Last week, the Allstate/USA Today Small Business Barometer study revealed a few new important facts about entrepreneurs and their motivations. Using federal data in conjunction with a national survey of entrepreneurs, the study was designed to get an inside look at the small business sector. 

More than 2,600 entrepreneurs participated in the Allstate study. Almost half of those surveyed said being their own boss gave them the most enjoyment, while a third pointed to flexible working hours.

Nearly one quarter of participants said they enjoyed creating something that belonged to them or enabled them to follow their passion.

Just one in five entrepreneurs cited money as one of their top two motivators.

As the leading provider of virtual receptionist services to small businesses, we’ve connected with literally thousands of entrepreneurs at Conversational Receptionists. We know that business owners get a lot out of owning a company, and that for many, being your own boss is what makes entrepreneurship worth it, not profit.

“Being my own boss” was the most popular answer entrepreneurs gave. It’s clearly a motivating force for some, but why? What is it about autonomy that business owners find enjoyable?

Motivation: Intrinsic and extrinsic

First, let’s look at where motivation comes from. Motivation is either intrinsic, meaning it stems from the inside, or extrinsic, meaning it comes from the outside.

Extrinsic motivators tend to be weaker than intrinsic motivators. We don’t always feel like we’re in control of these types of motivators and rewards. Examples of extrinsic motivators are:

  • Promotions at work

  • Raises and praise

  • Fame and notoriety

  • Rewards and awards

Intrinsic motivators are internal in origin. We seek them out just because we enjoy the experience or feeling they provide. They are stronger motivators than extrinsic motivators in many cases. Examples of intrinsic motivators are:

  • The joy you get from painting a picture

  • The feeling of satisfaction after running a marathon

  • Buying yourself flowers

  • Donating to a charity

Where motivation comes from is very important. As this study confirmed, business owners find intrinsic motivators and rewards are generally more valuable and important than extrinsic--being your own boss (intrinsic) was the most popular answer, and the financial reward was the least popular answer (extrinsic).

In fact, other studies have shown that pay increases can actually decrease intrinsic motivation at work.

We know that intrinsic motivation is what drives us to want to be autonomous. But what’s behind our love of being our own boss?

Why do we love to be our own boss?

For many, not being subject to the authority of someone else is empowering and a powerful motivator in itself. Children that grew up with parents that owned businesses were likely told that being an entrepreneur was the best thing to be--and at the heart of that autonomy is the freedom that only entrepreneurship can buy.

What many confuse with freedom, however, is free time. Entrepreneurs have plenty of freedom, but hardly ever enough free time

The freedom business owners have is of a different kind; it’s the freedom to pursue a passion, or create a career out of a hobby. It’s the freedom to work 4 days a week or completely avoid that one task you hate and delegate it to someone else without fear of being reprimanded. It’s building something from the ground up, being recognized for that achievement, and responsible for its’ success.

Why don’t more people choose to start a business?

While entrepreneurship seems to come naturally to the ambitious and independent, being your own boss does come with a sense of uncertainty and very real risk. Anyone who isn’t naturally motivated to take risks in order to pursue big rewards likely isn’t suited for entrepreneurship.

Personalities that clash with starting and owning a business prefer the safety and stability of a salaried position to the risk and unsure nature of entrepreneurship.

And those who find themselves starting a company (or five) and loving the journey report they’re focused more on working hard for things they themselves create, and are more deeply invested in than someone else’s dream or vision.

In short, more people don’t start businesses because  they just don’t share the same perspective as entrepreneurs--to them, the risks are too great and the rewards too uncertain.

In this case, the old saying certainly seems true for business owners: “Fortune favors the bold.”  

Debra Carpenter is the Senior Content Strategist at Conversational. She contributes to publications like Huffington Post,,, and more. She’s always writing and learning more about small business, business psychology, and customer service. You can get in touch on Twitter @hello_itsdeb or via email at