If you own a small business there is a good chance you once served time at a large company. Inflexible working hours, difficult managers and rigid structures are just some of the frustrations that may have motivated you to leave the stability of corporate life to run your own business or venture. It may then come as a surprise that some of the most negative characteristics of corporate life can serve as great tools to take your small business to the next level.
Lesson 1: office politics can be useful!
Ask almost any small business owner or freelancer why they left a big corporate and they will mention something about ‘office politics’. All organisations have politics to some degree but the sheer size and structure of big business means conflicts and power relations are amplified. It can create divisions, sour corporate culture and hurt productivity. The appeal of a small business is the freedom from such an environment. Although your business may have a handful of employees, there tends to be a feeling of belonging and teamwork as opposed to cloak and dagger tactics. But in a bid to escape office politics, be cautious of throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Office politics stems from competing interests and can breed healthy competition and new ideas. It also teaches you about human relationships which involve respect for others and developing a thick skin.
As a small business owner you need to take it upon yourself to harness or maintain these skills. If you work alone try to do this by thinking of your customers as your team. What are their wants, needs and aspirations? They may be loyal to you right now but what could change that? How can I transform negative relationships into prosperous partnerships? At a previous job I was tasked with establishing a new division completely on my own. Because I chose to think of my customers as my team, I wanted to create a positive, honest and fruitful environment. Just like a manager they could overlook me and give work to another company. Like a colleague they could help or harm processes. And like an employee they needed nurturing and attention. If you already have a few employees I am not suggesting you purposefully create friction and unnecessary competition in the workplace! However, you need to create a dialogue with your staff in order to understand their grievances, ambitions and ideas. After yourself, they are the ones closest to your business. Therefore you need to focus on reconciling their interests with the objectives of your company.
Lesson 2: red tape and stringent processes can be a good thing
This has to be one of the biggest frustrations when working at a large company. Meetings about meetings, endless paperwork and multilevel decision-making processes make simple tasks complex and time consuming. A great advantage of running a small business is the ability to be reactive and move quickly. But do not let this new found freedom get the better of you. Sometimes processes have been put in place for reasons which only become apparent once the final stamp of approval is given. I once worked at a small company whose owner repeatedly rushed into things. In one such instance he ordered massive units of a product without carrying out adequate market research or getting the opinions of others. The product flopped and he made a huge loss, all because he was hasty and lacked adequate checkpoints. Processes may slow you down, but they also force you to re-evaluate your choices and make better decisions.
Lesson 3: you won’t feel passionate about all aspects of your business and that’s okay
If you have an entrepreneurial spirit then working at a large corporation can be a draining existence. Despite this, you dutifully pull yourself out of bed five (if not more) days a week to make someone else’s dreams a reality. In contrast, running your own business gives you the opportunity to be the master of your own ship and live your passion, whatever it may be. This is of course exciting but it is important to remember that every career comes with its share of lacklustre responsibilities which can dampen even the most enthusiastic spirit. This is where the experience from working a corporate job, that you merely tolerated, comes in useful. If you can force yourself to clock into that mundane job day after day, you can get through tedious tasks to make your own business a success. Furthermore, it is now easier than ever to hire affordable freelancers who can shoulder some of those tasks. Having an overall passion is essential to make your small business prosper, but you don’t exactly have to love creating spreadsheets to make your eclectic interior design business a hit.
Running your own business means escaping many of the pitfalls of corporate life. But try to remember that every successful corporation once began as a small business too. There are many lessons to be learnt, some positive and some negative but all valuable.