Behaviour and motivation of businesses: qualitative insights

Report on research to understand attitudes and behaviour of SME owners in Scotland in relation to business growth.

2 Methodology 

The research was conducted in two main phases. Phase 1 comprised a total of 75 in-depth interviews among SMEs based in Scotland, the majority of which were carried out by telephone, with around one third conducted face-to-face. Phase two comprised a series of workshops among key stakeholder groups aimed at exploring the implications of the Phase 1 findings and identifying possible interventions to promote growth behavours among Scottish SMEs.

2.1 Phase 1

2.1.1 Sampling and recruitment

To ensure interviewees represented a cross-section of SMEs in term of geography, business characteristics (for example, business size and sector), and owner characteristics (for example, age and sex), a mixture of sampling and recruitment methods were employed. 

In the first instance, a sample was drawn from Experian’s National Business Database (NBD), which includes data on small and medium sized businesses from multiple sources such as Yell,, Companies House, the Postal Address File, Payment Performance Data, Registry Trust and National Canvasse. The NBD also holds profile information about businesses, including their size, sector, location, length of operation, and annual turnover. 

Recruitment of businesses from the NBD sample was undertaken by Ipsos MORI’s in-house telephone centre, using a screening questionnaire to check business’ eligibility against key quotas. The screening questionnaire was also utilised to identify the most appropriate person at each business to interview; in most cases, the company owner or director.

To ensure the inclusion of smaller subsets of SMEs – including female-led enterprises, entrepreneurs under the age of 34 and migrant owned businesses – supplementary recruitment was undertaken via gatekeeper organisations, such as Scottish EDGE and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE). Ipsos MORI provided the gatekeepers with an email to send to relevant business owners within their networks. The email provided background information about the research and invited recipients to opt in, by contacting the Ipsos MORI research team directly.

In all, 56 of the 75 interviewees were recruited through the Experian Database, and 19 via gatekeeper organisations. The final achieved sample profile is presented in Tables 2.1 and Table 2.2 below. 

Table 2.1. Profile of participating busineses 

Total interviews
Size of business  
1 (Sole traders) 19
2-49 (Small enterprises) 49
50-249 (Medium enterprises) 7
Sector of business  
Total growth sectors 31
Total non-growth sectors 44
Length of operation  
Less than one year 7
1 - 5 years 17
6 - 10 years 14
Over 10 years 37
Turnover of business  
Less than £50,000 23
£50,000 to £99,999 12
£100,000 to £249,999 19
£250,000 and over 18
Unknown/withheld 3

Table 2.2. Profile of participating business owners 

Total interviews
 16-24 8
 25-34 12
 35-54 31
 55+ 24
Female 28
Male 47
Central Scotland 3
Glasgow 14
Highlands and Islands 11
Lothians 10
Mid Scotland and Fife 11
North East Scotland 13
South of Scotland 9
West of Scotland 4

2.1.2 Structure of the interviews 

All interviews were structured around a discussion guide, designed by Ipsos MORI in consultation with the Scottish Government. Topics covered included: the background to the business; business growth history and approach; barriers and enablers to business growth; growth and innovation specific behaviours; plans for growth and concerns about future growth; engagement with support services, and any further support needs.

To ensure a structured approach and the systematic exploration of the specific growth behaviours of interest, the discussion guide was developed with reference to the COM-B model of behaviour change and the Behavioural Change Wheel[7] (Figure 2.1). COM-B facilitates interpretation of what is driving a given behaviour and the identification of related evidence-based interventions. It holds that for any behaviour to occur, a person must have the: 

  • Capability: Including the physical capability (for example, the skill, strength, stamina) and the psychological capability (knowledge or psychological skills to engage in the necessary mental processes) 
  • Opportunity: Including physical opportunity (as afforded by environmental factors such as time, resources, locations, cues) and social opportunity (as afforded by interpersonal influences, social cues and cultural norms that may influence the way we think)
  • Motivation: Including reflective motivation (self-conscious intentions and evaluations) and automatic motivations (for example, emotional desires, impulses, inhibitions etc.)

Figure 2.1. The Behavioural Change Wheel

Figure 2.1. The Behavioural Change Wheel

Applying this behavioural framework provided for a rich understanding of the enablers and barriers to growth under each source of behaviour, along with an indication of the trigger points that should be targeted in an intervention. 

2.1.3 Fieldwork and analysis

Fieldwork was carried out between August 2018 and October 2018, by core members of the Ipsos MORI research team. All businesses that took part were offered an incentive payment of £50 (in the form of a direct payment, or a donation to a charity of their choice), as a ‘thank you’ for their time and to cover any expenses incurred. 

All interviews were audio-recorded (with participants’ permission), and a selection were transcribed to allow the incorporation of verbatim responses into the report. 

To facilitate analysis of the qualitative data collected, the research team developed a code frame in Excel, in line with the COM-B model. This enabled them to systematically record and interrogate the data to identify the full range of views on each issue/experience; any differences in views and experiences (for example, by sector, business size, urbanity/rurality etc.); and to identify the relationships between particular views and experiences.

2.2 Phase 2 

Phase two of the research comprised four half day workshops with key stakeholders from services and agencies active in providing advice or support to SMEs in Scotland. The purpose of the workshops was to share the research findings and, on the basis of that evidence, identify practicable interventions aimed at supporting the future growth of SMEs

Each workshop was conducted in a different region of Scotland. The regions were: Highland, the North East, the Central Belt (including Edinburgh, Glasgow and Central Scotland) and the South of Scotland. In each case, around 15-20 stakeholders were invited by the Scottish Government to participate. 

The workshops were facilitated, and the findings collated, by the Ipsos MORI research team, for incorporation into this report.

2.3 Interpreting qualitative data 

Unlike survey research, qualitative social research does not aim to produce a quantifiable or generalisable summary of population attitudes, but to identify and explore the different issues and themes relating to the subject being researched. The assumption is that issues and themes affecting participants are a reflection of issues and themes in the wider population concerned. Although the extent to which they apply to the wider population, or specific sub-groups, cannot be quantified, the value of qualitative research is in identifying the range of different issues involved and the way in which these impact on people.



Back to top