What Really Motivates A Small Business Owner

This weeks article is sneaking in front of the Creative Visionary series I have been putting together since my previous post. Apologies to anyone who was expecting to see the next installment, it will be following this article in my column.

The reason for the delay is because of a last minute invite to write about a Visa small business promotion, giving away $10,000 in prizes to small business owners. At the end of this article are links about how you can enter the sweepstakes.

The Secret Business Sauce

Today you’ll find out about the driving forces that keep small business folk going regardless of the challenges they face, and as entrepreneurs, we know there are many.

We’re exploring intrinsic rewards and motivations that drive you even more so than external ones. Understanding intrinsic rewards and motivation sheds light on why entrepreneurs are capable of putting in crazy long hours and showing unwavering dedication to their products and service.

I’ve interviewed a couple of fascinating business people for this article, including Andrianna and Con Fardoulis, of Fardoulis Chocolates and Annalisa and Luca Tortora, of Visco Selected Fine Foods and I will be drawing from Daniel H. Pink’s research in his latest book, “Drive”.

I only hit upon the idea for this article thanks to listening to the responses from my interviewees about why they’re in business and what makes them keep going in the face of major challenges. As I listened to them, I realized that many of the attributes being shared relate to intrinsic rewards.

Intrinsic vs External Rewards

You are probably already aware of external rewards which come in the form of money, power, status, recognition etc. But there are driving forces that come from within that account for how and why small business owners keep going against all odds. As I spoke to Andrianna, Anna and Con about their respective businesses, not one of them mentioned being driven by any of the external rewards above.

You have motivational forces that drive you from within. Pink says –

we have an innate drive to be autonomous, competent and connected to one and other. When this drive is liberated, people achieve more and lead richer lives

It is these forces that entrepreneurs thrive on in running their own business. Dan Pink explains that when these innate psychological needs are met, you become intrinsically motivated, productive and happy.

The Unstoppable Autonomous Entrepreneur

Let’s start by looking at autonomy, this is one of the biggest drivers for entrepreneurs. Being able to provide a valuable product and service to others whilst enjoying the freedom to explore and express your creativity is an extraordinary motivator. Your creativity is inextricably linked to how autonomous you feel; freedom and creativity go hand in hand.

When you work for someone else, you are rarely given free reign to innovate and problem solve at will. Even if you’re expected to in your job, you always have to get permission from the powers that be to run with your ideas and innovations. This slows down the process of innovation and problem solving and inhibits creativity.

Entrepreneurs are highly creative individuals, they love a challenge and they love being able to rise to the challenge. You have to be creative to stay in business.

Business owners invite challenges into their life everyday and draw on creativity to handle these challenges. The intrinsic motivation of autonomy drives you in business and the sense of freedom and creativity that comes from it is a great source of fulfillment in itself.

Mastery – The Great Motivator

Now let’s look at the innate need for competence, I actually prefer to call this “mastery”. This intrinsic motivator came up again and again in my interviews with business owners, Andrianna, Anna and Con. It became screamingly apparent that developing mastery was a powerful driving force in their work.

Con described his and Andrianna’s intrinsic motivation for developing mastery in their chocolate business in a fascinating and quite poetic manner.

Con explained –

It’s like we’re competing in the “Chocolatier Olympics” and we’re up against the world’s biggest and best like Lindt, Godiva, Ferrero Rocher, etc. We have to perform at that level and you just have to rise to the occasion. You get such a sense of dignity from creating and maintaining your products and service at this standard.

Annalisa described her experience of running her own business as a great way to cultivate self awareness. She told me –

Facing adversity when running your business shows you what you’re really made of. You learn who you are and what you’re truly capable of accomplishing.

Small business owners draw on the intrinsic motivational drive to continuously develop mastery in their work, and this drive helps them put in the long hours and stay focussed in tough times.

Connections Are The Cornerstone of Small Business

Relationships in small business matter – a lot. Andrianna explained –

Small businesses don’t have massive budgets for marketing. The strong connections we create are a firm foundation for us.

Because feeling connected to others is a innate psychological need, building and fostering relationships often comes naturally to entrepreneurs.

I heard an extraordinary example of how business owners will go way further than the extra mile to maintain a good relationship with a client. Annalisa Tortora has personally got on flights to deliver goods to businesses when the delivery truck with the order hasn’t come through in time.

A new restaurant opened in Sydney recently. The freight truck hadn’t delivered the goods from their business and the head chef was nearly having a heart attack because they didn’t have the produce for opening night.

Anna got on a flight at 4am on Saturday morning, flew to Sydney, got a hire car, drove to meet the freight truck and hand delivered the goods the chef needed to make it through the opening weekend. She told me she’s done this numerous times for clients and you do it because you have an agreement with them and you have to “deliver the goods” – literally in this case!

Connections do matter; feeling connected to others is an innate motivating force and this drive is also the cornerstone of a successful small business.

This just about wraps up my post on the “Driven From Within”, thanks for reading and I’d love to hear your comments at the end.

I’d also like you to know I received compensation from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s.

This post was sponsored by Visa Small Business as part of their #gobiz Sweepstakes for @VisaSmallBusiness. Visa will be rewarding small business owners with $10,000 in prizes for their hard work from October 25th through November 17th. Visit here http://hosting.thetenthwave.com/visasb/ for more details, and follow @VisaSmallBiz for ways to help make your small business more efficient and successful. Discover more at http://visa.com/business.

About Neroli Makim

Neroli Makim is an intuitive artist and writer who loves exploring Creativity and its relationship to personal fulfillment and professional success. She educates people about Creativity, what it is, why it’s important and how to access it within themselves. For more information, visit www.yourcreativesuccess.com.

