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Canadian small business owners are happy to go it alone

A new research report published by American Express finds that despite demanding workloads, high stress levels and worries about the state of the economy Canada's legion of small business owners are happy and fulfilled and have no regrets about going it alone.

In fact nine in ten say they "love to get up every day and do what I do" and eight in ten believe they enjoy a better quality of life since starting their own business. Confirming their passion and sense of fulfillment in being their own boss and deep emotional commitment to their business, nearly all small business owners (91%) believe the rewards and opportunities far outweigh the risks and challenges of running their own business. When asked if they would do it all over again, 93 per cent say they would. The cross-Canada survey of 762 business owners was conducted for American Express by Ipsos Reid.

"This is a unique and resilient group of people that can rightly be described as the backbone of the Canadian economy," says Howard Grosfield, VP & General Manager, Small Business Services, American Express Canada & International. "While they cut across so many industries and professions, small business owners do share some common characteristics, including their passion for what they do and the personal fulfillment and sense of purpose they get from their work."

There are several factors that figure prominently when business owners reflect on what drives them and keeps them engaged and motivated, including:

- Independence and control (62%)
- Simply loving the work they do (29%)
- Personal drive for success (22%)
- Commitment to employees and customers (21%)

The American Express survey results confirm that running a small business is indeed a tough job and not for the faint of heart. Owners work, on average, 45 hours a week, with nearly half (45%) working more than 50 hours in a typical week. Stress levels are high with almost eight-in-ten (78%) saying they feel the pressure of being the ultimate decision maker and having accountability for the success of their enterprise. Adding to the day-to-day struggles is a "wary but cautious" outlook on the sagging economy and the future, with nearly seven in 10 small business owners worried about pension and retirement finances. Nevertheless, the survey also shows that the exact same business owners accept and embrace these challenges in anticipation of future rewards.

Why go it alone?

For many Canadians, the appeal of owning their own business comes down to a desire for independence and control, and for 98 per cent of respondents, it is the primary reason why they continue to do what they do. Other factors include the ability to do the type of work they most enjoy (88%), and the opportunity to make better use of their skills and knowledge (46%). In fact, of those surveyed, nearly 60 per cent say they would "never work for anyone else again." And when it comes to making money, 39 per cent of small business owners say it weighed into their decision to go it alone - further indication that the country's more than two million small business owners are driven by personal fulfillment and achievement rather than just by the prospect of financial rewards.

What is the price of success?


Independence and work enjoyment sometimes comes at a price with many conceding that they are workaholics and that they are personally defined by their business. Many (40%) are unable to take vacation because they believe there is no else who can keep things running when they are away. And seven in ten (70%) confess that they have trouble switching off and even when they are away, they spend time checking in at work to remain connected with what's going on. Most of these agree that this kind of behaviour is driven mostly out of personal need to be in control and thrive on being constantly engaged in the business.

What does it take to succeed?


A majority of small business owners identify the willingness to take risks as a key part of their success, however, only one in 10 of those polled actually consider themselves to be a high risk taker. Interestingly, small business owners also believe luck plays a big role. More than half identify a 'breakthrough moment' that helped them take their business to the next level. Respondents have a practical view of which personal traits help keep their business on the rails. Among the most important characteristics are being good with people (86%), being organized (80%) and being driven and committed (76%).

What lies ahead?

The American Express survey indicates that small business owners are unique in their emphasis on placing work above all else, and their approach to growing their business is also distinctive. Almost all (89%) of those polled say they want to grow their business, but that doesn't mean they all have ambitions to make it big. Only 15 per cent aspire to dramatic growth, as compared with nearly three quarters who prefer a moderate pace. Similar numbers were found when it comes to potential expansion as 81 per cent
envision growing their business within their own market and only one in 10 have plans to expand internationally.

With moderate growth and personal fulfillment as guiding principles for small business owners, it should come as no surprise that 37 per cent of respondents say they plan to work as long as they can. Less than two in 10 intend to sell and retire, and the same number plan to stay involved while others run the business.

Valuable lessons

It is clear that small business owners believe in their overall business strategies. In fact, when asked if they would do anything differently if given the opportunity, nearly 60 per cent said they would take the same approach. Nevertheless, there are some who would make some subtle changes based on history. For example, one respondent noted that 'it's hard to collect outstanding receivables' and felt that more aggressive collection policies may be key to getting paid quickly in the future. A small percentage of survey respondents said more education and better market research would factor into their actions if they could start over but for the most part, small business owners are satisfied with how they have shaped their business over the years.

"There is no question that running a small business places significant demands on the owner, but these findings show that the difficulties pale in comparison to the rewards," added Grosfield. "As business owners continue to navigate through both the risks and rewards that come with being the boss, it's crucial to ensure this critical market segment has access to the very best products and services built specifically for their needs."