First-class coach: Growing pains of the entrepreneur

Running my own business is becoming a drag...

by Miranda Kennett
Last Updated: 03 Dec 2010

Q: I really enjoyed the first few years of running my own business. Although it was hard work, there was a lot of freedom and it was really exciting but, as we've grown, I'm finding it less rewarding - the work's repetitive, there's lots of red tape and the shareholders are very demanding. Should I quit and start something else?

A: Entrepreneurs I meet fall into two categories. Either they welcome their businesses growing, having more security and offloading some of their responsibilities, or, like you, their real passion is for the start of the enterprise, when the risks are greater but so is the sense of achievement in overcoming the odds, and they feel like real pioneers.

You're in good company: when Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou first left easyJet, the airline he'd founded, he was described as a serial entrepreneur, someone good at coming up with ideas and being involved in the early days of a project but less suited to the long haul. He went on to start a number of easy-branded companies: internet cafes, car rental and cruises, to name a few. Similarly, Martha Lane-Fox, co-founder of lastminute.com, handed over the reins of her company after a few years, saying there were others more suited to carrying forward and stabilising the business. Both have what psychologists describe as 'a high autonomy need' and I suspect the same may be true of you. They enjoy coming up with ideas but are wearied by the day-to-day responsibilities of running the business once the launch is over.

But, before you rush into chucking in your company, have a clear think through the implications. For example, you'll need another good idea, capable of succeeding in the current climate and, unless you've made enough money to fund a start-up yourself, you're going to need funding. Banks aren't keen to lend at the moment so you'd probably have to find some shareholders, who are likely to be at least as demanding as your current ones. And, although the early days of a new business can be exhilarating, the long hours and uncertainties can play havoc with health and personal life.

Despite your frustration, have a good look at your situation to identify what is working well and which parts of your role are still satisfying. Could you restructure things so you can do more of what you like doing - and, presumably, do best? A client of mine in a similar position has moved from being MD to being director of innovation in his small company. His new job has helped the business diversify into new and more profitable areas and cured him of his boredom. He's handed over areas such as book-keeping and quality control to someone more suited to repetitive activity, who is happy to deal with shareholders' queries and health and safety issues.

If you decide to stay, I suggest you try and get a little closer to your shareholders. Whether the money they've invested is their own or their clients, they are entitled to know the company is sound and not likely to go bankrupt. When entrepreneurs are hostile and withhold information, investors tend to become suspicious and increase their scrutiny, which in turn makes the business founder feel more alienated. Make sure your stakeholders know about the company's successes, but also help them understand the business reality. Try meeting them individually on neutral territory to get to know them. That way they'll get to know you too and be more amenable to your suggestions.

All businesses go through life cycles. Your preference is for the infancy stage, where creativity and energy tend to be highest and where individuals have the greatest freedom and make the most impact. But, for the organisation to grow, it inevitably needs to become more formal: processes have to be established, roles need to be defined and data accurately reported. This transition can feel uncomfortable to the company's founders - it's equivalent to adolescence and, like adolescence, it can't be cured, only lived through. It will take a while for things to settle down and for the organisation to reach confident adulthood.

But, if you do decide to move on, beware of still being emotionally attached to the business. Like Stelios, you could find yourself unable to leave it alone, angered by the direction it's being taken in and wanting to re-involve yourself and direct its future in the way you, its originator, feel is most appropriate.

- Miranda Kennett is an independent coach. If you have a problem you'd like her to tackle, e-mail: miranda@firstclasscoach.co.uk

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