How to fall in love with your business again (even if you’re done with it)
You’d expect most entrepreneurs to be celebrating their success and planning their exit strategy around five years after they’ve launched their business.
But most of them are silently struggling away at trying to feed the monster they’ve created.
I definitely felt that way in the darkest moments along my entrepreneurial journey.
Like Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors, I loved my little business and gave it my love and attention in the plucky start-up days.
But as the years went by and my business grew, it started taking more and more from me.
Eventually, it felt like it was just a matter of time before it ate me alive.
The moment things changed
This realization came crashing down on me like a ton of bricks a couple of hours – and a couple of drinks – into an overnight flight.
I caught a glance of myself in the bathroom mirror and suddenly it hit me – I hated what I was doing and who I was.
My relationships were strained with just about everybody in my life: my wife, my kids, my business partners, my dog, my cat. You name it.
I was spending sleepless nights worrying about how I was going to make payroll at the end of each month.
I was overindulging in wine – and more often whisky – to escape the mess my life was in.
And I blamed my business for all of it.
At 40,000 feet over the Atlantic ocean, I decided then and there that I wanted out – now.
So I headed back to my seat, probably cracked open another drink, and did some back-of-the-napkin calculations to figure out what my business was worth.
A million here, a few hundred thousand over there.
All in all, I decided my business was probably worth a couple of million.
When the actual valuation came in let’s just say that was a bit optimistic…
In fact, my business was basically worthless.
Putting a bandaid on a bullet wound
I’d love to be able to tell you that I fell back in love with my business right then and there and committed to transforming it into a valuable asset.
But unfortunately, I didn’t know then what I know now.
So I fell into a common trap – one you might be familiar with yourself.
Instead of dealing with my problems head-on, I looked for an escape.
Escape comes in many flavors for us entrepreneurs: food, alcohol, drugs, binge-watching Netflix, gambling, travel.
Ever the doer, I tried to escape the problems in my business – and in my life – by starting a company on another continent.
Spoiler alert: it didn’t work.
It was like putting a bandaid on a bullet wound.
And it was how I found myself 40,000 feet over the Atlantic that night staring into the mirror thinking “I absolutely hate what I'm doing and where I'm at.”
The fact was: my relationship with my business had completely broken down, and trying to run away from this problem only made it worse.
And while that seems obvious with the benefit of hindsight, it’s so hard to recognize when you’re in the eye of the storm and your life is falling apart around you.
So if you recognize any of your own behaviors in my story, I’m here to tell you:
You need to fall in love with your business again if you want any chance of transforming it into a valuable asset you can sell at a premium.
The lesson I learned far too late
I wish Debbie King’s book, Loving Your Business, had been around when I was struggling through all this.
In her excellent book, King tells the story of driving along and becoming overwhelmed by the same realization I had on that plane: that she hated her business and the person she’d become.
She ended up going to business school. While she was there a professor, Dr. Barbara Bram, tells her that she needed to decide to fall back in love with her business again.
King describes how love was the last thing she had for her business. And that’s exactly how I felt – and a lot of my clients feel as well.
If you’ve mentally already got one foot out of the door, the last thing you probably want to do is fall back in love with your business.
But here’s the thing:
If you don't love your business, no one else is going to love it either. Not your team, not your customers, and – most of all – not a potential buyer.
This means that unless you fix things, you can say goodbye to a successful exit strategy.
Falling back in love with your business
I wish I could say that I fell back in love with my business, but I didn’t.
I’m a naturally positive person and I try to bring that to everything I do. But at the time I didn’t realize just how crucial my relationship with my business was to its success.
If I had, everything would have changed for me… and I would have ended up signing on the dotted line of a seven-figure exit so much earlier.
But here’s what I’ve learned matching my experience with Debbie’s insight:
If you think your business needs to fulfill you before you can love it then you’ve got things the wrong way round.
The way you think and feel about your business affects how you run it, which affects how it performs.
And when your business is performing better, you’ve got even more reason to love it.
Like any relationship, you get back what you give to your business.
Turn up to the office with a spring in your step and a positive attitude and you’ll not only get more done, but your team will notice and respond in kind.
Of course, the same is true if you clearly don’t want to be there. If you think you can hide that from your staff, customers, and potential buyers then you clearly deserve an Oscar.
For the rest of us, you’re probably not hiding your disdain for your business as well as you think you are.
And if you're constantly putting frustration, resentment, and blame into your business, you're going to see terrible results – and make yourself miserable in the process.
Garbage in, garbage out.
