What's your problem?

After running a business for 30 years, my wife and I have lost the burning enthusiasm that once drove us...

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 23 Aug 2011

Q: I have run a small business now for nearly 30 years. My wife and I are partners and have worked incredibly hard for most of that time, while also raising a family. We also had to cope with a rapacious franchisor whose clutches we managed to escape a couple of years ago, but which left our business underfunded, with a lot of hard work still to do and both of us quite burnt out. We now have great opportunities but we have lost the burning enthusiasm which drove us in the early days. How do we begin to get this back?

A: Even without the draining experience of the franchisor, 30 years is a very long time to maintain burning enthusiasm for the same project. My suspicion is this: the nature of your business, its problems and opportunities, have become altogether too familiar. You know too well what needs to be done and even how to do it. But the excitement has gone; and with it the energy.

If this slightly depressing analysis is right, then forcing yourselves to feign enthusiasm won't work. The slightest setback, instead of presenting a spur and a challenge, will seem yet another wearisome mountain to be climbed. To break the pattern, you need, quite consciously, to identify a new ambition. It needs to be closely related to your existing business but different enough to scare you a little and re-awaken some of that lost excitement.

To make room for this, you'll need to find (and pay) a younger outsider to take on most of the responsibility for your traditional business. To them, the challenge will be a fresh one. You'll have to give them space. You'll have to button your mouths and refrain from muttering that everything they suggest you've tried before.

In the short term, all this will obviously hit your operating profit. But if you and your wife start to get some of that old enjoyment back, won't it be worth it?

Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. This month he receives the Advertising Association's Mackintosh Medal, honouring his work in the industry for more than 50 years. Address your problem to Jeremy Bullmore at: editorial@mtmagazine.co.uk. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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