How to Know When to Move On From the Business You Built

How to Know When to Move On From the Business You Built
Image credit: photo illustration © David Schwen
This story appears in the December 2014 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

After spending several years building my business, I sold it in 2009 for a tidy sum and left it behind—the entrepreneurial dream, right?

Not really. I’d wanted out for quite a while, since I’d sacrificed my health and my marriage to build a successful brand. I was fortunate to find a buyer for my business, but I would have walked away regardless.

For many entrepreneurs, arriving at this moment is tough, especially when, as in my case, business is thriving. We’re taught that “winners never quit, and quitters never win,” but it’s not always that simple.

“Sometimes quitting is the right decision,” says Ramit Sethi, a serial entrepreneur and founder of IWillTeachYouToBeRich
.com. “It can be courageous to quit. It’s important to do everything you can to succeed, but top performers know when it’s time to move on.”

In some cases, the decision is easy. If your company has been bleeding money and there’s no salvation in sight, you’ll be forced to move on. But often the warning signs are more subtle. “The worst thing is to be stuck doing something that’s not failing but not succeeding, either,” Sethi says. “You want to make your company succeed, or you want to fail fast so you can get out and try something new.” 

Sethi recommends asking yourself a simple question: If you knew then what you know now, would you start your company? If the answer is no, it’s time to move on.

Entrepreneurship should be enjoyable. It can be a time of great personal growth. If you’re in it only for the money, your business and personal relationships can suffer, and your health can decline. At that point, it’s time to leave and reclaim your life.

After I left my company, I lost 50 pounds, learned Spanish and embraced travel. I started to live the life I wanted to live, not the one I was forced to live to run my business.

“Quitting doesn’t have to mean you throw in the towel and walk away,” Sethi says. “It can take many forms: shutting down your business, selling your company or changing your industry.”

Rahim Fazal founded social marketing platform Involver in 2007. Five years later, he decided to move on. (His company was acquired by Oracle.) While the decision to sell wasn’t easy, smart entrepreneurs like Fazal know when it’s time to try something new. “If the market is ripe for a sale, seize the day,” he says. “But if you’re not growing fast enough, or you’ve lost your zeal, it may be time to call it quits. And even if it’s not, by asking yourself whether it’s time to leave or not, you’ll remind yourself of what you’re fighting for.”

You may think it odd that I’m using a personal-finance column to discuss moving on from your entrepreneurial dream, but it’s really not. I can tell you this from experience: Building a business for the sake of accumulating wealth is no match for living a rich life.

Edition: October 2016

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