By Jared Weitz, founder & CEO of United Capital Source Inc.
The term "small business world" was created for a reason. Small businesses exist in their own universe where the rules of the logical world often do not apply. Remarks like "but that doesn't make sense" and "how were we supposed to know that?" are met with a rueful shrug.
Unlike traditional challenges, certain abnormalities of the small business world are nearly impossible to rationalize. The only possible explanation is that every other small business deals with the same things, time and time again. In most cases, it's not the challenge itself but the fact that there's almost nothing you can do to prevent it that is so incomprehensible.
Here are three mind-boggling things you learn when working for a small business:
1. Above and Beyond for No Reason
Many small businesses offset their natural disadvantages (price, number of clients) with customer service and speed. They respond to concerns immediately (even after normal work hours or on weekends) and offer quicker turnarounds than their larger competitors. If a client expects something to be done in two months, a small business will have it done in two weeks. You'd think that consistently exceeding expectations would turn such clients into lifelong partners. But every client has their own needs. And some needs cannot be offset by a small business literally dropping everything to provide the best service available.
"Why did the client make us do all this work if they never intended to stay with us in the first place?" a small business employee might ask. The amount of work that some small businesses unknowingly do for absolutely nothing is egregious, to say the least.
While potential clients might have no problem with exploitation, it's important that your employees understand that their boss does not feel the same way. Let them know how much you appreciate their efforts to court or keep potential clients, regardless of the outcome.
2. The Amount of Work Handled by One Person
Early employees of small businesses wear a number of hats. They typically do not have the resources to hire a different person for every responsibility. Unless they are poised for a significant increase in demand, myriad small businesses only hire when it is undeniably necessary.
Having one person handle multiple responsibilities, therefore, becomes part of the company culture, even as the company grows. A new recruit may start out with just a few responsibilities only to see his or her workload skyrocket over the next year or so. In small businesses of this nature, the amount of work that is assigned to a single individual is nothing short of mind-blowing. What looks like enough work to occupy 40 people could very well be handled by 20 small business employees.
New recruits who have never worked for a young small business will likely be unnerved when their workload continues to increase. So, instead of expecting them to blindly obey commands, tell them that as intimidating as their workload seems, they will soon be able to handle it with ease. It would also help to remind them that their workload is a reflection of their value, which would likely be much lower at a bigger company.
3. The Dedication of the Modern Entrepreneur
Arguably the greatest shock that comes with working for a small business is the boss's dedication and work ethic. Think of the adjectives that are often attached to entrepreneurs: crazy, obsessed, etc. This reputation was derived from the entrepreneur's choice to completely disregard all other aspects of their life for the sake of their businesses. They never seem to stop working and are lucky if they have a solid ten minutes to themselves throughout the workday.
"He's supposed to be on vacation/seriously ill/enjoying his birthday. Why is he emailing us about next week's numbers?" said every employee of a young small business. You've never seen the true price of success until you see the daily sacrifice of an entrepreneur.
If you pretend that any of these three things are normal, you will throw your employees for an even bigger loop. In order to build loyalty in employees, small business owners must acknowledge the abnormalities of their world and consistently thank employees for choosing this over a less idiosyncratic path. While the present might seem unnecessarily chaotic, employees should know that they will eventually be able to say that they lived the "rollercoaster ride" successful entrepreneurs speak of when recalling their early days.
Jared Weitz is founder & CEO of United Capital Source Inc.