Setting up a business can be likened to sitting down to a game of poker.  Finally deciding when to join in and take a place on the table takes a lot of guts and bravado, especially if you’re getting into the game with experienced, professional players.  And just like any gambler, you sit down with a mental reminder of up to how much you are willing to go.

As you settle down, you nervously look around and wait with a mix of fear and optimism, as you wait for the cards that will be dealt on your table.  You start your business, earnest and hopeful – you learn the rules of the game, read your competitions styles and strategies, and do your darnest best to win.

The cards you’re dealt with, how you play them, how you place your bets, and how you adapt to each round spells the outcome.  You either keep playing because you’re raking in all the chips on the table, or you scramble to recover all the ones that you lost on.

As I write this, Kenny Roger’s lyrical advice to The Gambler keep ringing in my ear:

“You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away and know when to run
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealing’s done

Every gambler knows that the secret to survivin’
Is knowin’ what to throw away and knowing what to keep
‘Cause every hand’s a winner and every hand’s a loser
And the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep”

How then, when you’re quite deep into the game already, will you know when it’s time to stand up and walk away?

Signs when it’s time to fold

  • When every round, the dealer keeps asking you if you’re still “in”. When your business lives by the day and day-in-day-out, you’re uncertain as to where your next sale is going to come from.  When each time, you have to crack your head wondering how to make money so you’ll have enough to get through the operating expenses of the day.  Sales are good, but only if you are able to turn it into a sustainable source of business.  Having a consistent and reliable customer base is key to a healthy enterprise.  It’s the only way you can grow the business, and, as in a poker game, join into the next rounds.
  • When the people who came to watch you play look forlorn. Poker tournaments allow the family and friends of the poker players to sit on the gallery, an area cordoned off behind the table’s perimeter.  If your audience stopped rooting for you, and no longer cheer you on with encouraging applause, you might as well be playing alone.  How your employees feel, how satisfied and motivated they are, has a tremendous impact on their work’s overall productivity and quality.  When your staff is unhappy and demoralized, they can no longer be effective and you can no longer bank on their support to help you turn your business around.
  • When you refuse to stand up even when you need to go to the john. Yes, you’re the one playing, and yes, the cards are in your hand.  When the only way your business can function effectively is when you’re physically present and directing every aspect of it, you’re playing the game with a lousy hand.  A healthy business should have a reliable management component in place to allow you that time and space (read: a life!) outside of what you do.  When you feel like you can never be away or take a vacation because your business is wholly dependent on you and your presence, it means you set it up wrong.
  • When your opponent’s chips are stacked higher than yours, and that gulp on your throat is because you know that half of that used to be yours, you are definitely in the losing end.  Think of the chips as your customers, and if you’re losing them faster than you’re gaining them, it won’t be long when you’ll run out of bets.  Out of the game.
  • You can’t clearly explain why you sat down and joined the game. When it’s only you who know fully well why you’re in this business, what you want to achieve, and how you planned to get there, you’ll be running an organization with wheel spokes that are not synchronized.  Your team’s pace, rate and even direction may be different, simply because your company’s objectives were not clearly defined.  If this is the case, you’ll need lots of luck getting to where you want to go.
  • When you keep buying chips from the cashier to stay in the game. When your game plan is now down to just surviving, and you employ many stop gap measures to stop your financial bleeding, your business is now in a fatal phase.  If you’re spending more time doing damage control (from irate customers, unpaid suppliers or angry partners) than building the business, it may get to a point when efforts to keep the business alive are no longer worthwhile.
  • It has turned into a boring game. When your initial excitement and passion is replaced with dread or boredom, and you just go through the motions of playing the game, for the sake of staying…

If you’re no longer “in” the game, either because you can no longer afford it, or your emotional willingness is gone, I suggest you heed Kenny’s words, fold up and walk away.  And cash in the remaining chips in your pocket, if there’s any.  Hopefully, it’s enough to get you through till you’re ready to sit on another table once again.

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Paul Bailey

Paul is a highly experienced Business Coach, Mentor and Personal Development Specialist. He works with people to enhance business and personal performance through a process of supported self-awareness and self- development. Paul is the Co-Author of the book 80 Tips.