6 benefits of working in a small company

By Robert Half 13th October 2014

As an ambitious professional, eager to maximise your potential, you need to find out whether a small or large company is right for you. If you've got the necessary skills, talent and experience, there'll be plenty of employers interested in hiring you - and as such, the ball is in your court. You need to decide which jobs and organisations to target, as this will have a direct impact on the shape of your career and how you progress. Where will you have the best possible chance of achieving your short and long-term goals?

In our recent article 'Are you a big fish in a small pond?' we looked at the potential benefits of working for major organisations - large, established businesses with prestige, status and a national or international outlook. For many people, London is the only place to be. They want to work for a big-name firm at the heart of their industry sector, even if they're only a small cog in the wheel initially. Once onboard at a top employer, professionals have the chance to earn attractive salaries and start working their way up the jobs ladder.

But corporate roles at FTSE 100 businesses are not for everyone - in fact, far from it. For an increasing number of talented professionals, bigger does not mean better. Many professionals see the benefits of working in a small company. Such companies may have lower profiles, turnovers and employee headcounts, but there are several million of them, and together they form a powerful collective.

UK small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) accounted for 99 per cent of all UK businesses, employing 59.3 per cent of the private sector workforce, as of 2013. The benefit of working in a small company is that there are attractive roles up for grabs for high-calibre people. With this in mind, here are 6 benefits of working in a small company:

1. More varied roles

Some SMEs have just a handful of employees, meaning everybody is required to turn their hands to a variety of tasks. An advantage of working in small company is that rather than having just a small number of clearly-defined responsibilities, you may be given a wide-ranging brief - one that isn't always limited to your area of expertise. What better grounding could there be for a life in business?

You may have skills in a particular area, but there's plenty of value in gaining practical experience across a range of business departments. As well as making you a more valuable asset for your company, it gives your CV a real boost. In the future, these skills could help differentiate you from other job candidates.

The variety that come from working in a small company can also be a positive from a job satisfaction perspective. No two days will ever be the same, as you'll always be faced with new challenges. This keeps you on your toes and reduces the likelihood of boredom setting in - ensuring your morale remains high.

2. Greater involvement

Once your boss becomes aware of your ability and potential to add value to the company, they'll be eager to get you more involved in the running of the company. Even after just a short while with an SME, you may find yourself assuming key duties and responsibilities. What's more, you might have an influential voice in team meetings and be able to offer input on the strategic direction of the company.

The commercial skills you pick up will be a valuable addition to your CV - employers are always looking for people who understand the mechanics of business and the positioning of their organisations within the markets they operate in.

3. Scope to innovate

SMEs are often the most innovative firms - they have the ability to respond quickly to changing market conditions and the creativity to develop new products and solutions. If you have an innovative thinker, you may be given the opportunity to pursue it - budgets pending.

Working in a small company means having the ability to innovate in order to steal a march on rivals, given the level of competitiveness of the trading environment. Getting involved in design, research and development can be rewarding intrinsically - in terms of excitement and opportunity to see your vision come to life - but also extrinsically when you take credit for your achievements.

4. More personable

Working in a small company means you'll be working as part of a small team or department, meaning it's possible to get know everybody in the office. This can be good for team spirit, asking for feedback and for the development of a positive workplace atmosphere. Larger organisations tend to be more impersonal, with employees spread out over different sites and locations - even countries.

There's also the competition factor to take into account in larger firms - you may well have a group of talented individuals all fighting it out for the next promotion. This isn't always conducive to a relaxed office environment, particularly if some professionals feel aggrieved at being passed over in favour of a colleague.

5. Greater flexibility

SME employers can rarely compete with major organisations on salaries - they just don't have the resources. As such, they need to find other ways of attracting and retaining talented staff. Often, SME bosses will allow professionals to work flexibly, customising their working week to suit their needs or preferences. This could involve working reduced hours - e.g. for childcare reasons - or working remotely using a home computer or mobile device. If SME bosses need to make slight concessions to keep their best people on board, they will often be willing to do so. As a small business employee, this can be to your advantage.

6. Promotion opportunities

By nature, working for an SME gives talented candidates the opportunity to achieve faster career progression. In major organisations, there may be a lengthy queue of talented professionals waiting for the chance to move up. So even though you're ready to take on additional responsibility, there's little option but to bide your time - or look for another job elsewhere.

If you're working in a small company, you can make your mark as a major asset, there's no reason why you can't be given important responsibilities within a year or two. Even if there isn't a vacancy for promotion, a new role might be created as reward for your achievements. This won't just be a retention tactic - it's also so the company can benefit from your insight and understanding.

The upshot is, you get to add a senior role to your CV. This propels you to another level in the jobs market, and at an earlier stage than may otherwise have been possible. The experience you gain as an SME executive could help you move up to the 'big league' in the future.

Is a small company right for you?

Many professionals prefer the benefits of working in a small company vs a large company and are extremely happy working there while others may view this option as a career stepping-stone. In the long term, many people who work in small companies will end up working for major organisations - potentially entering at a higher level than would otherwise have been possible. In some cases, their contribution might help the small business evolve into one of these larger companies - look no further than the likes of Google and Facebook for evidence of this.

At the very least, time spent as a small business employee is invaluable in terms of gaining skills, knowledge and experience, and cutting your teeth in senior roles. If you perform well for an small company, you will get noticed - and not just by your current employer. Professionals who can add tangible value to a company will have plenty of career development opportunities, both internal and external.

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