How to keep your motor running

  • 02 Aug 2022

Written by: Guy Browning, Guy runs the design agency Smokehouse

What motivates you? What’s the motor that gets you up every morning to run your business? And how do you keep it running?

Back in the day, I was running a large project for a big business and someone neglected to do something quite critical. I explained to him that he’d messed up and let the side down; I was firm but not heated. His response was, “I find that really demotivating”, which stumped me. I suppose he thought his feelings were more important than the project, and that the criticism was a personal attack. I’m not sure what was going on, but I know now that the subject of motivation is as complex and varied as we are.

It’s just as complex when you work for yourself or in a small business. There’s a basic imperative to pay the bills, otherwise we don’t eat and we don’t have a business. Beyond that, motivation branches out in all sorts of directions.

For some, the sheer pleasure of doing the job is paramount. I knew someone who made beautiful wooden benches with superb craftsmanship – but I almost had to beg him to invoice me, and his prices were absurdly low. It’s as if money really didn’t matter to him. I’ve also dealt with a plumber who was the exact opposite: slow, slapdash work with the world’s speediest and steepest invoicing.



What about those of us in the middle: proud of what we do, trying to do it to the best of our ability, and struggling to make sure we earn enough to get by? What motivates us? The pandemic has made us examine this even harder. How motivating is a day of Zoom, or never seeing your customers for real? How do you motivate yourself to move from kitchen to living room and be professional in your slippers?

Personally, I’ve found that two things help keep me motivated. The first one is getting closer to your customers – communicating with them more than you have to and working out how you can make their lives easier, simpler and better.

The second is to continually improve your craft, your skills and your specialist knowledge. Not only does it refresh your thinking, but the learning process puts you in touch with different and interesting people. Even better is when the two things combine, so that you’ve got some really crunchy new skills, products and ideas to chat about with your customers.

A few years back I went on a creative thinking course. One of the most useful techniques was to imagine your business life as a thin path leading through the same ideas, people and places, and arriving at the same destination. Then you make another path the same shape as the first, but move the whole thing sideways.

This involves shifting everything you do slightly, from having a different coffee, to calling a different customer, to reorganising your database, to changing your opening hours, to tweaking a product. It’s a way to refresh everything you do without the trauma of radical change. It’s also a great way to re-energise and re-engage with your business (and the rest of your life). It costs nothing and it may just help to keep your motor running.

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