I’ve been chronicling the end of my company for four months now, looking in detail at the myriad of issues that led to a failing business shutting up shop.
It is never an easy decision to call time on a failing business. I ended up debating it for around two years. The last month, especially, was a cycle of no sleep, and endlessly writing of pro and con lists on stopping or continuing.
Upon finally making up my mind to call it a day, I came into to work to find half the staff hadn’t turned up and we were letting customers down yet again. That kind of situation, where there is absolutely nothing you can do about it, is absolutely horrendous.
It would have been a great deal simpler to make the decision to let the company go if we had a lack of sales, so often the main reason for company closures. We had a huge demand though. In fact, we were often deliberately slowing sales down because production was – yet again – not producing.
That said, I struggled to buy into the values of our end users. Their rudeness, undoubtedly, was often beyond a bucket load of pails – but more than that there was starting to be a bigger and bigger gap in the language we talked.
The customer is always right, but it is difficult when you cannot relate to it at all. I remember being told by one client that we had “ruined their customers’ Christmas” and that this customer was “simply distraught” over a very large dining table being 4cms shorter than expected. There are, sadly, a great many reasons that people have ruined Christmases in this world. I couldn’t see past the sheer ridiculousness of an idea that this was one of them. I saw it rather as a very good example of why we have such a tarred picture of people with money in this country now.
I had come to loathe the new ways of doing business, where it is now more commonplace to be abusive or threaten litigation than to have an honest business relationship. The lack of common courtesy, the ridiculousness extremes of indulgence and hysteria, I could neither relate to nor believe in.
The business might have gone a different way if we had developed a stable top team with sufficient ambition and drive. Maybe. I desperately wanted the staff to buy in, to come together as a positive force, who understood and wanted the business to succeed and keep people in work, in the way they had quite a lot of the first ten years. It never came close in the last ten. Reliable, loyal employees, of which I did indeed have a small handful, are sadly not the same as people with total belief in the business, total commitment to push it on. You need both.
Looking back, I can see the staff were not the only ones struggling with motivation. I loved every second of building that business in its first ten years and worked every second happily to provide for my children and my staff. With the children gone, I tried very hard to keep it going – but in truth it became a “should do it” in my life rather than a “must”. Albeit a very serious “should”, that I had to keep it going to keep the staff in work, to pay the stakeholders.
I gave it my absolute best shot. No doubt my doing it as a “should” did not make the best or most inspiring, however good the intent. You get nowhere just doing only “should” – a terrible way to live.
It was hard at the end. Hard not to dwell on all the mistakes I did make and regrets I do have. Hard reading a lot of totally inaccurate reporting in the press, and dealing with the inevitable muck on social media. Hard watching people you had fought for and cared about disappear from your life, as I had been warned they would do. Hard coming to terms with losing a 20 plus year-old business and worrying about your income in the future.
However, no-one was more surprised than me to find that within a very short time I felt nothing but a big release, making me far happier. What a lesson it has been in my life.
Firstly, there is a very practical reason, that I can actually take the time to look after myself. Like an idiot, I tended to put this last of my priorities always, and neither my health, nor the business profited from it. As I raise my consciousness outside a small furniture factory, I read about the huge shifts in business theories that have, and still are, going on. These, of course, include a move away from the old “work yourself into the ground to get on” to more of a “find your calling and take care of yourself” ethic. I can indeed see this would have been a wiser move.
The dangers of negative people have become much more accepted. For me, teaching and coaching now, it is an unadulterated joy to work with people who want to learn and share at our sessions, who are excited about achieving something in the time we spend together.
I am still exploring so many more groundbreaking new ideas, both new business, and new life strategies, that have come into being and will be writing more on that over the coming months as I explore how things have changed and are changing so extremely fast. As a final note of the end of my business I would say that I’m happier than I have been for years. Sometimes, knowing when to quit can be the victory.
I hope you’ve found my insolvency columns useful in your business journey – a little honesty and perspective on a failing business never hurt anyone. I’ve looked at exit planning, succession, forming a management team, problems of a supply chain and the compensation culture. If you’d like to read my previous entries, please click here.