Not every business venture works out. There’s nothing unusual about an entrepreneur getting excited about an idea that ultimately doesn’t deliver. Sometimes we get caught up in a product and its potential, for perfectly good reasons. And sometimes, the result doesn’t reflect the initial promise. Such is business, such is life. But how can we know when a given business has reached that point? How do we know when it’s not working out?
Moving on from a business is no easy decision. Every entrepreneur has a sense of tenacity and determination that can make it difficult to admit something’s wrong. It can be hard to realize that a business isn’t worth pursuing any further, especially if the numbers aren’t terrible. But when a business reaches the point where it’s no longer capable of motivating you, it’s time to reevaluate.
In conventional jobs, a lack of joy can be an annoyance, but not a deal breaker. For independent business people, though, the joy matters. The joy is the point. Why strike out on your own and control your destiny if it means surrendering to work you hate? Even when it’s profitable, drudgery is drudgery. When we reach a point where meeting the challenges and overcoming the hurdles isn’t rewarding enough, a change is needed.
What To Ask Yourself
If you’re feeling a distinct lack of motivation, it’s time to face some tough questions. First, reflect on exactly what obligations your role in the business requires. What do you do with your time? Are these responsibilities enjoyable at all? Do you get any stimulation from them? Would you do them (or some version of them) even if you weren’t getting paid?
I’ve had to ask myself these questions, and I didn’t always like the answers. When I decided to start a men’s clothing line, I thought it had great potential. As a man who isn’t a nudist, I figured menswear was in my wheelhouse. I saw a need in the market, I created products that addressed that need, and the company was profitable. The problem was, I hated it.
In the end, fashion just wasn’t my bag. I enjoy wearing clothes, and I appreciate the nice ones, but the day-to-day responsibilities of running the line just didn’t do it for me. What was initially interesting became merely necessary. There was no joy in it, no love. I did what I had to do, and it made me money. But that’s not independence— that’s a normal job. Sucking it up and exchanging unfulfilling work for pay is fine. It’s what most people do. But it’s not entrepreneurship.
Ask yourself what parts of your role you dislike. Running a business is never all sunshine and roses; even the happiest entrepreneur has to do things they’d rather not. The essential question is whether there’s enough enjoyment to outweigh the chores. Can you pass off all or some of the work you don’t enjoy to others? Can you free your time up to pursue the aspects of running the business that excites you?
When The Joy Isn’t There
If you spend the majority of your time doing work that drains you rather than pumps you up, there are options. First, you can sell the business. What’s nothing but toil to you may be a labor of love for someone else. If you’ve built a customer base and established a product, there may be someone out there who’d love to take it all off your hands.
If you’re working with a partner or several, it’s even simpler to just sell your own stake in the business. Have an honest talk with your partners, and make it clear you’re not happy. Determine what the value of your share of the business is, cash out, and move on.
Finally, there’s simply closing the business. I’ve had to do so on more than one occasion. As long as you do so with the utmost consideration for your customers, it doesn’t have to be a sad affair. Depending on the size and pay structure of the business, give appropriate notice to customers and employees. Announce a few weeks or months in advance that you’re closing up shop, and complete whatever billing cycles are in progress.
Here at The $100 MBA, we’re not selling The Dream. A breezy lifestyle in which you only do what you’re madly passionate about, living a life of 24-hour a day fulfillment, is not a feasible option for most people. Getting paid to do only what makes you happy just isn’t realistic. You’ll have to do the things that allow you to do the things that make you happy, too.
Independent business should be like a sport or fitness pursuit. It should be hard work. It should require working when you’d rather not. It should require putting forth more effort than you would if there was a way out of it. But you do the work because there’s something about it you love. You find fulfillment, in either the process or the result, and that makes every drop of sweat worth it.
Be honest about the joy to work ratio. If you determine that the “have to’s” outweigh the “want to’s,” it’s time to move on. And there’s nothing wrong with that.