When to call it quits: Taking your business off life support

February 24, 2012

As entrepreneurs, we hope for instant prosperity. Realistically, we know overnight successes are few and far between, so we plow on. We work so hard that we sometimes fail to see that our venture’s already gasped its last breath.

 How can we spot a troubled situation to avoid chasing a project without a pulse? More importantly, how can we come to terms with it?

●Look for warning signs — even in yourself.

In the small-business sector, there are not always black-and-white signals that indicate whether a business is trending forward or needs to be shut down. More often, this is a gray area filled with decisions to be considered against future opportunities and consequences. The most important telltale sign that “more time” is not going to solve the problem is your own mental state.

I’ve been knocked down numerous times; I came back from bankruptcy to build a successful business. That wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t have the will to keep going. If the lead entrepreneur has quit, the business is dead. You can’t remove the heart and mind from a body and expect it to continue on.

●Don’t fall for the sunk-cost fallacy. 

A lot of people keep chasing opportunities they’ve already invested significant amounts of money in. Choosing to continue down the same path, just because you previously invested your energy or money, is ludicrous. Failing forward is the only way to your goal.

It’s near-impossible to get it right the first time you’re trying something, but over time, you gain entrepreneurial pattern recognition. This helps you avoid and mitigate cost drains and premature investments. The only way to gain this recognition, however, is to screw up and seek the counsel of others who’ve been down that path before. To determine whether your venture is a screw-up or the real thing, ask yourself, “Will this move me in the direction of my goal, or is it taking me further away?” Don’t throw good money after bad; don’t wallow in your mistakes.

 ●Be honest about how your really want to spend your money.

If you cut the funding for old projects and redirect it to new ones, you’ll be able to actually use the valuable lessons your failure taught you. The most valuable asset you’ll gain as an entrepreneur is not the money you’ll accumulate. The best thing you’ll gain is the person you become with each and every turn of the road. Shutting down a business is not the same as quitting “the life.” Businesses are merely vehicles for a true entrepreneur. Like a painting is an expression of an artist at one point in his life, a business is an expression of your interests at one stage of your life. A business is not a permanent definition of you.

 As an entrepreneur, taking a venture off life support should not be humiliating. We build off faltering projects the same way athletes build off a loss. They don’t quit the sport — they watch the game film, make adjustments, and focus on the next game as an opportunity for victory.

To be an entrepreneur is to be a player, not a spectator. Put your money and time on the right game.

Chris J. Snook, managing partner of Carlsbad, Calif.-based TLEC Ventures, has spent the last five years in the investment community incubating media start-ups.

 

 

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