What to do if you lose the drive to lead your business’ fast-growth

Has the passion for your business fizzled out? It's more common than you think. Here's how to relight your fire


Gerard Burke , former director of the Cranfield School of Management’s Business Growth and Development Programme, offers tips on putting the passion back into your business

Some business owners will have greeted the New Year re-energised, enthusiastic and raring to go. Others will be dreading another year of drudgery, late nights in the office and floundering in a role in which they are not entirely comfortable. In fact, losing the passion for your business is more common than most owner-managers would have you believe.

Virtually every entrepreneur brims with enthusiasm when they embark on their venture. However, a few years down the line, the passion can start to ebb away.

Passion killers

The triggers vary from person to person, but commonly stem from a lack of management experience. Many entrepreneurs go it alone because they have a talent – be that selling, designing or computer wizardry. But they don’t always have experience of running a business, and so struggle with areas such as people management and finance to a point where it becomes a drain on their passion.

Adrian Wheeler, of design agency Creator Communications, was a case in point. He founded the company in 1998 with Sandra Wheatley, out of a love for design. The business grew steadily for the first few years until, in the words of Wheeler, “we bumped into an invisible ceiling of our own creation”.

“Our market had reached maturity and was going into decline – design had become commoditised and we couldn’t command the fees we once could,” he explains. “We reached the limit of our capabilities and energies. All in all, it was disheartening.”

The partners saw potential in e-marketing, and in 2005, launched a digital marketing arm. The venture was a success, but by the end of 2006, rather than patting themselves on the backs, the partners were questioning whether they wanted to carry on. “It wasn’t fun anymore. We’d grown the company because we’d had to, but not for the right reasons; we didn’t have a clear direction.” So how do you rekindle the fire?

Back to the beginning

The key is to identify what inspired you to start your business in the first place. Take Takero Shimazaki, director of Toh Shimazaki Architecture. When he decided to participate in the Cranfield School of Management’s Business Growth and Development Programme (BGP) last January, there was nothing discernably wrong with his business. The problem appeared to be with him.

“I’d fallen into the classic trap of spending more and more time on operational activities and less and less on design. I was so engulfed by the running of the business that it had become impossible to keep a clear mind for architecture,” he explains.

By clarifying the purpose of the business, Shimazaki reconnected with his passion. “We realised that my partner Yuli Toh and I are the brand,” he says. “Our talent for architecture is at the core of the business and it didn’t make sense for me to be doing bookkeeping.” Shimazaki re-evaluated roles within the company and outsourced activities that were distracting him and Toh from doing what they do best.

“It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy running the business,” he says, “but now I’m working on it rather than in it. I get an A4 business summary from our accounting team, so within five minutes I know exactly where we are.”

This new way of working has freed up the time Shimazaki has for customers. “Clients are referring us more and we have more time to attend events,” he says. “Before, because we were doing everything, when we were invited to an industry party, we rarely felt like going. Now we do, and each time we make new contacts.”

Aligning your goals

The future of an owner-managed business is inextricably linked with the ambitions and goals of the proprietor. So to maintain your drive and direction, you need to articulate what you want from both your life and business.

Aligning life and business goals was at the forefront of Ian Doughty’s mind. As managing director of manufacturing firm Structure Flex, he was nearing retirement age and keen to prepare his son, Matt, for succession. “I was pressing him to identify development opportunities and BGP popped up as an option. When we spoke to the programme leaders, it transpired that we should both participate,” explains Doughty.

Besides identifying the areas in which Matt needed to develop, BGP helped Doughty create a forward-looking business plan that reflected his own personal objectives, namely ensuring financial security for his family.

“Energy can be ineffective if it’s channelled in the wrong direction,” says Doughty. “Getting the business plan drafted and having a clear idea of where we’re going has enabled me to not only focus on what I’m doing, but also on other people – making better use of my energy.”

A little more conversation

You might have great relationships with your spouse, family, friends and staff, but do you have anyone you can talk to frankly and openly about your business? That was Mark Neeter’s problem. He was falling out of love with his company, Ovolo Publishing, before participating in BGP, and had no-one he could really confide in.

“Life should have been great,” says Neeter. “We’d achieved a great deal in four years, were still in business and had no significant debt. But progress was slow and I was wearing too many hats. I was being ground down by the volume of work. Inspiration and enthusiasm were on the wane.”

Yet he found it difficult to reveal to those close to him that he wasn’t happy or that the business wasn’t growing as fast as he had hoped. “When I went on the programme I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to run the business any more,” says Neeter. “But quickly I realised that it is my business and it needs me to run it. Not egotism – just recognition that my vision and tenacity have got us this far, and it is these qualities that will help us grow over the next five years.”

Taking a step back

In Wheeler’s case, physically removing and psychologically detaching himself from the business helped him look at it more logically and rationally. With that distance came clarity. And with that clarity came renewed confidence.

Creator has since invested in a new financial tracking system. “This allows us to get live information when we need it as opposed to wondering how we are doing financially,” he explains.

Having a firmer handle on the company’s finances has enabled the partners to identify their most lucrative business areas. “Before, we were chasing any work, so our competition was anyone,” says Wheeler. “Now we focus on projects in public transport and financial services. We know more about our competition and the market. We produce better work for our clients and our staff feel part of a common plan.”

Since 2001, Gerard Burke has helped over 1,000 ambitious owner managers create the future they want for their businesses and for themselves. He is the founder and managing director of Your Business Your Future, the UK’s leading specialist provider of development programmes for ambitious owner-managers. Your Business Your Future programmes are delivered in partnership with Cass Business School in London. www.yourbusinessyourfuture.co.uk  

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