Small and Middle-Sized Enterprises(SMEs)

Small and Middle-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) are, by definition, companies with no more than 250 employees on board. These companies usually occupy a niche in their branch of industry, producing goods and services for their customers (Business-to-Customer, or B2C), for other businesses (Business-to-Business, or B2B), or public institutions (Business-to-Government, or B2G). Their main ambition is to become the leading provider of certain services or products in their geographical area or their niche of the market.

In this classification, we consider companies that do not offer consultancy services (there is a separate category for consultancy companies, see section 3: Consultancy Companies). For instance, a company that offers grant writing services, prepares and delivers professional workshops, or builds new commercial solutions for other companies and institutions, will be classified as a SME here (as it creates original content for the client). 

On the contrary, a company that investigates a particular specialistic problem for their clients, make professional assessment, and gives predictions/recommendations based on the results, will be classified as a consultancy company (as it only offers consulting).


We also make a distinction between small companies and startups. The main difference between the two is the roadmap. Namely, a startup aims to grow and scale in the future. For instance, a new social platform that aims to become a global brand, and an alternative to Facebook in the future, is a scalable project. A small company is typically based on a non-scalable business model and aims to keep the status quo or to increase the team only when necessary. 

For instance, if the company involves ten grant writers taking orders for writing public grants, the income of that company is not scalable—it is directly proportional to the number of man-hours spent on the projects. Of course, the company can still grow, e.g., by extending the number of team members if the number of orders from clients exceeds the maximal capacity of the current team. However, the company does not have the ambition to become an international corporation in the future.


The structure of SMEs is a mixture of life in corporations, startups, and public institutions. Firstly, SMEs share some features with corporations: the working conditions are usually good, the working environment is safe and stable. There is a clear hierarchy within the company, and there are some procedures to follow. 

Secondly, in some aspects SMEs resemble startups: you are highly dependent on your closest coworkers and you might experience the ceiling effect. Lastly, the working atmosphere in SMEs has commonalties with public institutions: there is no pressure for you to take part in a rat race.


Relative Peace of Mind

Of course, today, all private businesses are competitive working environments. However, life in SMEs can be a bit less hectic than life in startups and corporations. SMEs typically specialize in a narrow area in which they have gained their position. Therefore, the near future of the company is relatively predictable—the management will be oriented at strengthening the brand and the market position around it.

In SMEs, you typically have less flexibility in daily life than in startups. But at the same time, the working pace is also slower and more reasonable. The company reached certain position is which they have enough clients and a relatively stable dynamics—without the necessity to push their employees into crunch mode to survive. Therefore, working in a SME is not as physically and emotionally draining as it can be in a startup—which doesn’t mean that you won’t be challenged with ambitious tasks!

At the same time, SMEs are a bit less procedural than corporations. Yes, there are procedures, but you won’t be as overloaded with them as you would be in corpo. In that sense, working in SMEs can be a healthy balance between explosive and unpredictable startup culture and an incredibly complex corporate environment.

Family Atmosphere

Unlike startup owners, owners of SMEs are not going to pretend that they are just building the next Facebook, and that they have the ambition to change the world.  They have the ambition to be best at what they do—that’s it.

Of course, many SMEs change the world nevertheless! Therefore, you can expect that as a SME employee, you will enjoy a family atmosphere, and a spirit of cooperation in the common goal to serve to the clients as well as possible—rather than rat race and competition.


Your Employer Will Invest in building the Relation With You

The fact that the company is small, doesn’t mean that your employer won’t invest in you. It s often quite the opposite: since the employer is focused on binding you to the company for longer, they will invest in professional courses, educational materials, and other opportunities that will help you career-wise in the long run.

You Are Important—And, You Know It

In a small company, your employer will always make sure that you know how  important you are for the team. After all, if there are only 20 employees in the company, it is absolutely true—every single employee is indispensable. Of course, it also gives you some leverage, e.g., when it comes to negotiating a raise in salary.

No Pressure

In large corporations or consultancy companies, there is some expectation that you will show a competitive demeanor and a never-ending willingness to score high, get promoted, or awarded. Large companies consciously induce this competition for the title of “The Employee of the Month” between their employees and manipulate them to exert themselves with work.

SMEs rarely do that. Of course, ambition is always appreciated. However, in SMEs, the ambition to become the best specialist in your field is appreciated more than the ambition to outperform anyone else. Therefore, you will be given lots of room to develop as a professional without the necessity to compete. For this reason, many professionals who are tired from corporate culture move towards SMEs—and happily stay there.


Dependence on Your Close Coworkers and Manager

As long as the team is small, you are dependent on your closest coworkers. In case you mismatch with your boss or with some of your colleagues in terms of working style of expectations, there might be no room left for you in the company.

Your Opportunities for Getting Promoted Might Be Limited

Needless to say, a problem with working for a small company is that it is small.  Perhaps, at the point when you are applying for a job, this coziness might seem to be a pro in your eyes. But what if one day you change your mind, and start looking for some refreshment in your professional life? If the company has 200 employees, perhaps there is room for you in another department. 

But what would happen if the headcount was only 20? Well, in that case, you might get stuck, and need to change your employer.

