Lessons From A Startup Employee


A lot can happen in two years. In the early stages of business, two years feels like two decades at times, and two days at others. A company can change from one product, to another, and then another, all while maintaining a constant stream of marketing content, team meetings, paperwork, and more.

For the small business owner, this process is exhilarating, even if grueling. For those running the show, daily tasks are never too difficult to associate with the passion and vision which led you to start your company in the first place. What is this experience like for an employee, though?

No matter your role in a small business, you’re working with dozens of stakeholders. It’s easy to focus on the customers, since they pay you. It’s possible to focus on investors, since they may be the key to your growth. If you have a board of directors, you may focus on them to leverage their networks. As a small business owner, you should also remember to focus on your employee: the stakeholder that powers the business. So what is the experience that your small business employees are going through, and what are they learning?

Versatility is invaluable

Starting a small business is not easy, no matter what your role in the company is. An employee might be hired for writing blogs, but they may end up designing two websites within their first two years. It is fundamentally important to work with a team that is versatile and capable of learning quickly. No to-do list will ever be the same for weeks straight, but that doesn’t mean no task will seem repetitive. Employees in small businesses should be ready to do (and learn) whatever it takes to get the business off the ground.

Open-mindedness is easier said than done

Passionate people are often stubborn, and it’s likely that the team you recruited is full of very passionate individuals, all working their hardest to ensure the success of your company. With their passion, they bring ideas, opinions, and priorities, though. As a small business owner, it can be difficult to balance “hearing them out” with “staying the course”. Employees, especially qualified ones, will find themselves running up against this dynamic. While they may claim open-mindedness, the true challenge will be practicing it. So long as the business’ goals are kept at the center of every decision, though, the entire team will come around.

The owner wins, but the employee has a say in how it happens

Disagreements on the team are inevitable, even between an employee and an owner. Everyone has tastes and preferences, and everyone has a vision of how they should be included in the company’s growth. The key in these disagreements is to determine a decision-making process that honors the contribution of each team member. Ultimately, the small business owner will always have the final say – this is your business, after all. But there’s no way to get around the influence of your employee, whether through candid conversations, determined implementation, or overall effort. The sooner your team can come to a develop a process for dealing with disagreements, the better off you’ll be.

Effort is not the same as output

We’ve all heard about the distinction between working hard and working smart. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the efforts of a small business employee, but we’re not just talking about time management here. Your team can spend months trying to build up a social media following without results – does that mean they’re contributing? Not entirely. Unless employees are actively testing, trying, learning, tweaking, and executing, the output of their work will not justify the effort they put in, and as a small business, you can’t afford to pay for meaningless effort.

Find and use time-savers

With a never-ending to do list and only so much time available, one of the best skills of a small business employee locating opportunities for process improvements. Eliminating one extra click on a website or one extra copy/paste to Tweet an article may seem trivial, but the seconds you can carve away from your each task on your to-do list will be a game-changer when you consider the scale of work your team is constantly pushing through. Time-savers like marketing automation software, bookkeeping improvements, or the way your coffee bar is set up to keep tools accessible to your team will make every minute more effective.

Self-motivation isn’t optional

Inspiration can be hard to come by when you’re on the ground-floor of a new company. Not every project will be pretty, not every task glamorous, and not every meeting high-impact. As a small business employee, there simply aren’t enough people in the company to rely on them for help in finding motivation every single day, but there isn’t enough down-time to afford motivation to disappear. In this uniquely challenging role, employees should be able to accomplish tasks and connect themselves to the bigger picture.

The best employees speak their minds… respectfully

Every founder wants a team that truly cares, and teams that truly care make their passion for the company known. Unlike in large corporations, small business employees are likely to have insights into most parts of the business, like the marketing strategy, the design of the product, or the layout of the store. With this knowledge, employees form opinions. Voicing an opinion, even if contradictory to the founder or majority of the team, is one crucial way to fully develop new ideas and anticipate challenges. However, doing so respectfully can often take time and communication as the team determines ways that feedback can be most constructive.

It’s not always pretty (things will slip through the cracks)

With so much to get done every day, things are bound to slip through the cracks. To do list items may get lost and overlooked completely, or there may only be enough time to do a mediocre job of the work. There’s no way to anticipate every mistake along the way, but the way the team reacts to this mistake can make a huge difference. Will you immediately panic, or will you immediately decide how to move forward?

A good idea, if not well timed, isn’t a good opportunity

You can only have so many first priorities. One of the most important lessons for startup employees is the ability to discern a good idea for now from a good idea for later.  If you spend your time poorly executing to five different great ideas, you won’t see any success. However, if you spend your time focused on one good idea, you’re bound to see more customers enjoying the results of your hard work. The lesson? Saying “yes” to everything isn’t good for the business. Instead, say “maybe” and revisit when you have the bandwidth later on.

People are the best part of business

If startup employees learn nothing else, they learn about the people they’re working with. The intense, sometimes thrilling, sometimes frustrating journey of getting a business up and running bonds the team that’s working on it. Whether you’re learning about each others’ strengths, favorite fonts, or fool-proof ways to cheer each other up, the people in the business are the best part. As you work to grow and support your business, it’s your responsibility, regardless of role, to grow and support each other.

With an incredible thank you to the StartBlox team and founder Brian Browning, and with the acknowledgment that these are only some of the lessons I’ve learned over our two years together (some others being: how to choose pictures for blog posts and how to choose stick-men that don’t look like chickens), I am proud to submit my final blog post as your marketer. We’ve come so far. 

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