How to be smart with your time and protect what you love
Letting go with love: closing your business (and being ok with it)
19th February 2023
After pouring everything into it for as long as you can remember, closing a business (or part of it) can feel like a breakup. Yet it might just be the best thing that ever happened to you. Nicola Payne, founder of Oklahoma, explains why.
When one door closes…
Whether it’s the financial pressure, the stress of constantly juggling or that the very business that was once your soul’s delight is now preventing you from fulfilling your true potential, closing or adapting a business can be hard. It might feel like you’re giving up on something you’ve worked day and night to keep, or that you are somehow failing. Yet for those who have been brave enough to take the leap, the results can be remarkably liberating.
Being stuck in a business that isn’t working for you can be a bit like being in a bad relationship. You know it’s unhealthy but you don’t really know how to get out of it. It holds you back… until you have the courage to change it.
For more than 25 years, founder Nicola Payne ran Manchester’s much loved (and largest) independent gift shop Oklahoma. However she had started to realise the toll it was taking on her life and the opportunities she was missing out on because of it. Closing her physical space meant she could…
- Focus on her online offering and reach a hungry, new global audience
- See what else she is capable of while she still has the opportunity
- Take time for herself to do the things and see the people she loves
- Finally get the brain space she needs to fulfil her potential
Making the decision
In 2022, the BBC reported that more than 389,600 UK small businesses closed¹ — 17,000 of which were shops — almost a 50% increase from 2021². It’s easy to find out the practical steps to how you would go about winding down. What isn’t widely reported however, is the emotional side. Nicola explains…
Nicola and her shop went through a lot. “I lived through the recession in 2008, I remember the IRA bomb with people running down Deansgate covered in blood and I’ve seen suicides from the Arndale carpark. I’ve had shoplifters galore and safe robberies. We had a cafe and a record shop. We tried live events in the basement, I even had a shop dog — we’ve done it all! When I opened the second shop I was exhausted and it’s been constant work since then. I never thought about closing until now. I liked the independence, it was my purpose, my staff became friends… Plus business is hard. You fall out of love with it often. But this time, it wasn’t a case of going through a rough patch or having a wobble. I fundamentally knew that to survive and to really excel, I had to move on. And emotionally, it’s a rollercoaster”
How do you know it’s time?
Nicola says, “Since Covid, I saw things changing. The website flourished in furlough when two years of the shop were a write off. Our takings were 70% down whereas before we had queues round the block. What do you do to survive? You adapt, which I did. I learned about my new customer base online. That was exciting. They were buying things others weren’t and it was a turning point. I knew I had to focus more on that than the physical space. Plus I was able to be much more creative with my buying and people liked it.
But I’d never have seen this opportunity if I hadn’t been open to change. I had to decide where to put my energy because I couldn’t do both. I’m 53 and in menopause, with severe brain fog, two kids of 11 and 13, a business to run and a dad who is terminally ill. And people say, ‘You must be so upset to close the shop. It must be so hard’ but it wasn’t. In truth, I’ve been letting go for the last two years. I’m ready to enjoy the next chapter of my life.”
6 tips for letting go with love
The beautiful heart pictured was a gift to Holly from the Holly & Co team, custom made by Oklahoma, to celebrate the release of her colourful book Do What You Love, Love What You Do — which gives people the confidence to build a business. But when you want to close one, how do you step through fear and into courage for the future? Nicola shares some of the golden lessons she learned…
1. Ask yourself the tricky questions. What is the business really costing you emotionally and financially? Is it worth it? Are you making the most of your time on the planet? What else could you be doing if you weren’t doing this? Would you be happier and more fulfilled doing something else? Are you holding on for the sake of it?
2. Make informed decisions. Face into the hard stuff. Know your finances (and be honest if it looks like you’re throwing good money after bad). You’ll feel great when you conquer it all — because you will.
3. Things change. You need to change with them. Embrace that. What was right for you then might not be now.
4. Don’t let life pass you by. My mum died before Christmas and my dad is terminally ill. I’m not being morbid but life doesn’t last forever. I might have another 25 years left if I’m lucky. What do I want to do with that precious time? I love hanging out with my kids. I love my garden. I love seeing what I can achieve at work… I’m excited, relieved, nervous, confident and unconfident. And that’s ok.
5. Reframe how you’re thinking about it. We’re often quick to think we’re failing somehow. But what could be more of a success story than having the courage to learn from your experiences, follow your dreams and do what makes you happy? It is scary. When this happens, you’re flying by the seat of your pants but as entrepreneurs we do that anyway!
6. Trust your gut. It’s only you who knows what’s right for your business, nobody else.
Covid had a huge impact on my business but Brexit was the real problem for me. Every single order had increasing costs and I was making so little on each one. Plus there’s the duty, postage, paying VAT up front. I didn’t want to just go to China for cheaper products, so I had to adapt. This isn’t something that’s just happening to you. The future is yours to create.
As Jodie Cook wrote in Forbes, “If you’re not fully committed to your business, the cost is truly astronomical. It’s the cost of your happiness, energy, life and probably your wealth. But more than that; it’s the opportunity cost of the businesses you’re not running.” As Holly says, not all small business owners want to own Necker Island. They might find that as their business grows, so does the chaos, and it takes them further away from their real passions. If that’s the case for you, here’s a recap of how to let go with love.
1. Face your fears:
Ask yourself the tricky questions, be honest with yourself and embrace your emotions. It’s ok to feel a mixture of things but you need to face the facts to make an informed decision that you’ll ultimately be happy with.
2. Recognise the opportunity.
Embrace change, turn negatives into positives in your mind and know that this could be the start of something wonderful not just the end of something tough.
3. Trust your instincts.
You (and only you) will know whether you are just going through tough times or whether it would be more advantageous in the long run to close or adapt your business. So trust in this and regain control of your future.