For this reason, starting a career from SMEs—especially if they are very small (20-30 employees or even less) might be a suboptimal choice for young people who are looking for their very first job. If you don’t have self-awareness as an employee just yet, and you don’t know what suits you best, it is usually a better idea to start your career from an environment in which you have lots of options and possible routes to take. E.g., from an internship in a corporation. 

A Small Company Might Still Fail — Even If It Is Not a Startup Anymore

Although the risk of failure is much lower than for startups, even after ten or twenty years in business, it can still happen that a small company fails in the market. One possible reason is that the demand for product and services changes in the meantime.

Most small companies don’t have as diversified range of products and services on offer as corporations and consultancy companies. They usually specialize in one type of product or service. 

That makes them much less flexible in adapting to the changing market conditions. For instance, thousands of small companies offering web development services had to close after a DIY infrastructure such as WordPress as well as after user-friendly platforms such as Squarespace or Wix appeared in the market.

A Small Company Might Get Acquired By an Investor or By Another Company

Sometimes, small companies also change owners—for instance, when the current owner feels tired from leading the business for decades and is heading for retirement. Or if they want to change their career path for some reason, e.g., sell the company to become a private investor. 

Along with changing owners, the culture within the company will also change—the new owner can adapt the rules and procedures within the company to their own vision of how the company should be managed. If the company is bought by another, larger business, there is also the possibility that some of the employees will become redundant. It doesn’t happen too often though, therefore, you should not treat this scenario as a viable risk while applying for a job in a SME. 


SMEs tend to announce vacancies through professional social networks (e.g., LinkedIn), job boards (e.g., Indeed), and their company websites. They also like to collaborate with external recruitment agencies, especially when looking for particular, rare types of talent. 

As a rule of thumb, the smaller the company, the more they rely on hiring new employees through networking. For a micro company of, say, ten employees, every single case of mishiring can turn out deadly for the business. Therefore, many small companies have the preference to create a new vacancy only when they have a suitable candidate in the first place.


Depending on the size of the company, the recruitment process might be close to startup- or corporate style.

Micro Companies

Micro companies (ten employees or less) usually don’t have their own HR department. Therefore, the owners hire new employees by themselves (often, following an advice from professional external recruiters). Of course, just as any other employer, the owner of a small business will try to determine whether you fit the company culture, and where your ambitions are.

As mentioned before, the opportunities for promotion in a small company are limited. Therefore, despite the fact that management skills are always welcome, strong leadership tendencies might not be desired at the job interview for a micro company. Namely, if you picture yourself as a type of a leader, it might scare off the owner. They are looking for a team member and not for a reformer who will attempt to reshape the business they were building for the last twenty years. Therefore, at the job interview, it is good to mention your creativity, your ability to manage projects and to work on your own—and to skip expressions such as “visionary.” 

The employer will also look for loyal employees whom they can train and count on for a long time—therefore, they will be mostly interested in candidates who would prefer to settle and develop their career further in a small team. For this reason, they eagerly invest in professionals who have logic reasons to settle down in the neighborhood, e.g., their kids attend the school behind the corner.

Furthermore, since the team is so tiny, the employer will try to make sure that you can communicate with other team members and you are likable to them. Therefore, you can expect getting introduced to the team before the final decision is made. The current team members will also have a say in which candidate should be hired.

Small Companies

Small companies (up to fifty employees) typically have a tiny Human Resources department that consists of 1-3 employees. Owners can also be involved in the recruitment process, but it is not always the case. At this stage, the preselection of candidates is usually done by the HR department (often in collaboration with an external recruiter), and the hiring procedure resembles standard, multistage corporate procedures.

As in case of micro companies, small companies prefer to play it safe. Therefore, presenting yourself as a loyal employee is essential when it comes to the job interviews. Small companies also need to make sure that you are a friendly and easy-going person—a team player who will not get into conflict with other employees. There will be little room to shift you around between departments otherwise. For this reason, the recruiting team might also delegate some of the company employees to listen to your job interview and share their honest opinion afterwards.

Middle-Sized Companies

Companies hiring more than 50 employees usually develop corporate standards when it comes to recruitment. These companies typically have multiple owners and stakeholders. Therefore, the owners are represented by the Human Resources department in the recruitment process (unless the vacancy is one of the key positions in the company such as the CEO—in that case, the owners will likely be involved in the process).

Middle-sized companies are more open to candidates with leadership skills than micro companies as they have more room for such people to develop their careers in a way that fulfills their ambitions. Of course, they also care about loyalty and team spirit just as any other employer.


Every SME develops their own customs that aim at helping employees in socializing with each other—there is no rule here. In some companies, all employees will regularly attend Friday Afternoon Drinks, or lunch together. Organizing an annual Day Out is also a common habit. As long as the company is small enough, it is a common practice to meet for an afternoon coffee and cake every time someone in the team has birthday, or has a newborn child. In general, staying actively involved in the social life around the company and remembering about team mates’ birthdays is well received in SMEs.

The management of SMEs also makes sure that special occasions such as Christmas are celebrated. While in large companies, yearly bonuses usually are selective and depend on your individual performance, micro companies often choose to give equal bonuses to all employees to prevent competition between them. Besides, how to even compare the performance among ten employees when each one of them has a different set of responsibilities, complimentary to those of other employees? It’s just impossible.