Should I Stay or Should I Go
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Should I Stay or Should I Go

When is it time to call it quits in a business that feels stagnant? This is a question that causes some people complete frustration and never really seems to receive a satisfying answer. It is also a question that comes up for most businesses at least a dozen times within the first three years of business.

By Johnny Duncan

There are a hundred or more reasons why a business owner will begin to feel that the business is headed down the tubes. Sometimes it is just a hint that it is time for a change. Other times it means that the owner needs a break. And still other times it may have just hit rock bottom and it is time to get out of Dodge.

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  • Some folks feel it is a matter of motivation and attitude. There are a multitude of business books that address the issue of motivation with quotes from Abraham Lincoln to Jack Welch and even some from Winnie the Pooh. The tidbits of business anecdotes do provide some relief but they are more like painkillers for a broken leg than a cast and six months of healing. When your business seems sick and even on the verge of going flat line, you want some direction to bring back the health and vitality and not mere lip service.

    Regardless of where the feelings originated or even if they are valid, the following simple exercises should at the very least give you a new perspective and create a better chance of making the correct decision concerning your business.

    Step away
    First, step outside for a while and look in. Even if the business needs you for the everyday tasks involved, step away. You will never know if you are making the right moves until you can see the whole picture. If you can step out of the ring even if it is only for a day or two, you can begin to see things in a different light. Then, you will think more clearly and be in a better position to make critical decisions.

    Seek someone
    Second, go to someone who knows you and a little about your business. A mentor or close friend who will advise objectively. Sometimes a spouse is the perfect one, but sometimes they too are too wrapped up in it to see clearly. The person you go to for advice should be able to take all emotion out of the situation and give it to you straight. Tell them that you are considering taking down your shingle and ask if they think you have a chance of making it if you continue with the business. They may see something you’ve overlooked and be able to set you in a different, and even better direction.

    See your plan
    Third, look back at your business plan and your goals. Is the company doing what you set out for it to do? Are you on the same path that you started on? If not, what would it take to get there? Remember, you got into this thing for a reason. If that reason is still there, if that “why” is still alive, you may be headed toward an answer to whether you should keep the doors open or not. You know you can always make money, but is that the only reason you started your business?

    Set it down
    Next, take out some very valuable yet inexpensive tools you own--- a pencil and notepad. Draw a line down the center of the page and list as a heading for one of the columns “Pros” and the next one “Cons”. Begin brainstorming all the reasons for staying in business in the Pro column and all the reasons for leaving in the Con column. This exercise seems too simplistic and not even worth attempting. It is probably one of the most overlooked effective methods of decision-making there is. The smart players use this system and make very successful decisions doing so.

    For example, your Pros column may reflect that you should keep your business open because you have a unique product or service and eventually things will swing your way again. Or, keeping the doors open will allow you to present a new product to some existing customers. Maybe you can diversify into another product.

    The Cons column may include things like “overhead way too high” or “customer base dwindling”. Sometimes the cons column can spark an idea that will pull your business out of the ruts. Perhaps the “overhead too high” will point you to a smaller shop or sharing a secretary with another business in your building. This is the time to make the proverbial lemonade out of those lemons!

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    After the brainstorming session, put the notepad down for about a day or two. Now go back to your list and rethink your Pros and Cons. Are they still Pros and Cons or should some of them be the other way around? Make this read-over your final one and add any more to the list you can think of. Review this list with the person you went to for advice or your spouse and share with them the results.

    Secure your future
    Now, with your stepping out time behind you and armed with advice from friends, your business plan and goals as well as pro/con list in hand, lock yourself in your office. Review all that you have. Think about anything that could save your business at this point. If nothing short of a miracle can salvage your business, then it may be time to close shop.

    If re-engineering (an 80’s term) your business and revamping your strategy will allow you to keep trucking, then get started now. Don’t put it off. Some people kill their own business by hanging on to old ideas that no longer work. They are stuck in tradition and their emotions won’t let them turn lose of the past. The pros/cons worksheet as well as the stepping-out-looking-in exercise should break these old habits. You should be able to “hang on to the cookin’ and let go of the kissin’” at this point.

    Without knowing the circumstances surrounding your situation, it is difficult to say whether you should keep the doors open or not. I do know that the above information will at the very least give you a perspective into your business that you can’t always afford to see. In fact, it is a healthy list to follow at least once a year to put new energy into your business and maybe even spark new creative ideas to put to work.

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