Losing your job, for any reason, is an immensely stressful experience. Whether it comes due to the collapse of your employer, or if you’re being forced to wind down an enterprise of your own, the pressure can certainly pile up.
But business failure isn’t an unusual scenario, particularly with the global economic volatility we have become accustomed to over the past decade. Many people — including some with well-known success stories — have experienced business failure and then bounced back stronger than ever.
Henry Ford and Colonel Sanders are good examples, just to name a couple. Both of these men failed in their first attempts at business, before tweaking their approach and making it big. In fact, failure can be fertile ground, allowing you to assess and adjust course before moving on to bigger and better things.
Here are some ways to move forward if you’re caught up in a collapsing business:
1. Discover your coping strategy
If you’re in the middle of a failing business, whether your own or your employer’s, it can feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to deal with the range of demands placed in you. You will be called on to support colleagues and customers, answer questions from friends and family, and come up with an onward plan for yourself. There are few situations more overwhelming. Despite the frantic pace, though, you must find the best way to find a little calm for yourself among the chaos.
You might already have a coping strategy for when times get tough — going to the gym, listening to your favorite music, or offloading on a sympathetic friend. But if you don’t already have a healthy way to unwind, now is the time to find one. Firstly, this will help you to cope in the moment, keeping your mind clear and your stress levels low(er). Plus, this resilience is exactly what will help you bounce back from the experience and flourish, no matter what life throws at you down the line.
2. Be your own resume
If you’re closing down your own business or working for a company through liquidation, it can be tempting to give it all up as a done deal. But it’s good to remember that throughout the process, you are your own resume… more so than your LinkedIn profile or paper CV could ever be.
How you behave throughout this unsettling and upsetting experience will be noted by potential employers. Keep your chin up, continue to treat customers well, and work with pride. If you work in a business with a physical presence, like a store or restaurant, keep everything well-maintained until the end. And if you work for yourself, let your customers, employees, and suppliers know what’s happening in a balanced way. You want them to feel fairly treated, too. Any one of them might open the door to your next opportunity — and they will be watching how you perform under pressure.
3. Embrace the skills you’re learning
It can be exceptionally difficult to see it clearly at the time, but the experience of business failure is rich in learning opportunities. Not only do you learn to manage your own emotional responses and resilience, but you will also be working in unfamiliar territory, making the best out of an ever-changing situation.
There’s a reason there are so many famous successes, many of whom are almost just as famous for hitting brick walls early in their career. Think about Edison’s thousand failed attempts to make a light bulb, or Walt Disney being fired for having “no imagination.” These experiences, although painful, proved formative.
Try to stop every now and again to see the skills and competencies you’re gathering, which you can put to good use in future. This promotes a much more optimistic view of your situation and can help you bounce back after everything is resolved.
4. Articulate your career story, positively
Whatever the details of your situation, you will be called upon to explain it to prospective employers down the line. You might be tempted to speak ill of your old employer if the business went under due to management errors, or downplay the experience if it was your own enterprise that tanked. But doing this misses the chance to share your experiences and can make you come off as bitter.
Learn More: How to Answer These Tricky Interview Questions
You own the career story you tell, and you can choose how you articulate your experience of a layoff or business failure in your own way. However, I recommend that you focus on the positives. Talk about how you learned to cope with the ambiguous and challenging situation, and state the negatives in simple, objective terms.
5. Build and use your network
Today, many — if not most — new opportunities are found through word of mouth rather than open advertisement. Having a strong network is essential for us all, and never more so than during a challenging time like business failure. Don’t be afraid (or too proud) to talk to your colleagues, bosses, or business partners (current and previous) about what’s happening.
Be clear about what they can offer you, such as helping you hook up with people in a specific company who might be able to offer work, or looking over your resume. At some point or another, we all have employment issues, and most people will go out of their way to help in the unhappy event that you’re caught up in a failing business.
If you don’t have a great network now, use the experience of business failure to get one. It’s a perfect time to connect with your colleagues and business contacts — such as suppliers — both through online means, like LinkedIn, and in real life. With a business being dissolved, you can be sure that your current workmates will find their way into a whole range of new businesses, creating a ready-made and well-distributed network for you to build upon.
6. Find the opportunities — and plan creatively
There’s never a good time to be involved in a business that’s going under. In my case, I was laid off while pregnant and immediately after being promoted into the role I thought was my perfect fit. Oh, and all of this in the midst of the global financial crisis. I had never been more confident about what my career path would look like, and the abrupt and unexpected bankruptcy of my employer came as something of a shock.
In hindsight, I can see that my career plan at the time was unhealthily rigid and based on the assumption there would be no real change in my company. Being made redundant forced me to think more flexibly. I took opportunities that I never before would have considered, which subsequently opened doors I had never dreamed of.
If you’re in a failing business, try to keep as many options open as possible. Think about the variables you could be open to, such as work in different industries or geographic areas, taking on contract or part-time work, or grabbing freelance opportunities as part of the gig economy. By casting your net as widely as you possibly can, you have more chance of finding something that fits you and lets you bounce back better than ever from your experience.
However tough things are right now, remember this will pass, and things will improve for you down the line. Being involved in a business failure does not make you a failure. In fact, it could give you the experience you need to come back stronger than ever.