Follow Yaro

View Yaro Starak's profile on LinkedIn
Follow us on Instagram


  • This is so true…personally for me it’s the autonomy that keeps me going in the face of challenges. I think within each entrepreneur there is a little voice that cant be silent and when we give in and go against this voice it keeps us uneasy and affects anything we try to do. It’s beyond perseverance, dedication and commitment, while they all play a part, answering to that little voice gives a feeling of satisfaction, pride (bad word) and purpose….great post.

    • Hey Nigel:) Thanks for your comment, and yes, that little voice isn’t always so little – it roars at us sometimes to follow our own paths and take those risks. Cheers, neroli

  • I definitely think that, in the long run, when you own your own business, you are freer to pursue “mastery” in whatever direction you want to pursue it than you are as an employee.

    The key distinction to me is the fact that you can get customers doing pretty much *anything*, provided that

    A) you do it to a high standard,

    B) you market yourself well,


    C) you find a way to get paid.

    Actually now that I look at it, what wrote corresponds pretty well to Yaro’s three parts of blogging success. But I digress…

    Provided you’re a smart marketer, you can find a way to make money by becoming a master at more or less anything. As an employee, you have far less range. You need a particular set of skills that are in vogue or needed at the time. So if your ultimate dream is to master your craft, owning a business always beats being an employee. Unless your craft is accounting or something. Maybe then it’s best to latch on to a big company.

    • Hey Andy, I totally agree with you on being your own master in order to be able to master your craft. Thanks for your comment, cheers, neroli 🙂

  • Great article Neroli and certainly can relate to Anna…and even more reason a small business is a successful business.A multinational company cannot do what Anna did. That is the connection we have with our customers and our employees..:) the extra mile is worth the rewards of a happy customer..:) When employees see this dedication they rejoice in the pride..Almost as if it is thier own baby too 🙂 Nuture ..! What can I say Neroli, your article is priceless to us small business owners..:) xx

    • Hey Anna (Andrianna:) Thanks so much for being one of my interview subjects for this article! Great insights from all of you and great quotes to go in there as well! I hope choccy sales keep climbing as christmas gets closer:) xxn

  • Neroli
    Having been an entrepreneur for 15 years, I think the mastery and other internal rewards FAR exceed the external rewards…Although it’s easier to make that statement when you are making good money 🙂

    • He-he, I know mark 😉 It certainly is easier to say that when the money is coming in – but even when things are tough, people seem to keep going anyway if they are driven from within. Thanks for your comment, cheers, neroli

  • Neroli,
    I have a great resource for your topic. Book: Jane McGonigal write Reality is Broken. Interesting title for a book but what it is about is how we are motivated and uses why games are so perfect for the way that we love to be motivated. I am sure that you will get great information from her. She can also be seen on TED (youtube) for a short speech that she did on the book/topic. Enjoy and let me know if this was great for you. Deb

    • Hey Deb, I love TED talks! I’ll check it out, sounds great! Thanks for that, cheers, neroli

  • Neroli,
    As the CEO of your organization, there is this self esteem that natural comes with the sense of accomplishment. Knowing that I’m contributing to somebody’s success and joy is a powerful driving force for me. These internal rewards, truly exceed the external rewards. It is shallow to make external rewards the driving force of anything we do.

    • Hey Sharon, it was funny when i was interviewing the people in this article, the things they kept talking about are just like you’re saying. Mostly based on intrinsic rewards, even though of course we all need money and love earning it…it isn’t always the driving force. Cheers, neroli

  • Yes I can relate to what you are saying. Developing mastery is an extremely powerful driving force in my business.

    I want to be in the top 1% in my niche with consistent focused effort over a long time.

    I don’t think it is a bad thing though to also be driven by the external rewards though, we all need money to pay the bills and eat. There is nothing to be guilty of being money motivated, but like anything you just need the right balance.

    • Hey Scott, very true, we don’t need to diss money. It’s fun to have and use & we definitely need it if we want to live in most cultures. Balance is the best policy for sure:) cheers, neroli

  • I don’t think it is a bad thing though to also be driven by the external rewards though, we all need money to pay the bills and eat. There is nothing to be guilty of being money motivated, but like anything you just need the right balance.

  • Wow, I think you have just summed up all my thoughts and feelings as an entrepreneur in one go, lol. I was begining to think that it was just me who felt like that, and the sometimes unstoppable number of challenges one has to contend with. I think it is reassuring to know that all successful entrepreneurs are dealing with peaks and troughs all the time.

    It’s only the things that go right that we tend to hear about, and it is easy to feel that everyone else is moving forward much quicker than you. I guess it’s how you deal with the daily challenges as an entrepreneur that matters most.

  • Motivation is without a doubt the number one key to success. Thanks for this post I love it. .

  • To be honest, the biggest motivator for any business is sales. A small business may not be able to afford marketing or a sales team but what they can offer is personal touch to their services which in my opinion is far more effective than any marketing campaign.

  • Awesome post Neroli Makim,

    I think i also agree with Sagor. Being motivated with external rewards is also good though. Because some of people are not that secure enough in term of financial when starting their business at the first time, while the other have already had a good financial in grasp, or at least, they are in secure condition.

    The most importantly is to do what you REALLY love for your business, but think also about the short term of your business, while thinking about the long term is also significant along the journey.

  • Hi Neroli Makim,

    I am the marketing manager of Visco Foods, thanks for mentioning our company in your post. Luca Tortora is a good friend of mine and a very smart entrepreneur.
    Good article!


Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow Yaro: Email | RSS | Facebook | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn | Instagram | YouTube