The Grief of closing a business
You don’t get to your mid 40s in life without experiencing grief of some sort.
And as a business owner too, there will be key moments where you feel a great sense of loss with projects not working, proposals being rejected, partnerships not working out, but I am not sure there is grief like closing a business that you put blood sweat and tears into for more than a decade.
Any yet in some ways it can feel a bit silly or even insensitive to compare the two…I mean its “Only a business right”?
6 weeks ago I made the announcement that I would be closing my business Too Fat to Run, a business I set up in 2013 after being made redundant and having a new baby at home which made full time work challenging. The business was based on a blog I have been writing since 2010…so it has become a major part of my identity for more than a decade…which is kind of the problem with it.
I am closing the business for a number of reasons
1. It hasn’t been profitable since before the pandemic
2. There is not enough support from other stakeholders in the industry
3. I don’t want to be forever known as “The woman who teaches fat women to run”
This business is not the only thing I have done over the last 10 years, I have written 12 books, I have worked as an international keynote speaker, I have moved into life coaching, and for the past 4 years more specifically business coaching…and yet still at events people introduce me as “Julie from Too Fat to Run”
I took a fulltime job in September to help me redefine my career and create some financial stability, I became an Executive director of business growth consulting for a change management company, but alas I was made redundant from that job in March after not being paid for 3 months in a row, and the opportunity turning out to not be as robust as it first appeared.
So I knew for me to rebuild my life I would have to make some pretty dramatic changes, and letting go of Too Fat to Run had to be part of that.
It hasn’t been easy navigating the emotions of the last few weeks, dealing with the emotional fall-out of the redundancy is one thing, but letting go of a business that you love (and that you still think is viable) can be like going through the various stages of grief, with each stage representing a different emotional response to loss.
Denial is the first stage of grief, and it is characterized by a feeling of disbelief or numbness. When a business owner realizes that their business is failing and they have to close it, they may initially deny the reality of the situation. I think I did this for a number of years. The business spiked in around 2018/19 but I couldn’t secure funding or find a business partner to help me grow it from there and I started to burn out and look for easier business revenues. For a few years after that (and even during the pandemic) I felt like the situation was temporary and that I could find a way to turn things around. I think I still hope that someone will swoop in at the last minute and buy it from me.
Anger is the second stage of grief, and it is characterized by feelings of frustration, irritability, and even rage. I AM FURIOUS that plus size fitness is still not really respected or funded in the UK. you compare how we do things here compared to in the states, where I have seen influencers like me who started long after me be swooped up by global brands and build very profitable businesses’ off the back of it. When a business owner begins to realize the full extent of the loss they are experiencing, they may become angry. They may feel like they have been wronged, or that someone or something is to blame for their business failing. I feel a lot of anger towards myself too that I couldn’t make it work. I know my anger has been directed at EVERYONE the last few weeks…even the thousands of women in my community to some extent.
Bargaining is the third stage of grief, and it is characterized by a sense of desperation and a desire to make a deal. When a business owner realizes that their business is failing and they have to close it, they may try to negotiate their way out of the situation. They may try to make deals with creditors, suppliers, or potential buyers in an attempt to salvage some of their investment. I haven’t done any of this…but I have tried to convince some of my audience to come over to my new brand…and really that’s probably a bit premature and unfair. They will come if they want to…but maybe my ideal client for the new business is not the same person.
Depression is the fourth stage of grief, and it is characterized by feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and despair. This is where I have been for most of April. Made harder by the fact that this is London Marathon month, and everywhere I looked all I could see was amazing women doing amazing things in the lead up to the event. When a business owner realizes that their business is failing and they have to close it, they may become deeply depressed. They may feel like they have lost everything they have worked for, and they may struggle to find a sense of purpose or meaning in their life outside of their business. Even though I love the new thing I want to do, it is not the same…and I am feeling a little hopeless at times.
Acceptance is the final stage of grief, and it is characterized by a sense of peace and resolution. When a business owner has fully processed the loss of their business, they can begin to accept the situation and move on. They may begin to see new opportunities and possibilities for their life, and they may be able to let go of their attachment to their business. I am not 100% there yet, but I think I am getting there. A 2 hour walk yesterday allowed me to cry, to reflect, and to literally allow myself to be open to what comes next in my business journey, without needing to know the destination.
Closing a business is a difficult process, but understanding the stages of grief has been helpful to me while I cope with the emotional challenges that come with it. It is important in life and in business, in all challenging situations to allow yourself to feel the full range of emotions that come with that challenge, rather than sweeping them under the carpet.
I keep reminding myself, “It hurts, because you care”
There are several things that business owners can do to help themselves cope with the emotional challenges of closing a business. One of the most important things is to seek support from family, friends, and colleagues….the women in the community have been great, but I have to remind myself they are grieving too, and they are not my therapist lol but talking about your feelings with others can help you process your emotions and find a sense of comfort and understanding.
Another important thing is to take care of yourself physically and emotionally. (And hands up I have been a bit hit and miss with this) This may mean getting enough rest, eating a healthy diet, and engaging in regular exercise or other forms of self-care. It may also mean seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor to help you work through your emotions.
Finally, I have come to realise that closing my business is part of my journey, its “failure” does not define my worth as a person. It may not have reached its commercial potential, but I know it impacted positively on millions of women around the world, and that is a priceless feeling.
So remember if you are in a place where you know you have to let a business go, try to remember that you are more than your business, and there are many other opportunities and possibilities for your life and career beyond this one. By focusing on your strengths, your values, and your goals, you can begin to move forward and create a new path for yourself.
Also remember, a good cry nearly ALWAYS makes you feel better.
Julie Creffield is an experienced consultant, trainer and coach, with more than 25 years experience of designing, building and delivering mission led projects and programmes.
She has worked with more than 3000 business owners and large-scale organisations to help them design businesses, campaigns and projects to meet a range of objectives.
The Year to Change is her new brand which over the next 6 months she will be building out.
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