Updated: Oct 1, 2019
While it had been brewing for quite some time, both within the company and within me, the actual shutting down of my business Uplift happened relatively quickly: we finally ran out of money, I couldn’t make payroll, I made the decision, and announced everything, all within the span of a few weeks.
Then I actually had to untangle, unwind, and close it up, all while trying to amenably resolve a lot of company debt, trying to muster some extra money from somewhere (not my own bank account since it had been a looooooong time since I’d paid myself) to pay my incredible employees for their last three weeks of work, and pay all of the necessary bills (for example, one definitely cannot close or dissolve a company without paying the lawyer and the accountant for a final tax return).
The following is the Leanne Shear Will semi-practical guide to shutting down a business that is composed of a physical space filled with pounds if not tons of ephemera, supplies, equipment, and memories, along with determining how to navigate the maze of finances, legalities, people, and other landmines you have to get through, over, or under in order to reach the end:
*Don’t do anything at first. Feel free to simply stare at the door decals you only just asked your manager purchase two months ago for a stupid amount of money on Etsy, assessing with a crtical eye how unevenly they were applied, and then noting that it’s “too late now” to change anything.
*Start small, Part 1: In the beginning of the closure, you’ll spend a lot of time looking around at everything you have to do to clean out the space, feeling completely overwhelmed. Then perhaps you’ll find hundreds of unopened packages of colored Post-It notes deep in a drawer deep in the upstairs storage space. You’ll promptly put them in your backpack and bring them home. The spoils of war.
(In other words, the massive project of cleaning out will just come and go in waves, but it will definitely get done, (baby) step by step, item by item.)
*Start small, Part 2: Give away as much as possible to your loyal employees, even if you can otherwise sell it. The Nespresso machine, a nice desk chair, the printer, the squat rack, whatever. Also, the $45 you’ll get for the 45-pound Kettle Bell isn’t exactly going to make a dent in the business debt anyway, so let it go.
*Understand that this is going to be a highly stressful process in small but also big ways. Calm is your superpower. Every day, there will be a new thing that feels like a nightmare, like, for example, a pissed-off client tells you bluntly to your face that you “should be ashamed of [your]self” (you are, by the way) since due to your closing in a week, she wouldn’t be able to use the 5th and final class in the 5-pack she paid a total of $59 for.
*You will learn more about your problem-solving skills than you ever cared to...but are kind of psyched by them, too.. You are MacGuyver, Dr. Phil, Sallie Krawcheck, a Genius at the Apple Store, and Fibonacci all in one. Thanks to closing your business, you can now literally do about a thousand things you’d always claimed, “That isn’t for me” or “There’s no way I can do that” or “No WAY.” You can do ANYTHING. On second thought, forget calm. THIS is your new superpower.
*Financial and Legal Learning, Part 1: You will learn to come to terms with the expression “Robbing Peter to Pay Paul.”
Or as Brene Brown says, the only way to access your power is to get comfortable with discomfort. You will be tasked with figuring out which bills you really need to pay and who you want to pay with whatever crumbs you have left. The answer is: employees, yes-as much as possible; the immigrant small business owner who launders the towels, yes; Electric bill, probably not; Credit cards...ugh. You’ll spend a considerable amount of time between the proverbial rock and hard place: who can you take care of even to some small degree, and who do you have to screw over?
(I’m very sorry you’re here).
*Financial and Legal Learning, Part 2: subgenres.
→ You’ll educate yourself about the pitfalls and benefits of declaring personal bankruptcy.
→ You’ll learn the hard way what it means that you blindly signed personal guarantees on things like equipment and the freaking water cooler.
→ You’ll understand viscerally through your roiling gut and panic what happens when people start disputing charges on their credit cards and try to figure out how to stop the tide, no, tsunami, of merchant clawbacks (you’ll learn what those are, too) from draining the final dregs of your business bank account.
→ You’ll perhaps find out what it’s like to get sued and learn to distinguish the threatening texts and phone calls and general harassment from the debt-collection lawyer from actually getting served with lawsuit papers. You may also prepare for said process serving by scouring movies and TV for scenes with evil, mean process servers and sad, worn-down defendants who did nothing wrong and tried their best.
*Financial and Legal Learning, Part 3: : You’ll thank yourself later for creating an awesome relationship with your banker at Chase. You’ll bring her flowers and buy the whole branch pizza for lunch because you’re alternatingly grateful that they drop everything and help you solve that day’s crisis and embarrassed that they have seen you cry so many times. Similarly, bow down to your friends who are attorneys who’ve to date given you thousands of dollars of free advice.
*Realize that you’re going to learn a lot about people, especially where the exchange of money is involved. Many of the people that you were terrified of telling about the business closing because you were afraid of them being real assholes were actually awesome and so supportive. Most discombobulating, some of the people whom you expected to be awesome and supportive just weren’t or worse, were jerks. This is nothing personal. It’s just a good education on human nature.
*Manifest positive outcomes. You’re doing the right thing to shut down now instead of letting the company and yourself continue to bleed. You are ready to move on with life and are meant for big things. Everyone, especially you, wants things to work out with no pain or detriment to anyone, but that just isn’t life, my friend. You have two choices: fall apart, or say to the universe with certainty, “I’m going to find someone to take over my lease and pay me some key money to pay off the debt of the business.” When that person or persons show up literally the next day, pay attention to the sign, don’t delete the email, and take some time for gratitude right then and there.
*Understand that even with the tremendous support and cheerleading of every single person in your life--and even people who aren’t in your life, like the strangers who’ve heard the news and reached out with sympathy or sadness--you’re on your own with this one, kid. You can ask for advice and guidance and empathy from your six-year-old nephew, and God, and everyone in between, but you have come to learn that every single decision is yours and yours alone to make.
(It’s all you, and it’s all good).
*Once it’s done--or almost done, since it’s not going to be over over for quite some time, because don’t forget that tax return!--you can allow yourself a few hours of self-pride followed immediately by a few hours of self-care because you stepped up, and faced this, and did it all on your own.