things I've learned from working for a small business

30 October

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...and when I say small, I mean tiny. There are five of us including me in our office, although we work so closely with lots of clients that sometimes it feels like a lot more.

Having gone from working for a huge company to a teeny one nearly four years ago, I feel like I've learned so many skills and gained so much experience that I definitely wouldn't have elsewhere.

I wanted to share what I've learned with you, because I truly believe that it will help you to stand out in your job, whether you're one employee out of a million or it's just you kicking ass on your own.

Don't be afraid to ask questions


I'm not a confident person by nature, so I was terrified to ask questions when I first started my job. I didn't want to bother anyone or seem like I didn't know what I was doing in case they, you know, decided I was actually an unqualified moron and fired me.

But it’s far, far better to ask 100 questions than to do nothing at all. It's not annoying, promise. Also, especially when you’re a newbie, nobody expects you to have all the answers straight away. That would be strange, albeit impressive.

Asking questions demonstrates that you’re interested in the job, keen to learn, and have the confidence to admit when you aren’t sure. It's 100% a good thing.

Bring solutions with your problems

When I (finally!) became comfortable asking questions and reporting problems, my boss would ask me me what I thought we should do to fix the issue in return, and I was always stumped, either because I hadn’t thought about it or because I didn't feel confident enough to offer my opinion.

The thing is, if you can go to your manager and say “we have a problem with x but I think we can do y to fix it”, even if your solution isn’t the right one, you’re showing that you’re a problem solver and you’re thinking about the business.

You're showing initiative.

Never assume that you’re too far down the ropes for your opinion to matter.

And if your suggestion is used, well, you’re saving your boss precious time, which will not go unnoticed.

Done is better than perfect

I'm a procrastinator by nature. It's common with women, I think; if we don't know how to do something perfectly, we put it off rather than try and fail.

However!

Something I've learned over the past few years is that it's so much better to do something and get it wrong than to do nothing at all. You're showing that you've made an effort, which is never a bad thing.

Be concise

Being rude was something that I was very conscious of when I started my job. I'd spend far too long agonising over whether my email came off as blunt, and wondering if it would be super unprofessional to include a little smiley face to make my request seem friendlier (hint: yes, it would be, unless you're emailing a colleague or a very close client).

Anyway, what I've learned is that it's far better to simply be as clear and concise as possible. If someone finds your request rude, provided you've just been straightforward rather than impolite, that's their problem, not yours.

The same goes for asking for help, raising awareness of an issue and participating in meetings and group discussions. People are busy (and probably itching for their turn to speak/eager to break for lunch), so you're doing everyone a favour.

Trying too hard to seem friendly can mean that your message gets lost in all the words, and it can undermine your authority. If I email someone saying "I need x, please" rather than "I was wondering if you could please do x for me if you're free", they're far less likely to push back or question me.

Oh, and don't apologise unless you've actually done something wrong. It's again, something that women seem to do more than men, and most of the time it's completely unnecessary.

Attitude counts for a lot


My attitude affects my work so much. When I have a positive attitude, I attack tasks I might hesitate to start on a bad day, I'm much better at organising my time and prioritising my workload, and I'm pretty sure I'm a better colleague, manager and employee. When I have a negative attitude, I find it so much harder to get on with work.

The good news? Faking a can-do attitude is the same as faking confidence: eventually you aren't actually faking it anymore. Except it takes less than an hour to work, instead of years.

If you can take on that new task with a smile, speak up when you think you might know the solution to a company problem, volunteer to take control of that new project, you'll get noticed for all the right reasons.

And always, always be polite and professional, whether you're talking to a colleague, your manager or a client, wherever you work.

I'd love to know what you've learned from your job! Share your own advice in the comments, and let me know what you thought of this post.

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