Moving from Corporate to SME: what is it really like?
I’m often found talking to people working in large corporates who aren’t sure of what career step to take next. They describe wanting to work in an SME, be closer to the business, and have an opportunity to make a difference. These are the obvious appeals to working in a smaller business, but what is it really like? Are SMEs a riskier place to be? Will you really thrive in this environment or would the thought of no staff canteen cause minor palpitations? I spoke to the Financial Controller of a local SME who has successfully made the leap to get their thoughts. Coupled with my own experience of making the shift, I hope to enlighten people with the realities of SME life and to see if it really is for them.
The media routinely highlight the high failure rate of new businesses but there is less on the topic of ‘failure by size’, i.e. is a £10m turnover business more or less likely to fail than a £100m turnover business? That’s because there are so many factors to consider here which don’t lend themselves to headlines or business snippets.
There is a sense of ‘safety in numbers’ when it comes to business size, but certain high-profile redundancies such as those we saw at Asda HQ in September 2017 are giving rise to a re-think on job security linked to business size.
In reality, prior to joining a new company, it’s not easy to know how secure your job will be. Proper due diligence is key therefore to this end. Ask a prospective employer for their management accounts, download their latest annual accounts, ask people in your network what they know. Sites like glassdoor give some insight into what it’s really like and whether a ‘hiring-firing’ culture exists (though please handle with care as we’re aware of at least 2 employers who have falsified reviews citing a wonderful working environment!).
Selena Holmes, Financial Controller at Answer Digital, a thriving software business in Leeds, made the leap from a senior finance position at Morrisons and had this advice: “Finding the right cultural fit is massive. You can’t be afraid to have a try – if you think the role is going to give you what you’re looking for then look into the company as much as you can and then make the leap.”
Mind the gap
A common perception I’m presented with is that smaller businesses don’t offer much of a challenge and that smaller numbers must mean boredom. For many, the opposite applies! Larger businesses will typically have larger teams and smaller businesses smaller teams (insightful, right?) – logically it would fit therefore, that an individual’s workload would be about the same. The difference being that within a smaller business, the role is likely to be broader and involve more facets. Not filed a VAT return before? Now’s your chance…! Don’t expect anyone else to know how to do it – this one is on you and your ability to ask the right questions of the right people and go with your instincts.
I still remember filing my first VAT return having worked in finance for 7 years and never even having come close to a partial exemption (there’s a gag in there somewhere I’m sure…). Whilst to many this might sound drab, telling the board I’d figured out a way to save 2% of annual revenue in cash was better than any troublesome reconciliation win in corporate world!
Selena again gives a valuable insight here, “I had so much self-teaching to do at the start, I was shocked! I had no one to ask so was forced to take the initiative and have confidence in myself. My time management is so much better now – as I’m involved in so many areas of the business, I must be really strict on my time to make sure the monthly priorities or ‘basics’ still get done properly.”
Down and out
So moving from corporate to SME will involve a leap of faith and learning a whole new skillset. But what if it doesn’t suit you? What if corporate life really is better for you? Will moving out of corporate leave you on the scrapheap if you want out?
We’re fortunate at Headstar to be working with a whole host of thriving businesses of all shapes and sizes. Spoiler alert: SME experience is valuable! Having a mix of experience is sought after by employers – we are often told that people with an ability to be “hands-on” are required for all manner of roles. Working in an SME demonstrates this ability in abundance. Sure, you might not have liked it, but there’s no doubt you’ll be the better for it and understand the need to get into the detail when the need arises.
There’s the softer skillset here too, as Selena explains, “I’ve added experience that I never would have had elsewhere. I think my CV is so much stronger now and with the step up in responsibility I’ve had, I’m much more confident.”
This isn’t obviously meant to be an exhaustive list of considerations, but it’s hopefully whet the appetite of those candidates unsure of whether to consider SME. If you’re one of them, please feel free to get in touch on either firstname.lastname@example.org or 0113 457 9992.