Kurt (not his real name) has a problem that is so common it’s scary. He’s in his mid-fifties and he’s burnt out. His company is barely paying him a salary, never mind a return on his investment. His perception of the value of his business is so low that he wouldn’t even give it away to his senior manager because he feels it would be a liability, not an opportunity.
Kurt looked defeated as he wondered out loud, “should I just walk away from my business and lock the doors or hang on for another year and try to ride out this current economic storm? If I walk now,” he added, “I would still have a little cash in the bank. If I go another year without getting some good sales, I could lose everything and end up in the hole. Not my idea of ‘Freedom 55’.”
The optimistic side of me wanted to encourage him to hang in there, “this too shall pass.” But without a plan, a change in his attitude and some energetic action applied to the problem, it wasn’t likely to get better in the next twelve months. He is not alone. The economic reality ensures that companies that were not well managed in good times are in real trouble now.
For some, cutting their losses and walking away may be the best option. The increasing number of business bankruptcies is a sign that many are doing just that. For others, that option is one they will fight to the end because they see it as a failure and don’t want to be stuck with that label.
If you are in a critical situation like this, here are some steps you can take that will help you through this difficult time:
Start with your attitude. Remind yourself of all you’ve already achieved. You have experienced many successes and have come a long way from where you started. You have provided employment for people, been a good corporate citizen, and provided a valuable service or product to your clients. Don’t let the current external circumstances diminish your self-worth. As one entrepreneur who sold his business said to me, “Remember, you are not your business and your business is not you. It’s not personal.”
Manage your stress. Get more exercise. Eat smart. Get plenty of rest. Rebuild your strength and resilience. It’s hard to fight when you are exhausted and sick.
Get support from those who care about you and will remind you that you are a good person and that you can manage your way through this challenging time.
If money is tight, speak to your suppliers and ask for some terms and leeway to pay them back. With a proactive approach you are more likely to get co-operation than if you try to hide.
Cut all unnecessary expenses – anything that isn’t going to positively affect your bottom line in the next 12 months.
Assess your people. If someone isn’t pulling their weight and adding value, pull the plug. Do it sooner rather than later.
Go back to “business 101”. Set your goals, review your client list, talk to your clients, get referrals, talk to new prospects, network and make sales. If you became lax in your sales approach when times were better, take a sales course to learn new skills and remind yourself of the things that great salespeople do. Then do them.
If you have others who sell for you, be a leader. Act, speak and walk with confidence. Everyone is looking to you as the bell-weather for how things are going and how they will go in the future. This is not the time to look like your world is falling apart – even if it is. Take charge. Set sales expectations. Meet with your team more often. Be their strength. Affirm that yes, times are tough, but you will be in business to deliver what has been sold.
Remember, no matter how bad things get, you are in much better shape now than when you started your business with little more than a good idea, passion, and a modicum of cash. You’re smarter, more experienced, and more connected. Reignite the spark and focus your energy in the areas which need you most. With the right approach you can come out the other side stronger, leaner, smarter and more profitable so that you can get your retirement plan back on track.