Knowing When to Quit

“Well, you know … everyone. Quitting means giving up. You couldn’t make it. You’re a loser,” came the reply.

“But you’re fighting a losing battle. You’re over $80,000 in debt and by your own admission, you can’t see yourself really making it in this business any more. So what are you going to do?” I asked.

“I don’t know… just keep trying. There must be something I can do … but I couldn’t quit,” he said emphatically. “What would people say?”

“Probably very little,” I suggested. “Most people are too absorbed in the antics of holding their own worlds together that your personal drama is only of passing interest. How much attention do you give to the trials and tribulations of others?”

Not only was Peter in debt, fierce competition and worn-out equipment had taken a huge toll on his small print shop. To stay competitive, he streamlined the pre-press and outsourced larger projects. His shop was busy but the margins were meager. The company’s credit line was flagged and cash flow was becoming an issue. The viability for long-term success was dim.

Assisting a client through bankruptcy is always a challenge but the regulatory process moves you through it in a systematic way. Bankruptcy is a financial matter. The company’s financial affairs are scrutinized, creditors get involved and settlements of various sorts are attended to. Peter was not facing bankruptcy; he had enough assets to cover his debt. His past success gave him a comfortable lifestyle and at 53, he had highly marketable skills. But his company was on dangerous ground and choosing an exit strategy was timely.

Assisting a client through an exit strategy involves shifting their focus from well-entrenched attitudes about quitting, failure and giving up, to establishing a healthier context. There is no freedom in hanging on to old attitudes that do not serve the business process. Peter was caught in his mindset of ‘quitting’. By all business measurements, his print shop would not survive the marketplace shifts and losing his shop would be a wise decision. But Peter saw this as quitting and would not hear of it.

Peter is not the only business owner held hostage by an old attitude! I’ve watched people who refuse to quit land up in bankruptcy as a consequence. So along with their emotional baggage around quitting, they’ve added the baggage of shame. What’s so wrong with quitting – closing the business – when the odds of success are just too unfriendly? And what’s so wrong with quitting when the stresses on family, friends and oneself are just too high?

If you continue to do what you’ve always done, you’ll continue to get what you’ve always got. One thing business owners continue to do is fool themselves into believing that success is just one customer away. That working just a bit harder will bring it around. Or that business stress is just a momentary issue. The idea of stopping and changing direction – which is always preceded by a change in attitude – rarely occurs. They stick to their well-worn habits and play out a predictable outcome.

“Closing your business isn’t a failure, Peter. It’s an option,” I said. “You can choose to fight, and by all accounts, it will be a bloody one. That is an option. Or you can keep doing what you’ve been doing and slowly fade away. That’s also an option. But closing the business requires the least effort, opens up your future and repositions you for something else. Closing your business is not a failure; it’s a business strategy. But first you have to let go of the baggage around quitting.

“Business is a living, pulsating process that expands and contracts in response to the influences around it. Currently it’s being irrevocably influenced by technology. It’s going through a growth spurt much like a child growing out of his shoes. There’s nothing wrong with the old pair but something new is required for the next phase.

“Your print shop served the community for 16 years but costs for upgrading negate the likelihood of profitability. So, what’s wrong with accepting that assessment and moving on? You’ve played your part. Now take your experience and skill and offer it to the marketplace in a different way. You’re not quitting; you’re building on what you’ve created.”