The CEO of a small business cold-called me yesterday to ask: how do I know if it’s time to sell my company or give up and get a job or find a way to keep going?
For 3 years, this CEO fought hard to launch a business that is now break-even or slightly profitable. The first few years of a bootstrapped entrepreneur’s journey are an emotional roller coaster. Often coming from a career with lots of success, entrepreneurs are thrust into taking out the office trash and dealing with a seemingly endless stream of administrative hell. But you persevere.
Then, something like a coronavirus comes along and knocks you off the tight-rope of success that you were walking. It is natural to wonder: should I keep going? Before making a decision, here are some thoughts to consider:
- Question the story carefully. Behind nearly every complex thought is an intricate story that we tell ourselves. Often, stories masquerade as “facts” on which we base decisions. Stories are usually more impactful than truth because they include our hopes and fears. With rare exceptions (like physical danger), fear is not helpful in making good decisions. Before making big decisions, find ways of removing fear from the story. Write it down; say it out loud; tell a friend. Take back the power that you gave to fear before making a decision.
- Remember who you are. You are a person who accomplishes things. You solve problems and help those around you get where they are going. You have been successful and will be successful in the future. Make decisions from a place of emotional strength.
- Use your entrepreneurial super-power. Standing at sea level, the horizon is a little more than 3 miles away. But you have a super-power: you can see over the horizon. As an entrepreneur, you are so invested in your business and industry that you can see past where others can see. You know what the medium-term future holds. This give you a huge advantage over others. You know some of the opportunities and risks that are right over the horizon. Look carefully for the information advantages you have and use them.
- Is this the dip or the abyss? Seth Godin wrote a book called The Dip. I highly recommend it for anyone starting a business (and, no, that is not an affiliate link and I am not being paid to pimp the book). The Dip is when increasing efforts (i.e. time and money) yield decreasing results. It is the “paying your dues” part of almost everything in life that is worth doing. Outsiders typically don’t see the difficulty of the Dip, they only see the success that comes after.Sometimes there is no upward slope after the Dip (aka the abyss). Those are situations when the smart answer is to quit. Yes, knowing when to quit and when to persevere is a critical distinction. But be careful: the Dip is your friend. For most of us, the Dip is our only real barrier to entry from a string of would-be competitors. The Dip weeds out those that can’t make it.
The coronavirus will pass and our economy will recover. You are a person that can persevere. You pushed to get here. You will make it through this and be stronger for it.