Most professionals start their career in a corporate environment. However, as time goes on I feel many people are attracted to small businesses. People are usually not drawn to small businesses for monetary reasons. Some believe there is more flexibility, while others want to feel appreciated. But what is the reality of working for a small business? Many people have misconceptions about what working in a small business will really be like. Some people love and thrive in a small business working environment, while others dislike it for one reason or another and find themselves back in a corporate job. I’m not saying that working for a small business is better than a corporate job, it is just different. So what is the reality of working for a small business?
Nowhere To Hide
My first full time “real” job out of college was in a big corporation. Reflecting back on the job I really didn’t like much of anything about it. I hated wearing a tie. I disliked my commute and being told what time I had to show up and leave every day. The thing that I hated the most though was that I felt like a number. I felt it was hard to stand out when you were working with so many people. The worst part was that I didn’t feel that anyone really cared how hard I worked, in other words there were places to hide. After my first year my boss called me into his office because it was time for my annual review. He said I had been doing a great job and they loved me. However, word came down from “corporate” that we would all be receiving the same raise across the board. In other words, you are a number. Without hesitation I thanked him and politely gave my two weeks’ notice. It shocked him too be honest. When he asked what I was going to do it gave me great pleasure to tell him I was going skiing in Utah for a winter; the rest is history and here I am.
What you will find different about a small business is that you are not a number. There is nowhere to hide in a small business, which is a good thing as long as you are competent and a hard worker. Not much goes unnoticed in a small business, both the good and the bad. One thing that is definitely a reality in working for a small business is that you will be noticed, its sink or swim.
Perform Then Reward
I think another major difference between a corporate job and a small business job is how and when you are rewarded. I think that many large corporations can afford take chances on people by offering higher and competitive salaries and benefits. However, most small businesses don’t have this luxury. Most small businesses need to see performance and value before they can compensate and reward an employee. As an example a corporation might hire five new employees all at $60,000 a year plus benefits and maybe two or three of them will work out. If a small business hires one or two employees at the same pay and benefits structure they don’t have the luxury of having someone not work out.
So what does that mean for employees? Those that want to work with a small business need to understand that they need to perform before they are rewarded. That can be tough for employees because they are taking as big of a risk as the employer is. Unfortunately this is how things work in a small business. My advice is to go into a working for a small business with a very proactive and hardworking attitude. Perform really well, add value and then you will be rewarded, or at least have more of a case to ask for more compensation (in whatever form that you want).
When I talk to other people that work for small businesses a common theme I hear is that they love the lack of structure. That doesn't mean that small businesses are dysfunctional, you will just find more leniency in general operations. People that work for small businesses will often say: "My boss doesn't care as long as I get my work done." I met up with an old friend from college a few weeks ago on a vacation. He told me he had not even told his boss that he was on vacation for the week. There is definitely less structure in a small business and employees that can adapt to that environment will do well. The key is not to let a flexible schedule keep you from being productive. I think that I have a "don't care as long as the work gets done and clients are happy" attitude. I let employees create their own schedules as well as vacation time. The lack of structure goes back to the nowhere to hide point; if you don't perform it will be noticed.
I believe that most small businesses have extremely high expectations of their employees. Mediocre performance really isn't an option in a small business. Although you will find more flexibility and less structure in working for a small business you will find very high expectations. Allowing more flexibility and less structure to employees but increasing expectations may seem counter intuitive to you. My thoughts are if you are going to empower employees to work in a manner that they see fit, then you should hold very high expectations for them. I know of a few larger companies that have implemented a policy of unlimited vacation. It seems crazy to allow unlimited vacation to your employees doesn't it? However, when I talk to employees that have unlimited vacation they tell me that nobody abuses it. People are grateful for this added benefit and know that if they abuse it they will not meet the expectations of the company and be let go. By holding high expectations and offering your employees flexibility you may be surprised by the results that you get.
Lower Pay But Better Benefits?
In general if I were working for a small business I would expect lower starting pay, but better benefits. When it comes to pay I think that employees in a small business should expect lower starting pay, but with the potential for a bigger payoff down the road. As time goes on if you are adding enough value you will become an essential employee to the small business. If you can become an essential employee you will have a greater opportunity to make more money than you had ever thought when you first started.
Regarding benefits being better, I'm not necessarily talking about 401k, health insurance and the like. Although you will most likely find a small business to offer these standard benefits it is unlikely they will be able to offer as good of benefits in this area as larger corporations. The benefits that I am talking about are why most people want to work for a small business in the first place. People want flexibility in their lives to pursue their passions and spend time with their families. It is invaluable to most people to be able to take a random day off to take care of a sick child or attend to a last minute family emergency. It is also nice to be given the power to make decisions about how and when you work so that you can enjoy your life. The added benefits of working for a small business are what attract people to that environment.
What attracts you to working for a small business?
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