Career Advice

Moving Up In A Small Business: Don’t Be Afraid To Stand Out

Small businesses may have fewer wrings on the career ladder, but that doesn’t mean you can’t move up.

Sure, if it’s a two person shop or family-run one, chances are you’ll never become the head honcho. Still you can have a rewarding and vertical career in a small business if you play your cards right.

“You can definitely move up and in fact there are some advantages of being in a small business because you get more responsibility faster,” says Anita Campbell, Chief Executive of Small Business Trends.  “You tend to get much broader responsibilities that will help you move up.”

That’s not to say you won’t hit a ceiling in a small business if it doesn’t grow.  But if it’s a company poised to increase in size or is big enough to expand, then opportunities abound.

Look To Work At Growing Small Businesses

Try to pick small companies on the cusp of growth when looking for a new job, says Campbell. See if the company is hiring in other areas and is in an industry that is prosperous. Even a chat with the owner of the company can give you a sense of the growth opportunities. If the head boss is enthusiastic about the business, it’s a good sign, but if the boss is dejected and seems beaten down, it may not be the place to move up in.

In large companies often times there is a career trajectory or plan for you and your chosen career. In a small business where you are often a jack of all trades, there typically isn’t. Because of that, Jeanne Yocum, founder of the blog Succeeding in Small Business, says to get ahead in a small business it’s much more important to not be glued to your job description. “Look beyond to things that would help the company and take them on to get noticed,” she says.

Another strategy: make sure you are the one taking the initiative and jumping in when you are needed instead of waiting to be told to act. “You have to be the person solving the problem for your boss opposed to the person bringing the problems to your boss,” says Yocum.

Don’t be afraid to take risks to get ahead. Risk taking is more likely to be recognized in a small company opposed to a large one, says Campbell. Sure, if you end up being wrong, you won’t look good in the eyes of the boss, but if you hit it out of the park, it’s a surefire way to get ahead.

Set Realistic Expectations

According to Alyssa Gregory, writer for’s Guide to Small Business Information, there’s little room to move up in a small company with ten or less employees. With companies that have 50 to 100 employees, Gregory says you do have opportunities but you face increased competition.

That’s why you have to have a realistic understanding about your situation and then talk to your manager or the business owner about your ambitions. The goal is to work out a plan that will get you where you want to be. “If it becomes apparent that your career aspirations cannot be met in the business, it may be time to move on,” says Gregory.

Growth In a Family Company Pose Challenges

Moving up in a family owned company can be just as difficult as one with ten employees, especially if you are not a family member. If there is a clear succession plan and sons, daughters, nieces and nephews waiting in the wings, your growth opportunity will clearly be limited.  But in many cases, there is no succession plan or any desire on the part of family members to carry on the business. If that’s the case you can go ahead and dream of being the top dog.

“A lot of the boomer owned companies don’t have adequate succession plans and a lot of sons and daughters don’t want to do the business,” says Yocum. If you have a choice between a company where the son is already very much ensconced and another company where there’s no one around: go with the latter one. “Maybe you’ll end up running it,” says Yocum.