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Think Small

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You don't have to be an economist to know that big companies are not the job generators that they were a decade ago. Most career experts insist the best opportunities can be found in small companies. Yet a vocal minority argues that big companies are still fertile career grounds and small companies are not all they're cracked up to be. They cite a study which found that companies with at least 10 workers created nearly two-thirds of all new manufacturing jobs from 1973 to 1988. However, the study also pointed out that small companies similarly eliminate jobs at a far higher rate. What's more, their job cuts are not as visible because layoffs by a big company make national headlines, whereas the disappearance of a tiny company is hardly noticed. Who's right?

Small Entrepreneurs Are The Real Job Generators

It's time to set the record straight. Big companies are still hiring; however, they're hiring fewer workers than they did in the past and doing so very selectively. Face it. Despite what the human resources folks tell you, if you're over 45, have experience, and earned a hefty salary on your last job, the unspoken credo is; "Find someone younger and cheaper."

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, by the year 2000 employment in Fortune 500 companies will be halved to 8 million, down from 16 million in 1980. And even though many large companies have reorganized into self-governing divisions to improve efficiency, others are still in for hard times. They're in the process of cutting back, with more layoffs planned.

For those reasons alone, you'd do better pursuing small companies. The big question is: What kind of small company should you seek out? Small means different things. A tiny neighborhood Laundromat, hardware store, or car dealership is an example of a small company. But a small company could also be a thriving cookie manufacturer selling products all over the United States. The latter company is the kind I'm talking about. It's what Boston Globe business writer John Case calls an "entrepreneurial, growth-oriented company." In his popular column "The Inc. Report," Case points out the average little company starts small and stays that way. The few jobs it creates are parceled out to a small number of employees or family members. But it's the entrepreneurial companies in all industries that generate the majority of new jobs. They grow aggressively, creating jobs along the way. Look around and you'll see hundreds of examples of companies that were once tiny, but feisty, upstarts. Apple Computer, Microsoft, Ben & Jerry's, Staples, and Little Caesar s are just a few classic examples.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) was thinking of the growth-oriented entrepreneurial enterprise when it defined a small company. According to the SBA, a small company has fewer than 500 employees or sales under $10 million; by contrast, mid size companies have sales under $100 million. There are about 20.5 million small businesses in the United States, generating two-thirds of all new jobs. Cognetics, Inc., an economics research firm based in Cambridge, MA, says companies with fewer than 100 employees created nearly all job growth from 1988 through the present.

Now you know why taking your chances with companies launched in incubators or enterprise zones could pay off handsomely. Many of these tiny start-ups will be tomorrow's industry leaders.

Why Small Companies Offer Better Career Prospects

Here are six reasons that small companies offer better career opportunities than large ones.

1. No-nonsense, roll-up-your-sleeves attitude.

Many large and mid-size companies are weighed down in bureaucracy. You have to contend with politics, rules, and hierarchies in order to get things done. Not so in small companies. If something is deemed doable, the wheels start churning immediately.

2. Greater willingness to take chances.

The best of the small companies are like toddlers learning to walk. They're so determined to stand on their feet unassisted; they keep at it until they succeed. They're also willing to take chances. In the process, they stumble, fall, and get right up and try all over again. It's that "I won't accept defeat" attitude that propels small companies to success.

3. Rewards for innovation and creativity.

The best small companies are like hungry cheetahs after prey. They're sleek, fast, and graceful.

They're lean operations determined to succeed. They're all about getting the best products or services to market in the most efficient way. One way to accomplish that end is by rewarding innovative and creative workers. Everything else takes a back seat.

4. Rapid advancement.

Prized workers are rewarded quickly. Unlike large companies, small ones don't wait for yearly performance reviews or get enmeshed with the politics of seniority. If you're good, you'll reap benefits. Consistently boost the entrepreneur's bottom line and you'll bolt to the top.

5. Profit participation.

Many smart entrepreneurs are willing to share their success, especially with major contributors. Beyond frequent promotions and raises, workers with money to invest ought to consider buying stock in the company or becoming small percentage partners. Why not snare a piece of the entrepreneur's dream? If the company meets all your criteria, from financial solvency to human chemistry, it's the best way to put a lock and key on the future.

6. Quick hiring decisions.

Entrepreneurs running small companies don't have a nanosecond to waste. Unlike management in large companies, they're not about to spend months looking for new people. More likely than not, as soon as the right person appears, he or she is hired-often during the first interview. Typically, the process takes 2 to 3 weeks, sometimes less.

