What are the pros and cons of working for a startup vs big company?

What are the pros and cons of working for a startup vs big company?

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I have heard many arguments about working for a startup vs a big company. On one side, there’s the argument that startups are more fruitful, and that it is easier to work up into a higher position in less time. On the other hand, another argument suggests that an established company can offer more security and better pay. 

While all of these points are valid, for the most part, not one is better than the other. In reality, there are positives and negatives in working for both. When deciding between the two, it really all comes down to personal preference and individual experience. 

To help you better inform your decision to work for either a startup or established company, here are just some of the pros and cons I have experienced in my time.

Working for a startup business

Pros

It’s true, working for a startup business can be highly rewarding. A startup environment is usually smaller in scale, say 2-20 employees, and thrives with innovation. The overall vibe is youthful, ambitious and fresh, and the business welcomes new ideas day by day.

An environment such as this one affords great creative autonomy. As a startup employee, you will be encouraged to try new things, and trial and error is a given. You will learn quickly and upskill faster, seeing as you are given the opportunity to try different things.

The first startup I ever worked for, I was hired as a copywriter, but soon realised the role required more than just writing. Working one-on-one with the owner of the startup, I learnt a brand new CMS system – Magento – within a week. In just a few weeks time, I understood the ins and outs of this software and was troubleshooting problems like a pro. 

Thanks to that one-on-one training, I had acquired a brand new skill (great for the resume) and was able to upload content directly to the website rather than relying on the help of my boss. In an established company, it is very unlikely you’ll have the chance to work directly beside the company CEO.

In the same startup, I quickly worked my way up to a more managerial role. I noticed there were many gaps missing that I could fill. Before long, I was looking after customer service, social media and general admin, all the while still undertaking my original copywriting and digital marketing tasks. That’s three more skills for the resume!

Cons

By the same token, juggling too many different roles can really mess with your focus. And without a streamline focus, it is easy to lose motivation.

In a startup, you will more often then not find yourself taking up more than just one role. As aforementioned, my title in the first startup I worked for started off as ‘Copywriter’ and eventually became ‘Sales/Digital Marketing/Customer Service Coordinator’. Something along those lines.

This makes it very difficult to prioritise tasks. As a bit of a perfectionist myself, I realised I could not reach the best of my ability in each task because there was simply too much work to be done.

Sure, it helped me beat down my perfectionism, which has actually been quite an important lesson to learn. However, a lot of the time my finished product seemed ‘half-assed’, and I always knew I could do better… with more time, of course.

Other concerns include job insecurity, lack of HR and an unprofessional work environment. It’s unfortunate that startups get a bad rep for these points. I have worked in many amazing startups that I owe my professional growth to. Yet, there’s a reason these perceptions exist. 

Many have had bad experiences in startups that exercise poor management. My advice is to be vigilant and immediately address any problems that arise, rather than letting them build over time. This results in professional growth for both you and the company. It also builds a sense of trust and honesty.

Working for an established company

Pros

On the flip side, an established company offers stability. They’ve been around for years, they’ve earned the big bucks. They’ve solidified a stable business model that has sustained business throughout the duration of their existence.

This also means structure. Over time, the structure of their business has been refined and perfected. When you enter the company, your role will be streamlined. You will have a clear idea of your goals and KPIs. This ultimately makes it easier to keep motivated and hitting those targets.

When I worked as a copywriter for an established company, it was very different to my startup experience. My role was specific, with a focus on just copywriting. We had weekly meetings with management to discuss weekly goals. Every day, I laid out my tasks. Every day, I knew my deadlines. It was hard to go wrong when the process had been set out so clearly.

My manager would also be following up, making sure I had everything I needed to complete my tasks. She would my go-to if I ever needed advice, which in turn, helped me finish my work quicker.

Cons

However, having it all laid out for you means less creative autonomy. If the company’s structure is rigid in tradition, you may have less chance for innovative thinking.

And sometimes, you get stuck doing the same thing over and over. You might get stuck for years doing the same work. If this becomes the case, you can and will lose motivation in your role.

While I never quite lost my motivation in an established company, I did miss the spice of a startup. The questions of ‘What will I be doing today?’ and ‘What challenges will I face today?’ sorely lacked. Surprisingly, I actually missed solving those same problems I used to complain about. The grass is always greener on the other side, eh?

So, if you are somebody who thrives off of structure, it is likely you are more suited to a larger company. If you can handle the unknown, and perhaps yearn for it, a startup may be more to your flavour. Go with your gut instinct and, if you can’t make your mind up on either, then try both like I did! It’s great character-building and you’ll feel better equipped to handle whatever your next job throws at you.

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