Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to investigate the individual mechanisms that mediate the relationship between marketing practices and growth-quality of work life ambidexterity. Design/methodology/approach - Data were collected from small service firms via an online survey questionnaire electronically distributed to 7,271 owners of small firms in Australia. Partial least squares was used to test our mediation hypotheses on the data obtained. Findings - The authors demonstrate the mediation effect of entrepreneurial self-efficacy and passion for work in enhancing the relationship between marketing practices and growth-quality of work life ambidexterity. Practical implications - The findings indicate that being good at marketing does not always lead directly to achieving growth-quality of work life ambidexterity. The results suggest that achievement in both domains requires owners of small service firms to have a strong self-belief that they can perform their job successfully (entrepreneurial self-efficacy) as well as a strong passion to do the job they are doing (passion for work). Policy makers or small firm advisors can include this information to develop enactive mastery measures to promote efficacy and passion for work which can increase small firm survival rates. Originality/value - The high percentage of business terminations reported without financial loss underscores the importance of including both financial and non-financial goals for small firms. The approach to conceptualize and operationalize growth-quality of work life ambidexterity as a dependent variable representing firm performance assists by providing a more detailed and practical understanding of the organizational and individual variables that enable small firms to realize both.