Why working for a small business could be a big career move


Date: 18 October 2019

Casually-dressed employees chatting and working in a creative small business

As a sales and marketing manager with experience working with both large corporates and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), I’ve seen and the best and worst of both worlds. 

While big businesses are often able to weather recessions and withstand market shifts - crucial in this unstable, post-Brexit economy - SMEs tend to offer jobseekers a breadth of experience and autonomy that blue chips can’t rival. 

In fact, we’re currently seeing a real trend in talented candidates making the move to SMEs, instead of the multinationals that have historically tempted the best applicants. 

But why should you consider throwing in your lot with an SME?

Why do people make the move to SMEs? 

In my experience, there are typically three factors at the core of a decision to apply to an SME:

  • agility: the ability of an SME to react quicker to market conditions, develop new products and make and implement decisions;
  • autonomy: the relative lack of red tape and the freedom to take true ownership of decisions;
  • impact: the desire to be a big fish in a small pond. 

So should I write off blue chips entirely?

Not necessarily, many corporates have been evolving their ways of working, and can offer jobseekers all of the above - as well as the opportunity for career progression, international moves, and cross-discipline training. Some SMEs struggle to compete with these opportunities.

In short, it’s often not about the business size, it’s about the business. 

Big or small: what to consider before deciding 

First of all, don’t assume anything about a company based on its status. SMEs don’t guarantee autonomy; nor do big firms automatically turn you into a mere corporate cog. 

Neither choice is better or worse than the other, but it’s crucial to consider which approach will suit you. Test your assumptions at interview. For example, many SMEs will have their founders closely involved in the day-to-day running of the company, which can lead to two potential outcomes: 

  1. they're very busy - so they need proactive people who can hit the ground running without needing much supervision;
  2. they’re so attached to their ‘baby’ that they can’t relinquish control (and might be suffering from the dreaded ugly baby syndrome, rendering them immune to criticism).

Similarly, while SMEs can be more agile and less tied up with red tape, they may also be risk-averse, reluctant to rush to market and fail. Meanwhile, blue chips may be slow to react to the market, but braver - in the event of a failure, they can typically absorb the impact and bounce back.

Plus, if you’re impatient, the time it takes to get the attention of large clients at an SME can be frustrating; at a big corporate, the brand name will do a lot of the work for you. On the other hand, the personal service an SME can offer and its speedy, streamlined processes may be what it takes to win the bid once you are in front of your buyer.

As always, asking incisive questions at interview will be your biggest asset when it comes to figuring out what's best for you. 

The final word

A number of the SME clients I am recruiting for are looking for candidates who have been classically trained in a large corporate, but are looking to make the move across.

It can be a daunting move - having recently done it myself, I really can empathise with the highs and lows you will experience. Although - personally - I wouldn’t look back!

Copyright 2019. Featured post made possible by Siobhan Nutt, Vertical Advantage

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