Life in a small business is always challenging because you end up wearing more hats than you would at a large business. It’s one thing to write about it in the abstract, it’s another to live it. I’ve been at Zero Point Frontiers Corp. for about six and a half months now, and it’s been rewarding for someone like me who enjoys variety.
Since I started at ZPFC, I’ve found myself covering everything from business correspondence to proposals to white papers to organizing actual engineering deliverables for our customers. I didn’t realize how unusual my job had become until a couple days ago, when I found myself taking an insane amount of notes while the CEO gave me verbal and mathematical lessons on the rocket equation and I was actually getting it. I needed all the theory, math, and background so I could work on the next project. The overlap between engineering and technical writing has become a bit blurry for me. As the boss says, “You’re really a systems engineer at heart, you just have a math deficiency.” Well, maybe.
Another thing that’s quite different in the world of small business is business development. When you’re small, it’s everyone’s responsibility to look for business. Mind you, I have a direct role because I’m doing proposal writing, but the ZPFC team is aware of the importance of keeping money flowing in the door. There is no large Marketing Department apparatus responsible for bringing in money. You can’t say “That’s not my job.” There is no room for stovepiping.
One thing I’ve discovered is that my previous experience doing specific (one-task-only) jobs in large or medium-size businesses now serves me well in a small business because I understand how those jobs fit into a larger whole. Being part of larger teams (10-20) for things like proposal writing makes it easier to keep proposals with half a dozen contributors on track. The same tasks need to get done, there are just fewer people available to do them. Who knows? Eventually the next personal “frontier” might be forming my own business.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve sought out smaller companies for employment. I won’t kid you: the workload gets larger in smaller companies because I’m responsible for more things, but the sheer variety of work allows me to expand my capabilities much more than if I were still a line employee in a large organization. Mind you, that line experience has been critical to learning specific, defined skills, but the freedom to do more things is more available in smaller organizations. Of course if you’re the sort of person who can dive right into a small business, good for you! Just be prepared for a lot of work because there won’t be a lot of people around to help!