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."