Ask any self-employed person what motivates them, and the answer is likely to be simple: money. But owner managers who think money keeps them motivated may be fooling themselves, say experts. Recognising what motivates you is likely to be rather more complicated.
Being your own boss comes top of the list for most small businesses, says Professor Andrew Oswald, professor of economics at Warwick University, followed closely by flexibility and flexible hours. Money comes a poor third for most self-employed people, including those who believe they are driven by the clatter of pound coins and the rustle of large cheques.
"Self-employed people have higher levels of job satisfaction and are happier than most of the population," believes Oswald. A whopping 49% of the thousands of self-employed people he has studied call themselves very satisfied, compared to 29% of employees. And yet the popular view that self-employed people are happier to take risks is unfounded, he argues: "Their gambling behaviour is no different from the rest of the population."
The factors which motivate small businesses are entirely more complicated, argues Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at UMIST and himself a director of business psychology consultants Robertson Cooper Ltd. "People who start their own businesses have typically worked in a larger organisation and enjoy the amount of control and autonomy that self-employment gives them, when they see the direct rewards for their labour."
But though that autonomy may make most self-employed people happier than the average wage slave, Professor Cooper's studies of top business people has shown that the desire to prove themselves is often drives them.
"Money is not the big motivator. Many top entrepreneurs have had unhappy experiences in childhood, and are motivated by something negative. They want to go on and prove they can succeed, and are driven by control and power."
And while those negative experiences may drive many to set up their own businesses in the first place, motivation grows with the enterprise, argues Professor Cooper. "As the business grows and they employ people, it's like an extended family with everyone depending on your success. The drive that keeps you going then comes from your feelings of responsibility to everyone who depends on you."
And while small business owners' lives have become more stressful with increasing red tape and too little time to finish too many tasks, most would never contemplate working for anyone else, according to research by Abbey National Business Banking and the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). Running a business now means longer working hours, less free time and a negative effect on family life, but the attraction of being your own boss still outweighs going back into wage slavery.
"Although people want to work for themselves, they are feeling under pressure to work harder, and this is having a negative impact on their lives," says FSB spokesman Stephen Alambritis. "The lesson may be to find ways to work more efficiently, and to use the best technology and business advice on offer."
The irony is that highly-motivated owner managers may also work so hard they make themselves ill. "Those who run small businesses generally do so because their work is also their passion," says Dave Harrop, Forum of Private Business spokesman.
"But excess in work can be unhealthy, and especially for a business that relies on one or two people for its success. Regular short breaks are advisable to maintain motivation and keep ideas fresh. Problem is, these people are entrepreneurs and innovators so even while lounging in a deckchair they may well be thinking about work!"
Channeling your motivation
Motivation is more important than a business plan, or funding, or even business skills, says entrepreneur Leonard Tondel, director of the Home Business Alliance. "Motivation is something you either have or haven't. Successful businesspeople have it, without exception. Frustrated employees don't."
But you can channel your motivation, say the experts: "One of the biggest mistakes people make is doing something they don't like," says Tondel. "Enthusiasm which is purely profit-based wears thin very quickly. So if you are going to start a business, make it something you will enjoy doing." Others are more frank: "If you haven't got the motivation, you shouldn't be in business," argues Cooper.
Yet once the business is up and running, stress can undermine self-motivation unless you find some way to control it. Set yourself targets, says independent business adviser David Street, former director of the Institute of Business Advisers. Dig out that business plan too: "Small businesses tend to use business plans only when they're trying to raise money, but they can help you set realistic performance targets too."
At the Royal Bank of Scotland, head of business banking Jason Oakley agrees: "Your business plan should be the life and soul of your business and the key to targets you set."