Take A Flyer On A Start-Up Company

Start-ups are a crap shoot, yet ultimately offer the most exciting career opportunities. The scary statistics are that most start-ups fail within their first 3 years, making them an exciting adventure. Unlike established companies, start-ups have to walk the treacherous gauntlet to profitability. They present the ultimate ground-floor opportunity. What better place to prove yourself? The overwhelmed entrepreneur is knee deep in aggravation, burdened with the hundreds of details of getting the company off the ground.

He or she needs someone with your experience, confidence, and business smarts. Become indispensable during the live-or-die phase of the company and your future will be assured.

Family-Run Companies Offer Mixed Opportunities

A healthy percentage of start-ups and established small companies are family-run operations. There is no middle ground here. They're either smooth, profitable, well-managed operations or rife with politics, intrigue, and infighting. Leon Danco, nationally known business consultant to family-run companies, reports that most family businesses die within 10 years because of discord within the ranks.

Warning: If the company's top jobs are held by family members, think twice about working there because you won't go very far. The majority of family-run companies are tiny mom-and-pop operations. Your best bet are the larger, more aggressive, multimillion-dollar entrepreneurial family-run organizations such as the thriving Quill Corporation in Lincolnshire, IL, that depend upon outside talent to keep the business afloat.

Before investigating career options, check out the company first. How long has it been in business? Most important, do only family members hold the best jobs?

Checking Out Small Companies

Researching small companies is easy. Plenty of current sources can tell you more than you need to know.
  • Print Sources
Beyond obvious print sources, which include daily papers and national business magazines such as The Wall Street Journal, Nations Business and Entrepreneur, take a look at the following.
  • Hoover's Reference Books
Company profiles in all the Hoover books contain operations overviews, company strategies, histories, and key financial data for a 10-year period, product lists, executive names, headquarters addresses, and phone and fax numbers. All are updated annually.

Hoover's Master list of Major U.S. Companies of1993 contains data on 6200 companies and its Computer Industry Almanac 1994 describes more than 2500 computer companies.

Hoovers Handbook of Emerging Companies contains one-page snapshots of well-known, high-profile leaders in their fields, plus smaller, lesser-known companies with explosive potential.
  • Dun & Bradstreet Inc.
The sprawling multimillion-dollar company that checks your credit ratings uses its database of over 10 million American companies to publish the following; Dun's Regional Business Directory (three volumes) offers information on 20,000 public and private regional businesses. Dun's Employment Opportunities Directory/The Career Guide explains hiring practices and employment opportunities at 5000 U.S. companies, providing corporate history, promising career options, education requirements, address, phone numbers, and contacts.

Most D&B products are available in well-stocked business libraries.
  • CorpTech (Woburn, MA; 800-333-8036)
The annual CorpTech Directory covers the entire high-tech arena, listing more than 35,000 U.S. public and private technology companies and rapidly growing firms with fewer than 100 employees. The company s Corporate Technology Information Services division publishes The Technology Industry Growth Forecaster, a four-page monthly newsletter, covering exciting private companies, new technologies, and promising locations.
  • On-Line Sources
Here are a few on-line sources offering timely business information.
  • NewsBank
The NewsBank database contains articles culled from 200 regional business publications serving 450 U.S. cities. It's a good source for tidbits about small privately held companies and divisions of bigger organizations not covered in large dailies.
  • Equifax National Decisions Systems
Equifax promotes a database of some 9.7 million businesses, a healthy percentage of which are companies with fewer than 10 employees. It is an excellent source for honing in on very specific information. Example: Tiny trucking companies in St. Johnsbury, VT, with fewer than 20 employees. The database provides basic information on location, sales, products, and contacts.
  • Predicasts Newsletter Database
Here's another offbeat source unknown to most job searchers. Journalists and company heads long ago discovered that newsletters are an incredible information source. The best of them offer timely, often exclusive, information. You may stumble on information gems found nowhere else.

Covering over 700 trade and business newsletters, Predicasts classifies them according to 48 industry codes, making it easy to find newsletters in your field. You may be pleasantly surprised when you uncover several valuable newsletters covering your industry. Professional newsletters can be expensive, however, with subscriptions running over $300 a year. Be creative and find ways to track them down. A colleague may get one; business libraries may carry others. I guarantee your trade organization also has the important ones neatly cataloged. It's worth the effort to hunt them down.
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