How Do You Know When to Quit a Business Project? Insights from 3 Business Books I Read
To quit or not to quit?
If your business project isn’t working, how can you determine if and when you should abandon it?
I’m asking you (and myself) this question because for over one year I tried to grow Stolaroid Stories, an educational project to help adult learners of English improve their speaking through personal stories and photos. I invested money and time to make it work but the idea didn’t catch on so I decided to stop pursuing it.
I then switched to another business idea: helping adult learners of English improve their speaking through personal development book clubs. I spent one year promoting it but only one person joined my clubs. After a week she cancelled.
And I gave up.
How can I know if I quit too soon? What if I had persisted for two more years pushing Stolaroid Stories or my book clubs? Would I be a millionaire now? Should I have done what the following quote suggests?
“You never know how close you are to a breakthrough. It may be right around the corner. Don’t quit!” —
To quit or not to quit?
Let’s see what some of the business books I’ve read say about this.
“Anything You Want” by Derek Sivers
In If It’s Not a Hit, Switch —a chapter from Derek Sivers’ Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur— Sivers talks about CD Baby, his multimillionaire music service company.
He says this:
“For the first time in my life, I had made something that people really wanted. Before that, I had spent twelve years trying to promote my various projects. Trying every marketing approach. Networking, pitching, pushing. It always felt like an uphill battle, trying to open locked or slamming doors. I made progress, but only with massive effort. But now… Wow! It was like I had written a hit song.
Success comes from persistently improving and inventing, not from persistently doing what’s not working.
We all have lots of ideas, creations, and projects. When you present one to the world, and it’s not a hit, don’t keep pushing it as-is. Instead, get back to improving and inventing.”
This makes sense.
But what if our project is not a hit *yet*? What if, for example, not enough people have listened to it?
Let’s turn to another business writer and see what he has to say.
“Essentialism” by Greg McKeown
In Essentialism: The Disciplined Art of Pursuing Less, Greg McKeown says:
“Sunk-cost bias is the tendency to continue to invest time, money, or energy into something we know is a losing proposition simply because we have already incurred, or sunk, a cost that cannot be recouped. But of course this can easily become a vicious cycle: the more we invest, the more determined we become to see it through and see our investment pay off. The more we invest in something, the harder it is to let go.”
But how do you know if you’ve invested enough time and energy in the project? For example, if you’ve already invested 6 years but still got disappointing results, should you invest one more year or try a different strategy and see what happens?
Let’s ask Seth Godin. He wrote a whole book on quitting.
“The Dip” by Seth Godin
“Extraordinary benefits accrue to the tiny minority of people who are able to push just a tiny bit longer than most.”
Aha! So I shouldn’t have quit Stolaroid Stories and my book clubs! I should have persisted!
But then I read…
“Extraordinary benefits also accrue to the tiny majority with the guts to quit early and refocus their efforts on something new.”
I’m confused. So quitting is okay. But how do I know if I should quit or not???!!! Seth, when is the right time???
I read the whole book but didn’t find a clear answer to my question. So I decided to hunt down Seth Godin on YouTube.
And I found the answer.
Mystery Solved (?)
In this YouTube video, the interviewer asks Seth, “How do you know how to quit and when to quit?”
“You have no idea. But you know you have to decide. There’s no formula. There’s no way I can say if it’s like this you should quit; if it’s not like this, you should keep going. You just need to know that you’ve been quitting all your life and sometimes you quit at the wrong time and sometimes you quit the wrong things. Look back. Look at other people who are ahead of you. What did they decide to quit or not quit? And look for clues, and look for symptoms.”
Is it true that we can’t know?
As you can tell, I’m not a business expert and, if you have little knowledge of how building a business works, you might be as disappointed as I am.
But if you are an expert or you’ve read some interesting business books on the topic, I’d love to hear how you or they would answer the question I wrote in the title of this story.