help point the way.

1. What are you learning?

Business failure can be an excellent teacher. Are you failing differently today than you were last week, or last year? If you are learning, and that learning is causing you to do different things, then there is hope. If you are banging your head against the same wall time and again, it may be time to move on.

2. Are you seeing improvement, however slow?

If you’re learning, and trying new things, but the new things are getting you worse results than the last iteration, then you might be heading in the wrong direction. If you aren’t seeing happy clients who are referring you to more happy clients; or if clients aren’t willing to pay a rate that results in a profit for you; it may be time to find something else. On the other hand, if there are happy clients, who are paying you good money (just not enough of them) then that’s a problem that could be solved. Looking for some help with marketing or sales might be the answer.

3. What’s your “plan B”?

If today is the last day that your business can survive, what are you doing tomorrow? What would you do other than what you are doing now? If you have a ready answer, or better yet 2 – 3 options, it might be time to pursue them. If, on the other hand, you can’t imagine doing anything else (and not for lifestyle reasons, but because no one would hire you) then you need to figure this out.

Most successful entrepreneurs got there because they weren’t well suited to a more “traditional” role in the workplace — a regular job. Many got fired more than once, others have wicked ADHD, and most have some reason that they just don’t fit in other people’s companies. If that’s the case, you need to figure this out!

4. Who will be honest with you?

It’s hard to see things clearly when you are in the middle of them. It’s crucial to get someone who’s not in it with you to give you an objective view. The problem with most people you might trust with this is that they care too much for you — so it’s hard for them to be objective, or to tell the painful truth. Can you get another business owner, or a mastermind group, or a coach, or another professional who will look objectively at what you have, the progress you are making, and where it could end up? That perspective could be really valuable not just today, but as you continue on as well. This might be time to form an Advisory Board to give you some accountability and perspective.

Let’s say you’ve determined that you are learning, and you are making progress, and your outside observers tell you to keep going, but you still aren’t sure. You don’t have the energy, or the money, or… Then what you are facing is not a bad business idea, but a failure of your motivation or commitment. If that’s the case, taking some time to remind yourself why you got started on this adventure and what you hoped to achieve by pursuing it might fan the ember of drive that’s still left in your belly.

So take a deep breath. If you’re at your wits end and you feel you have a decision to make you don’t have to feel like you’re jumping off a cliff. And, don’t forget: you’re not alone. Though it’s true, no one but you can decide what to do in your predicament; finding even one person who’s “been there” may be the biggest remedy to your distress.

And, thinking on all these things, you can make a decision that is actually informed, as opposed to a last ditch effort. Whether your resolve is strengthened, your fears confirmed, or you discover a new task in front of you, asking these questions, gathering good data, and having objective input from a trusted source will all help to decrease the level of panic you are feeling. AND THEN you will be in a much better position to envision and take your next step, regardless of the direction.

So. Feeling like a failure? Good. Join the club of experienced business owners whose failures, in hindsight, turned out to be opportunities in disguise.

Photo credit: Jason Lander

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