Small firms — generally those with fewer than 10 employees — are the scrappy underdogs of the business world.
Whether you work at a law practice, a family business or a hyperlocal coffee shop, if you’re in the business of small business, chances are you’ll be familiar with some of the challenges that come with the territory.
But for all these difficulties, working for a small business can be an amazing opportunity.
Here are four common challenges to working in a small firm, and ways to take advantage of those challenges so you can thrive in the small business environment.
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1. Limited resources
You won’t have the mountains of funding, manpower and connections that massive corporations possess. This means small salaries for employees, little to no support staff, and a tiny office space.
Small businesses use what is available and are masters of minimalist office decor. There’s no fancy coffee break room, but maybe a Keurig machine someone brought from home — if you’re lucky.
Yet none of these limitations is a deal breaker. A small office can be a great place to learn and grow.
Employees usually have more flexible work schedules, so they’re willing to compromise on a smaller salary if it means a balanced home-to-work life. Working in a small team also gives employees more autonomy. For example, in a small law firm, even if the firm specializes in one area of law, attorneys have the opportunity to work on a spectrum of cases.
2. Financial uncertainty
For businesses serving a local area, stability and revenue may depend on a few clients. Losing even one major client could put a firm in jeopardy, and that’s a very scary financial risk.
Still, many customers prefer small businesses because of the degree of personal service offered. In a small firm, you have more face time with clients and you develop personal relationships with them. This past winter, business owner and dentist Ryan Long built giant snow sculptures of teeth, just to share with his neighbors and clients.
In fact, 61.2 percent of consumers would pay higher prices to support a small local company, according to one study. In a large firm, client contact is often reserved for senior associates, denying younger employees the chance for hands-on experience and growth.
3. Informal training
Employee training programs are costly; on average, a business will spend about 38 percent of a new employee’s annual earnings to recruit and train her, plus account for the temporary lull in work productivity.
New employees at a small business often experience the “sink or swim” training program. Without formalized training, employees must rely on veteran colleagues for guidance, which is actually conducive to building a trusting work environment among employees.
While a big splash in a small pond will initially disrupt the office workflow, new recruits get to know their colleagues’ working habits right off the bat, and a supportive office setting means a more relaxed atmosphere, more collaboration and better teamwork.
4. Little room for advancement
Particularly for the legal industry, if you’re looking to clamber your way up the corporate ladder, you’ll want to try mega-firms. There’s less room to grow your position title in a small firm, and small firms require more teamwork than competition.
However, by nature of only having a few people to manage an entire business, small companies oblige employees to be friendly (if not diplomatic) with each other. Everyone is on a first-name basis, and less competition means a more friendly and supportive working environment.
Even if position titles stay relatively static, employees have much more input into the firm’s processes and management, and if you want to challenge yourself to work in an unfamiliar field, it’s easy to ask for that work experience.
Unsurprisingly, working for small businesses is becoming more popular as post-grad millennials flood the job market. Young people choose to work in small firms because they prefer to take on autonomous work rather than cushy salaries. More young professionals are drawn to the opportunity to meet challenges, make meaningful decisions and work on their own terms — which small firms offer up happily.
Small firms will always present a fresh set of challenges to the employees working there, and for the entrepreneurial-minded, well, that’s half the fun of it.