How to manage your business during a personal crisis: Advice from an entrepreneur who's been there

By ATB Financial 6 April 2019 3 min read

It was April, 2017, and Susie Sykes’ personal life was “on fire.”

Up to that point, it looked like she had it all together. Susie was married, had two kids, and was the founder of the thriving Edmonton-based agency, Catapult Marketing.

My business was booming, as was my husband’s—we shared the same home office,” recalled Susie, speaking at The Struggle is Real in Edmonton, a panel discussion for entrepreneurs focused on mental health, community and networking.

“But even as we were experiencing all of this success, deep down inside there was this nagging feeling that something just wasn’t right. And something was very not right.

’My life was flipped upside down’

One day that April, Susie sat down with her accountant, who told her that her husband had amassed a quarter million dollars in debt behind her back.

”I knew my marriage was over, I still had a business and team relying on me, plus my two little ones,” she said.

Susie found herself thrown into 18 months of crisis management as she tried to cope with the fallout. It wasn’t easy.

”I wasn’t processing anything, but I was forced into a full-on change in my business and personal life,” she said. “This company was built on my old life, and my life was completely turned upside down, so now what was it supposed to look like?”

Hitting pause

Susie gave herself permission to work on her personal life and figure some things out.

“The pause in my business saved me and my family,” she said. “I made these decisions so I could be there for my kids at the hardest time of their lives. If I tried to keep going and take care of my work, my team, my kids, and my clients, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. My family was everything, the whole reason I changed my business. I wanted to make sure my kids would be okay.”

But as any entrepreneur can attest, business is often personal.

“My personal fallout is going to hit my team hard,” Susie recalled thinking. “I might have to lay off people, and they were like family to me—I had intentionally built Catapult like a family. I felt like I was letting them down.”

She also had to face the reality that her business needed to change.

”You hear everyone telling growth stories, but I had to shrink,” Susie said. “I never heard that shrinking was a success—downsizing in business was a dirty word! I had to give clients to my competitors, who’d rub it in my face.”

Embracing vulnerability

Looking back, Susie said she wishes she’d have been more open about what she endured.

It was a personal event that caused these changes in my business, and I didn’t want to tell my clients that,” she said.

“I didn’t shout from rooftops publicly, but Edmonton is small and people talk. I wish I could have had more heart-to-hearts with my clients to receive more understanding. Looking back, I think they would have given me a lot of empathy and support in it.”

Susie did make an effort to communicate openly with her team members.

“I really focused on my team first,” she said. “It was important to communicate with them in the right way. It wasn’t one quick announcement, but rather a lot of conversations—a methodical approach over three months. I had to just take one day at a time, believing ‘this feels like the right decision for the moment.’”

Over time, Susie came to realize that hitting pause and scaling down her business wasn’t as bad a move as she was led to believe.

”It’s scary as hell, but it was the best thing I've ever done,” she said.

Now I’m back working from home and I work with contractors now with zero overhead,” she said.

“I really simplified my business, and it’s pretty great. I don’t worry about a magic number when it comes to profits—whatever I earn I put it in my pocket after paying out my contractors. I have a real sense of control now, and that brings happiness and the balance that I needed.”

And despite massive change, Susie learned that some things will always remain constant.

“You don’t lose any great parts of you by taking a break,” she said. “What makes me great is not tied up in my business—it’s who I am.”

Thank you to Susie and fellow entrepreneurs Bradley Poulette and Jacqui Cardinal for bravely sharing their stories at The Struggle is Real event in February.

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