Emergent Research recently conducted a study on how small business owners define “success” in partnership with the sales and marketing automation company, Infusionsoft. Steve King, a partner at Emergent and a regular contributor to SmallBusiness.com, provides this overview of the findings of the study, Defining and Achieving Small Business Success.


The study consisted of a survey of over 400 small business owners coupled with a set of 26 in-depth interviews with “successful” business owners. These are small business owners who told us they were meeting or exceeding their business goals and objectives and self-described their business as “successful”.

One of the key findings is that most small business owners are not motivated primarily by financial motivations. (More on this in a moment.) Rather they most often say they are motivated by these non-financial goals:

  • The ability to do work they enjoy
  • Being the boss
  • Work flexibility
  • Freedom and control
  • Having a positive impact on their employees, customers and community

A common misconception: Small business owners always define success by financial rewards

This study confirms the findings of  research we’ve previously conducted along with research by others: Most small business owners aren’t primarily motivated by financial wealth, nor are they interested in growing their firms into big businesses.

This is not to say small business owners don’t want to grow at all. Nor are we saying small business owners don’t care about making money. Indeed, they are serious about running a self-supporting, profitable business. But in most cases the growth goal is modest and the financial targets important but secondary to other objectives.

94% | Have specific financial goals for their business
65% | Are confident they will achieve them

Perception vs. Reality

Despite research revealing that wealth is not the primary driver of most small business owners, the public believes that most small businesses want to grow and become big businesses. This belief is driven mostly by the vast amount of media coverage high growth small businesses and their owners receive.

“It’s even surprising to a lot of small business owners that other owners don’t have wealth as their motivating factor.”

Many small business owners tell us they consider themselves an outlier because they aren’t interested in growing into a big business. They often are surprised when we tell them this attitude is common. It also makes them happy to learn their goals for their business and definition of success is shared by most other small business owners.

(VIA | Small Business Labs “Defining and Achieving Small Business Success“)
Download a free copy of “Defining and Achieving Small Business Success” here.


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