The reckoning is here. Companies that have scrambled for the last year or two to keep their heads above water are now reaching the point where the ride is over and the tide is out. They needed a lot more substance and a lot less "story" to keep their boats afloat and a much bigger bankroll to weather the current storm. No one's rushing to save the day or to be the last money in, regardless of how bright the future may be. Sadly, being "about to turn the corner" in these times is a lot like being Carnival cruise lines. No one's anxious to get on board.
So, if you're the owner in a situation like this, you're going to have to write the memo announcing that the time has come to quit-; turn off the lights, shut the doors-;even though no one is certain where they're headed or what comes next. Over the years, many of us have been there, and, as Springsteen says: "you don't know where you're going, but you know you won't be back." Hopefully, you've been preparing the path (even with the abruptness of the latest crisis) and you won't be leaving everyone or anyone high and dry. There aren't a lot of skid marks when a small business shuts down. But there is a right way to do these things.
You'll need to tell your team that the dream has turned to dust. They were there for you in so many ways and thanking them for their hard work and commitment is a great place to start the conversation. Be honest and make it clear that the last few weeks or months of any failing business are never fun. More like being pecked to death by ducks.
A lot has been written about the value of failure, but some experiences don't make you tougher; they just wear you out. The key takeaway, and what still makes even the wind-down process valuable, is that you hung in there and did it together. You had the opportunity to work with some great and talented people under the worst conditions and circumstances and see them trying to come through for the customers and employees that depended on them. Giving up is easy; gutting it out is hard.
I'd suggest that there are four other important messages that weave into your story. No pride of authorship here -- just some ideas to throw into the hopper. Ultimately, the story's gotta be your own or it won't be authentic or helpful to anyone.
First, you don't want anyone to forfeit their future because of the bumps and bad breaks of the past. These things happen and - in the most honest sense - this is no one's fault. It could have been handled better in some ways and in a timelier fashion, but no one could have foreseen this black swan. Frankly, the earlier the mitigation was, the more economic damage to small businesses there would have been. Each member of your team should take the lessons (good and bad) that they've learned and use them to help make something better and stronger the next time around. Because this too shall pass.
Second, it's important to neither romanticize nor ceaselessly mourn the whole thing. Things were never as great or as horrible as they might seem in retrospect and in the selective retelling. Some poet once said: "when one door closes, another opens, but we often look so longingly and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one that has opened for us." There's no question that your team has lived through some of the best and most exciting times of their young lives and that what comes next may never take them to those emotional heights again. You are only a virgin once.
But that doesn't mean that everything from now on will be a pale imitation of the past or a disappointment. We're all products of our past, but no one has to be a prisoner of it unless they're willing to settle for that. No one can step over you unless and until you lie down. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move on down the road.
Third, nobody ever said that life was fair. No one could have anticipated the depth and severity of what we're going through or the arrogant fool we have in charge of our collective futures. But we're here now and we've all got to muddle through the mess and get on with our lives.
After years of hard work and plenty of grief, things didn't work out exactly as you expected. No surprise there. They never do. Real life's like that. Nature doesn't make appointments. The virus doesn't know or care that you were on the verge of greatness. As the old New York Yankees manager/philosopher Casey Stengel once said, "Baseball is the only place in life where a sacrifice is really appreciated." The most important thing is to always keep moving forward and to remember that, in tough times like these, there are really no winners -- only survivors. The trick is to be sure to be one.
And one last thought as you look forward to your next whatever. Doing what you don't believe in really diminishes your soul. And even if the right song is playing, no one is going to tell you to get up and dance. It's all on you. Don't rush to just find a job. Find something that you passionately care about, throw yourself into it with all your heart, and let the new chips fall where they may.