Your First Year in Small Business: Survival Guide


My current position is my 3rd in a small business (<50 employees), and there are always unique challenges that come with the environment. I feel like I have enough experience at this point to share a couple tips that have helped me to at least survive three times over:

Soft skills

Skills such as communication and diplomacy are absolutely required in a small business. Your co-workers depend very heavily on you, because you’re not just a number and chances are your position isn’t a redundant one, even at the lower levels. As such, people need to know if you are having issues or where you’re at or whatever it might be. A chain of command in such a small setting is very important to pay attention to and follow, otherwise the whole system can deteriorate. Think of it as a circuit set up in series, because there aren’t enough paths to make it parallel.

You also need to go out of your way to get along with as many people as you can. They may not vote for who you vote for or believe what you believe, but if you are diplomatic enough, no one will have a clue what you truly think and what they don’t know can’t hurt you. Don’t air out your dirty laundry, because there isn’t enough breathing room as it is. Don’t be “that guy” or a perpetual “one-upper” because you’re trying to make a name for yourself or whatever. Listen more than you speak, and learn more than you try to teach. Distinguish yourself because you’re pleasant to be around. Everything else will follow later.

Work Ethic

Working in a small business is brutal, and everyone knows it. Hours are not as flexible. You probably won’t get as much vacation time. You probably aren’t getting paid what you would be getting in a corporation as well. You really have to lean heavily on the gratification of the job itself to carry you through, and you can tell when someone hires on at a small business for money and not for the work because they will always be complaining.

At the same time, getting burned out in an environment like this is so easy, and even still I run myself into the ground and have to take a random day off every few months just to unwind because the weekends aren’t enough. Working in a small business is a marathon, not a race. Everything isn’t running as smoothly as it should be, there aren’t enough resources, and the pressure on the individual to perform is astronomical.

Where there is adversity there is a chance to shine, however, and if you can prove to your leadership and those around you that you have what it takes to make it where so many rely on you singularly, there is very little that can stop you from being a real stand-out employee. You have to love what you do though. Find the reason and purpose behind your daily grind and lean on that to get you through. Negativity in such a small environment tends to spread like wildfire and brings the whole company down.


Remember when I said to not air out your dirty laundry? Everyone in a small business does anyway. You get comfortable (read: complacent), and then next thing you know everyone is talking about you behind your back. When I said to be pleasant, I didn’t mean add a bunch of people from your company to your Facebook. I meant help them out. Be there to assist. Volunteer to shoulder some of the load. When things get too personal too soon, that’s when it gets dangerous.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t be friends outside of work with people, but I am saying your focus your first year should not be on making drinking buddies. People will gravitate to you by proxy of you being a good co-worker, not because you buy them shots during happy hour. Look, just assume that anything you tell one co-worker will be told to everyone. Leadership is watching you like a hawk, and your colleagues all gossip. There are no secrets in a small business, and you will never get away with anything you shouldn’t be doing.

So yeah, hopefully this helps someone. Remember: Show up ready to work (and excel at it), love what you do, and don’t get caught up in what is said at the water cooler. Easy peasy. Have more tips? Leave a comment below!


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