It may come as a shock, but not every entrepreneur wants to be the next Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey or Bill Gates. Sure, these founders have become influential figures and attained massive financial success. Yet most small business owners would be perfectly happy toiling away until retirement age, and perhaps beyond, without billions of dollars in the bank, an army of employees and corporate headquarters that can be seen from space.
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"There are many different aspects to success that are important to businesses," Terry Hicks, chief product officer at sales and marketing software maker Infusionsoft, told Small Business Computing. According to Defining and Achieving Small Business Success, a new study (registration required) from Infusionsoft and Emergent Research, small business owners are largely motivated to work in a field or discipline they enjoy or by being their own boss.
Small Business Definitions of Success
Along those lines, other small business owners seek out certain levels of work flexibility and enjoy the inherent freedom and control of running their own business. Finally, approximately three-quarters of the small business owners surveyed for the study said that they define success by making a positive contribution to their communities, said Hicks.
Curious to find out what makes today's entrepreneurs tick, Emergent Research polled 402 small business owners who employ from two to 25 people. The firm also conducted in-depth interviews with an additional 26 owners and executives who run lucrative small businesses.
The study revealed a clearer picture of what small business ownership and prosperity entails, indicating a spectrum of priorities that don't necessarily involve a company's money-making abilities. That said, nearly all of the entrepreneurs surveyed realize the value of establishing a firm financial footing.
Financial Business Goals Still Matter
While putting your passions to work and being your own boss are great perks, "financial sustainability is more important," acknowledged Hicks.
Nearly all of the small business owners surveyed (94 percent) set specific financial goals for their companies. Encouragingly, 65 percent of respondents said they were confident they could reach their financial goals.
Entrepreneurs by nature are an ambitious and optimistic bunch. All of the 26 businesses that Emergent interviewed said they were confident they would achieve financial success, even the ones that didn't have specific financial goals.
That ambition and hope for the financial future doesn't necessarily translate into a drive to grow into a large enterprise, or even a midsized business. "Only about 12 percent of the survey respondents have that as an aspiration," said Hicks.
Growing into a big business comes with its own "headaches and other challenges" that can dampen a person's zeal for work, added Hicks.
Engaged business owners and roll-up-your-sleeves types in particular sometimes have trouble adjusting to the responsibilities of being in charge of increased headcounts and business processes that grow more complex as a result. Often, folks in charge of growing companies find themselves "managing the business instead of running the business," a role they never had any intention to fill, he said.
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Traits Found in Successful Small Businesses
The study also found—no surprise here—that successful small businesses embrace technology. While mobile-enabled collaboration platforms, cloud services, and other modern business tools certainly help (more on that later), the study also revealed that the marketplace rewards entrepreneurs who are not afraid to seek outside help.
Generally, successful entrepreneurs will invest in helping their employees gain expertise, whether through coaching, mentorships, or official training. "They value it, and you can tell that they value it [because] they pay for it," Hicks said.
Everyone makes mistakes, conceded Hicks. But tapping into the experience and business prowess of experts who have already been down that road can help business owners avoid "the pain of mistakes that they could have easily avoided." And by doing so, they accelerate their progress, he asserted.
The Infusionsoft and Emergent research found that successful firms gravitate toward solutions that provide insightful analytics and help automate their businesses processes and workflows.
"Automation allows small businesses to streamline processes, reduce overhead and improve customer responsiveness. It also leverages a firm's human assets, especially the owner," stated the report. "Almost all the small business owners reported automation allows them to 'do more with less', hire fewer employees and save time."
Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Small Business Computing. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.
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