Dealing with the Loss of a Business: Recovery, Change, and Coping Strategies

Loss of a business is overall, quite like the “death” of a loved one. A great deal of a business owner’s identity and hard work have gone into a business, that should tragedy strike, for any reason and the business is forced into bankruptcy or even close, the emotions felt by the business owner are nothing short of serious and all encompassing!  I know when I was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, I was faced with a few of the following stages as well.
Simply because losing a business or the threat of is thought as a “major life stressor”, along with divorce and the death of a loved one, a business owner that loses a business can be just as emotionally devastated. With this in mind, it is befitting the business owner take into consideration the five stages of grief that show up in a major life event or “stressor”. These stages are based on the work of renowned Swiss born psychiatrist, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross:
1. Denial. This stage is a healthy stage when the individual asks the question, “Why Me”?, and develops strategies to develop defenses against the impending stress.  The first thing I did was hire an assistant to maintain my business consulting practice. 
2. Anger or Resentment. Blame occurs in this stage.  It was my case that I developed “a story”.  Losing the story will help people see that you have moved on to the next phase of your business strategy.  Getting over this stage will show people that both you and your business are healthy.
3. Bargaining. This is a “truce period” where an individual makes “deals” in their minds, if “only” things don’t play out the way they are bound to do so.  Creating alternative business strategies to compensate for the lost time or how to deliver your business model differently could be part of this stage.  For me it was relocating to a warmer climate, if I am in a more luxurious environment, I’ll relax more and take care of my self better.  Rebuilding my business consulting in the Phoenix market was the deal I made.  Little did I realize the stresses of a new location, it was like starting over again. 
4. Depression. This is the real grief phase, and an individual will primarily feel discouraged and hopeless.  As a prideful person, I’d rather hide than admit this phase.  However it truly was a reality.  I actually labeled it more like PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder.  When it hit me about two and a half years later what I had been through, I went through a tail spin.  Irrational decisions, desperate phone calls to prospects, and losing my self care routine with diet an exercise.  All of which just exasperated the depression period.  Once you get a hold of your time management, business strategy and personal wellness, you’ll move through this phase like I did.
5. Acceptance. This is where reality is dealt with and the process of “going on” begins. Withdrawal from others may occur temporarily here.  Change occured in this phase for me.  It was time to evaluate who, what and where I was seeing positive results of the cancer trauma.  Accepting your truth and new story in a positive perspective will allow you to be of greater service to others.  I know have amazing strength and experience to help others on their path as they rebuild their life and business.
Although Dr. Kubler-Ross developed the five stages primarily to be used when dealing with terminal illnesses that lead to death, her work can readily be applied to many major life stresses, including the loss of a business or in my case, cancer.  In addition, not all individuals go through each stage routinely in order, with some skipping stages, or staying in one stage longer than others.
Business owners that suffer the catastrophic loss of a business need to allow themselves the same flexibility and time for acceptance that other major life stressors require. They need to work through the five stages until the fifth stage, acceptance, is reached. They also need to put the loss into perspective if they can, and determine just “why” and “how” the business faltered and eventually failed.
With defeat, sometimes knowledge is attained, and if a business owner can work through the stages of grief successfully, and use the knowledge attained for enlightenment, then perhaps they can successfully start another business in the future, and achieve better results.
Business owners should make a list after they are on their feet again of exactly “what” went wrong, and methods of prevention in the future, as they can then use this to their advantages. The list can include such information such as:
1. Why the business failed overall: Was it the wrong type of business for the wrong type of clientele? Was it targeted incorrectly? Was it too unusual to succeed? Was the marketing of the business incorrect? Were the expenditures too great? Was the business plan and outlook faulty or realistic?
2. What mistakes led up to the failure: Did the business grow too quickly or too slowly? Were there actual methods in place for prevention, or was the business “reactive” rather than “proactive”?
3. What can the business owner correct/rectify in the future? This is the most important question, and a list of all methods that may be used as a measure against future failures should be made.
Business owners need to give themselves time to heal and sort through their feelings, though. Any loss is so emotionally draining, that jumping right back into the “business fire” with another business is not necessarily a good idea until the business owner has recovered their energy and worked through their feelings of grief completely.
Defeat can be a learning experience, and many successful business people have also experienced their fair share of defeats and loss of businesses. Turning the “negative” of the loss of the business into a “positive” learning experience will soon find the business owner recovered and moving onto the next positive step in their entrepreneurial lives!

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