A small business can be a single freelancer all the way up to several thousand employees, depending on the industry chosen. The U.S. Small Business Administration defines small business in a very big business complicated way here. When I think of small business and the ones I love to work with, I’m usually thinking of 25 people or less.
I’ve happily worked in companies of up to about 80 employees. I also worked in a publicly traded company and in a small company that was purchased by a publicly traded company. My happiness was definitely challenged in those environments. After living through being integrated into Publicis, the 4th largest communication company in the world at the time, I swore off big business permanently. At my exit interview, I made it clear that I never intended to work for them again — politely, but clearly. Partly, I was protecting myself by stating that for “my permanent record”. I didn’t want a weak-willed moment to result in re-employment. (I’m usually not a bridge burner.)
So, what’s the big difference? Why do I prefer to work with small business over larger ones?
Small Business Passion
Small business is exhilarating because of the passion of the owners and the employees. Sometimes the small business owner will employ other small business owners to engage in any of the numerous challenges outside her comfort zones. Hiring someone to build the website, manage projects, or handle marketing gives the owner more time to focus on her talents. Working with a network of small business owners is inspirational and exciting. Usually, they are exceptionally good at what they do and bring a passion for quality and success to a situation. Things hum. I love seeing the writer put out the best copy and the developer put out the best code, resulting in the owner creating marked value for the client (who is often another small business).
Working with driven, service-oriented professionals who truly care about the success of their clients is such a better work environment than working with those who have been beaten into submission by bureaucracy. It’s very uplifting.
Whether you are coaching a single person, project managing a team or implementing a new operational process, you see an immediate impact when working with a small business. Many small businesses don’t have any structure at all. They succeeded in spite of themselves, usually relying on a specific skill set where the owner is exceptionally talented.
Most small business is built as needs arise instead of in a planned, structured way, so things can get chaotic pretty quickly. The owners become reactive rather than proactive and are constantly putting out fires.
So, something as simple as pointing someone in the right direction can make a huge impact on the business. Adding a project manager to your team to take that weight off the owner’s shoulders helps team members focus on what they do best. Clients are happier. The environment is more ripe for repeating successes, rather than reinventing the wheel.
It’s absolutely wonderful to watch a small business grow so quickly. Making a personal impact on the personal lives of business owners is my favorite. That’s a much bigger challenge for a large company.
Process Makes a Big Difference
Operational process is usually added as the team grows to help aid in internal communications. A team of 4 might be able to easily talk with each other every day. A team of 10 starts to lose that constant interaction. Even a team of 2 can be a challenge if the company is virtual. Communication can quickly become exponentially harder.
Small business will limit its growth because it ends up with 10 different approaches to the business. But, once a cohesive process is in place, you can stop thinking about the internal workings, burning the midnight oil and focus on delivering value to your client and creating the next big product or solution. Plus, you can consider taking a vacation or spending evenings with your family.
Lack of Bureaucracy
Everyone hates bureaucracy. But, as a company grows to thousands of people, checks and balances have to be in place to protect it. You start to need middle managers who aren’t always effective. But, an owner or C-level employee can’t be in all places all the time. The result is that, usually, things slow down. There are ways to make it less cumbersome without chaos, but that’s hard too. I usually recommend that a company of more than 50 people employ someone like me (an operations director type). In larger companies, the person is the Chief Operating Officer (COO).
Small business doesn’t have to deal with bureaucracy. By putting simple steps in place, an owner can keep things moving without his involvement in every detail, but he doesn’t lose a handle on the day-to-day.
Change is scary! But, being able to provide intense value by making small changes or tweaks is intensely rewarding. Change is easier to manage for a small company. The feeling of accomplishment comes quickly and often for me, as a consultant. The small business owner, making the change, also sees fast results. Plus, it is much less dangerous to try something new to see if it works in a small business. The inherent flexibility helps remove risk.
In summary, small businesses rocks. I loved working for them; I love being one; and, I love working with them.
Originally published at Beyond the Chaos: Small Business Project Management and Operations Consulting.