Ask a Pro: Closing Time

With businesses everywhere struggling, how do you decide if it's time to throw in the towel?
Magazine Contributor
Writer and Content Strategist
3 min read

This story appears in the February 2010 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Q:When is it time to call it quits?

A: What business isn't struggling right now? But still, there are some red flags:

You find yourself positively spinning--or outright denying--the negative numbers.
Entrepreneurs tend to be optimistic, and in the face of bad results, there's a tendency to think, "Just a bit longer." But Barry Staw, a professor at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business who has studied how organizations often escalate commitment to failing endeavors, warns: "Don't be the person who needs to be hit over the head with a sledgehammer. The longer you keep going, the harder it will be to withdraw--and the more money you're probably going to lose."

Nobody else thinks it's a good investment.
Would you put money into the business as it is now? Ask others for an honest answer and take the nos seriously. "You should never sit on a stock unless you're willing to put in new money for it, and the same thing goes for a business," Staw says. "Many entrepreneurs have both successes and failures under their belts. There's no point in betting your whole entrepreneurial life on a single venture."

You passed your "quit" threshold a while ago.
Every business is different, so there's no universal cutoff that marks when you should call it quits. But while things are good, impose a limit on yourself (number of months in the red, a total debt amount, the moment you consider dipping into your kid's college fund). Write it down and stick to it. Otherwise, you'll keep changing your story. "It's far easier to make logical decisions before things start falling apart," Staw says. "Remember, an intelligent retreat isn't the same thing as failure."

You Should Know

Mary Schapiro
Title: Chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission

Why you should care: It's been a year since President Obama tapped Schapiro to lead the SEC, and the George Washington University law school grad has a lot of work ahead of her--the nation's most powerful Wall Street watchdog is still roundly criticized for not stepping in to prevent the banking industry's 2008 collapse. Many think Schapiro, the first woman in the SEC's top spot, has done a decent job so far: She implemented reforms to boost transparency and is moving quickly on high-profile fraud cases. But Schapiro, who has served four U.S. presidents and held key regulatory positions before the bailout, is not without critics. They blasted her for appointing one of Bernard Madoff's sons to a regulatory board, as well as receiving a compensation package topping $3 million in 2007, when she helped merge the NASD and NYSE regulatory bodies into the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. That also means she took a multimillion-dollar pay cut when she took the $158,500 SEC job.

Memorable quote: "I had always assumed you were either a natural-born leader or you weren't. And if you weren't, too bad, that's your lot in life."


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