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Small-Business Owners Satisfied, but Fewer Feel Successful

Small-Business Owners Satisfied, but Fewer Feel Successful

U.S. small-business owners cite the freedom of being their own boss as top job perk

by Coleen McMurray and Frank Newport

This article is part of a weeklong series, "Entrepreneurs and Strengths," on

PRINCETON, NJ -- U.S. small-business owners are more likely now to say they are satisfied with being a small-business owner than they were at the tail end of the recession, but are less likely to see themselves as successful. According to a Wells Fargo/Gallup survey of small-business owners conducted earlier this year, 56% of small-business owners, up from 45% in 2010, are either extremely or very satisfied with being a small-business owner. But fewer owners, 37%, say they feel extremely or very successful as a small-business owner -- the lowest figure in a decade.

U.S. Small-Business Owners: Satisfaction vs. Success

While small-business owners' satisfaction dropped in 2009 and fell even further in 2010, it rebounded in 2012 to where it was prior to the recession. After dipping again in 2013, it returned this year to the level seen in 2012. On the other hand, owners' perceptions of being extremely or very successful have trended downward since 2007 and have yet to recover. This is the case even as Gallup has observed improvements in many of its economic measures on employment, hiring, economic confidence, and consumer spending in recent years.

One explanation for this paradox may lie in the fact that small-business owners tend to like the basic lifestyle and self-sufficiency that come with being an entrepreneur, and therefore may tend to be satisfied even when they don't perceive themselves as particularly successful. Over four in 10 say that the most rewarding thing about starting and running their business is being their own boss and being independent -- by far the most frequently mentioned response to this open-ended question.

What would you say has been the most rewarding thing about starting and running your own business?

Separately, when given a list of reasons that might motivate people to start their own business, the most popular answers are the desire to secure their financial future (69%), to be their own boss (66%), and to set their own hours (51%). Owners are less likely to rate many other reasons as being important in their decision to open a small business, including the desire to take advantage of new business opportunities, continuing a family business, providing jobs for children and/or family members, or pursuing a hobby.

Thinking about your motivations for opening a small business, please tell me how important each of the following were as a reason to start your own business.

Owners Recognize the Difficulties of Being an Entrepreneur

Even while the majority of small-business owners are satisfied with their occupation choice, they clearly recognize the difficulties of being an entrepreneur and a self-employed business owner. Many owners say they would advise young people to work for someone else (47%) rather than start their own business (42%), underscoring the challenges that today's entrepreneurs face.

Would you recommend to a young person that they start their own business, or go to work for someone else?


Small-business owners convey their strong desire to be their own boss and to set their own hours, and report feeling mostly satisfied with being a small-business owner. But fewer today say they feel successful as a small-business owner, even as the economy has improved in the last few years. And although other Wells Fargo/Gallup research shows that most would do it all over again if given the chance, owners are divided on whether they would recommend to young people that they start their own business, perhaps recognizing the significant challenges that come with the territory of being an entrepreneur in today's economy.

About the Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index

Since August 2003, the Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index has surveyed small-business owners on current and future perceptions of their business' financial situation.

Wells Fargo serves more than 2.5 million small-business owners across the United States and loans more money to America's small businesses than any other bank (2002-2012 CRA government data). To help more small businesses achieve financial success, in 2014 Wells Fargo introduced Wells Fargo Works for Small Business -- a broad initiative to deliver resources, guidance, and services to business owners -- and a goal to extend $100 billion in new lending to small businesses by 2018. For more information about Wells Fargo Works for Small Business, visit

Survey Methods

Results for the total data set are based on telephone interviews conducted March 31-April 4, 2014, with a random sample of 601 small-business owners, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of small-business owners, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

Gallup uses a Dun & Bradstreet sample of small businesses nationwide having $20 million or less in sales or revenues. The data are weighted to be representative of U.S. small businesses within this size range nationwide.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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