So, how do you break the cycle of negativity and fall back in love with your business?
Separating facts and feelings
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”, wrote Shakespeare in Hamlet.
Around 1,500 years earlier, Marcus Aurelius – the last of Rome’s Five Good Emperors – wrote: “If you are pained by any external thing, it is not this thing that disturbs you, but your own judgment about it. And it is in your power to wipe out this judgment now.”
If you’re currently blaming your business for all the bad things in your life then this concept can be a hard pill to swallow.
But here’s the thing:
You’re simply not going to stay the distance and transform your business into a valuable asset you can sell at a premium if you don’t fall back in love with it.
And it’s impossible to fall back in love with your business unless you learn to separate the facts of the situation from your interpretations of those facts.
Putting philosophy into practice
Here’s a concrete example: a key employee quits.
When your relationship with your business is broken, it’s natural for your first thoughts to be something like: “Great – I’m going to have to work like crazy to cover for them until I find a replacement.
“And it will be months until they’re up and running in the role – and then they’ll probably leave as well.
“I don’t even know why I bother hiring people. I might as well do it myself.”
And look – the fact is we’re all hardwired to have what’s called negativity bias.
A region of your brain called the amygdala gets the first pass at all the information your senses pick up.
And the amygdala has one job – spotting threats.
Our brains evolved to work this way to make sure we didn’t miss the snarling tiger because we were distracted by a bush full of big, juicy berries.
But the collateral damage of the way we’re wired is that we pick up on threats more easily than opportunities.
In other words: negative thoughts come more easily than positive ones.
So, don’t judge yourself for immediately slipping into a negative thought pattern – especially if that’s behavior that’s been habitualized by years of bemoaning your business.
But try this instead to fall back in love with your business:
Train yourself to see the upside in every “negative” situation.
So, that key employee has quit?
What a perfect opportunity to review their responsibilities and automate as many of them as possible, taking another step to getting your business to run without you.
Or to promote a promising member of staff into their position to see how they handle more responsibility.
Or to have the chance to find a new superstar employee from outside your organization who could step in and revitalize your business.
You’ve just found out your business is worthless...
Choosing to love your business is never harder – or more important – than after you discover it’s worthless like I did all those years ago.
You’d be forgiven for thinking: “Holy crap, all that hard work for nothing. I might as well just lock up the shop and walk away.”
But here’s the thing:
Your business’s price tag is a fact. Feeling like you should give up on it is just that – a feeling.
Another interpretation of the same fact is that you’ve been handed an amazing opportunity. If you hadn’t discovered your business was worthless now, you might have struggled along the same path for years thinking you were building something valuable.
So while it’s a hard pill to swallow, it’s one that’s saved you years you could have wasted down the wrong road.
Plus, it’s so much easier to turn a struggling business into a valuable asset than to build something from scratch.
You’ve got all this great groundwork in place, you have an operating business and you have so many things that people at the startup stage just don't have.
Last but not least, discovering what your business is worth is a real “burn the boats” moment. Discover it’s worthless and there’s no going back to the usual way of doing things if you were banking on a successful exit strategy.
And to do that, you need to fall in love with your business again.
Eat the elephant one bite at a time
Lao Tzu said: "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step".
Desmond Tutu put it another way: “There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.”
It’s natural to get overwhelmed by the monumental task ahead of you when it comes to rebuilding your company from the ground up for a successful business exit.
And you’ll often slip back into negative thinking when that happens.
The trick is to narrow your focus on what you can do today to move forward.
Eat the elephant a bite at a time.
I strongly recommend you pick just one area to start with, whether that’s:
- Switching to a recurring revenue model
- Removing yourself from the day-to-day running of your business
- Deciding on the right type of business exit for you
- Implementing just one of the nine changes that increased the value of my business the most
Take it one step at a time – remembering to separate your feelings from the facts each step of the way.
If your business is worth a lot less than you’d hoped, you’ve got to make the choice:
Do you throw in the towel and walk away with nothing?
Or do you dig in and spend the next few years transforming your business into a valuable asset by implementing each of the Core Four?
The best thing I ever did on my entrepreneurial journey is swallowing my pride and rebuild my business.
And the only thing that made that possible was deciding to fall back in love with my business again.
Unless you make this commitment, there’s no strategy, tactic, or hack that will lead you to a successful exit strategy.
Want more help cultivating the right mindset to build a valuable business that can thrive without you? Subscribe to The Freedom Experience podcast for weekly episodes, and find out how you can work with me for my personal guidance.
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