Knowing When to Quit

I had to do it. I waited way longer than I should have. After agonizing over it, getting talked out of it more than once, and dreading everything about it, I finally sucked up my pride and decided to quit. 

*deep breath*

To continue the theme of learning from your mistakes, what takes place in this post is from quite a few years ago now.

It’s important for me to continue thinking about it though because it’s an issue I’m still struggling with. Rationally, I know it’s better to walk away from something that isn’t working than to stick it out indefinitely just because you’ve sunk money, time, and/or reputation into it. But that sunk cost bias is hard to ignore!

A few years ago, I was approached about starting and growing a new networking group. This may come as a surprise, but I love networking! And I have a lot of strong opinions about the right way and wrong way to do it. So this idea sounded perfect for me, and I was really excited to help people network better, grow my own network, and lead and support a group that helps each other crush our goals. 

I’d been networking for years; I’d seen both the good and the bad sides of it. But I’d never tried to run one myself. Several people told me that it was going to take up a lot of my time, but I was not concerned. This was going to be awesome. A room full of coachable and eager people who want to share leads, grow their business, and improve their networking and sales skills? Yes, please! 

Well, as it turns out, it’s harder to find a room full of people who are willing to be vulnerable, coachable, and helpful to others than I thought. I could probably have been more selective, but I wanted bodies in the room to get it going. I genuinely thought that, over time, natural selection would take place. And it’s not that I had bad people in the group. Far from it! There just weren’t enough networking rockstars to help me make the group the resounding success I was hoping for. 

Also, they weren’t kidding when they said it would take up a lot of time!

Growing a new networking group is a full-time effort. You have to look for people constantly. So it’s basically networking on top of networking and then more networking. After finding potential people, you then have to meet with them, educate them on the expectations and rules of the group, remind them to show up, and then be there for every meeting to thank them for coming and ask them to bring more people.

At first, I was able to go to a lot of networking events and talk about the group all over town. Things were looking pretty good, and I was confident that it was going to work. 

But, as usual, life happened.

My daughter started kindergarten. That was emotionally taxing enough as it is, (kindergarten already!), but that also meant my schedule had to shift to pick her up most afternoons. With a lot of networking events happening in the later afternoon and evening, that meant that my ability to prospect for new members was going to take a huge hit.

Adding some additional leadership helped keep us on track during this transition. I found someone to be the vice-president who is a networking force of nature. She was always out talking about the group and brought in multiple guests, so I knew she could help keep us afloat.

For months, I was trying to lead the way. We met once every single week. And every single week I did most of the talking. I talked about how I network, how I keep my calendar and pipeline full, and where I was struggling in my career. Sometimes, I even opened all the way up and asked for help. 

It can be hard to be the only person in the room willing to put yourself out there, I quickly found out that’s where I was. 

I started to dread going to the group. It wasn’t growing the way that I wanted it to, and I wasn’t able to put in the work to get it where I wanted. But I had put so much time into it that I didn’t want to give it up.

Eventually, I started talking with the other people on the board about closing down the group. And I was talked out of it. They said that they loved the meetings and the discussions, and that gave me some hope. But, nobody was really getting any good leads from it. Nobody else was sharing their knowledge or their struggles. So how much were they really getting out of it?

Truth is, I think their sunk cost bias was flaring as hard as mine was.

So I had to dig deeper to figure out if I could continue making this work. I sat down and looked at my schedule to see where I was and was not being productive. 

One of my days to drop off and pick up my daughter happened to be our meeting day. So, 30 minutes to take her to school, 45 minutes from her school to the group, 90 or so minutes in the networking meeting, 30 minutes home, and then another 30 minutes to pick her up in the afternoon. 

That’s almost four hours of my day. On a good day!

That means that I have to stuff more into every other day. And if the networking group was working, that was doable. But since it wasn’t…

For me, being wrong and quitting are the same thing. I’m not good at either one. But it’s better to admit when you’re wrong and walk away from it with a lesson learned than to keep doing the thing you’re wrong about.

I had a meeting with the board to tell them I was done. 

When I announced that I was leaving and they started discussing the future, one person admitted that they hadn’t gotten one lead from the group in the entire time that they had been attending. They’d been there regularly for almost two years!  

That cemented my decision. It was working as poorly for everybody else as it was for myself. 

At the end of the day, it was about productivity more than anything else. If there was value to be had from it, I could have made the huge time loss work somewhere else. If the other members were thriving, and I knew it could survive after me, leaving wouldn’t have been so hard. 

There are only so many hours in the day, and everyone will use them differently. If you are in sales, time management is HUGE if you’re dedicated to hitting your goals. And you may think you’re doing great, but you might not even realize all the ways you are squandering your time. (More on this in a future post.) 

I’m not saying that I would never try to put a networking group together again. Changes would have to be made, of course. Different techniques, more time/effort, larger group of more qualified people, different ideas of success? But I get a lot of value out of making introductions and helping everyone expand their network. And that helps me grow my own network. 

I made some strong connections and learned a big lesson, so it wasn’t a complete loss. And the group went on for a long time without me, and I’m really happy about that. So maybe it wasn’t the resounding success I had hoped for, but any lesson learned should be considered a success.