Nicola in her shop Oklahoma surrounded by products

Closing your business: the emotional effects and how to let go with love

Mental Wellbeing
With Nicola Payne, founder of Oklahoma


Nicola Payne, founder of Oklahoma, explains why closing a business (or part of it) — after everything you’ve poured into it for as long as you can remember — can feel like a breakup. Yet ‘shutting up shop’ might just be the best thing that ever happened to you. Read why…

Woman wearing leopard print dress holding a sorry we're closed blue sign

Selling your business, closing down or adapting: what are the advantages?

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

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.

When should you decide to close your business?

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” What’s even more confusing, is that it seems to be different for everyone.

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.

How do you know it’s time to close your shop?

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.” Ask yourself the tough question and be brave. Is now the right time? What does your gut tell you?

6 tips for letting go of your business 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. Remember that things change

You need to change with them. Embrace that. What was right for you then might not be now.

Red sequin heart with a penguin on it hanging off a bookcase
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.
Nicola Payne stood outside her shop Oklahoma

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 closure

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.

Closing your business: key takeaways…

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 around closing a business or changing it:

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 opportunities that closing a business offers:

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 will know if it’s the right time to try something new:

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.

Nicola’s shop may have closed but her online store is very much open. Discover her brilliant online gifts and homeware emporium, Okla. And best of luck with whatever you decide to do next.

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