Transitioning from Corporate to Small Business as a Finance Professional

Apr 24, 2024


While working in the corporate world provides some serious upside — from the chance to learn from a wide range of people to cushy compensation packages — it can also be a grind. And as the recent wave of tech layoffs continues crashing upon people, you might be formulating an exit strategy. 

Fortunately, as a tech professional, you have an exciting opportunity. If you transition to a small business, you can likely take on a larger role. You might get more control over both company decisions and your fate. And you stand to see some serious financial gains if you get equity, then help the business scale. 

Sound appealing? If you’re a finance pro considering transitioning from a corporate role to a small business, we’ve got a few considerations for you. 


The perks of joining a small business

Many people who make the switch to a small business notice one major difference: agility. Making changes at a large corporation is a lot like turning a big ship: it takes time. With a smaller team to train up on new processes, fewer projects in motion, and fewer resources spread around, it’s generally much easier to pivot at a small business. 

If you come in and see that the company could benefit from a process change, say, you’ll likely be able to make it. And not in the year(s) it would take in the corporate world. You might be able to enact changes in a matter of months, weeks, or even days. 

A small team also means more agency. Because you’re not subject to a massive corporate structure, you need fewer approvals. In many cases, once the business leaders trust you, they won’t just want you to run with things on your own, they’ll expect it. 

At the same time, cross-department collaboration can be much easier in a small business. You’ll probably personally know the employee in marketing or IT who would join you for a project. Beyond that, you’ll likely have a better feel for what they do and how they do it. This makes working together easier, more productive, and oftentimes more enjoyable. 


Pro tip: vet your future employer carefully

All of the above said, transitioning to a small business isn’t without its risks. Yes, you’ll likely have a chance to make a bigger impact on the overall trajectory of the business. But that can translate into a bigger burden on your shoulders. You might need to learn how to do more with less. Making this change isn’t for everyone, so you should weigh it carefully.

Then, if you do decide you’re ready for the small business life, it’s key that you recognize that not all small businesses are created equal. And the company you choose to join can make or break your happiness in your new role. 

In the corporate world, the interview process usually feels like your time to prove yourself to the interviewers. They learn about you during interviews, but you can probably find out a lot about how the company operates and what working there will be like from sites like Glassdoor. With a small business, though, information usually isn’t as readily available. So as you get interviewed, interview the people in the room, too. This is your best bet to get a feel for the company. 

To encourage as much transparency as possible here, you might volunteer to sign a confidentiality agreement beforehand. 

This way, you can freely ask about the small business’s leadership and its aspirations. Definitely inquire about its financial performance and the competitive landscape. Try to get your interviewers to open up about the company culture and what it’s like to work there. They’ll probably readily share what they love, but you should ask about challenges they come up against, too. 

If you’re struggling to think of questions to ask that can illuminate what you want to know, this list might get your wheels turning. 

The big takeaway here is: do your homework before, during, and after your interviews. If you want to transition to a small business, choosing one that aligns with your work style and goals makes a huge difference. 


What to expect on day one

Corporations generally have lengthy onboarding processes filled with days of getting to know your peers and familiarizing yourself with the company’s values. Small businesses often don’t have this luxury. Instead, you should be ready to more or less hit the ground running.

Ideally, there will be some level of onboarding for you. But it might be quick and dirty. Make sure you take thorough notes (you might even want to record any training sessions you get) and ask any questions that come up for you. 

In a perfect world, you’ll get started with clear goals in place for your first 30, 60, and 90 days. But if these don’t get provided to you, collaborate with the appropriate parties (e.g., your manager if you’re a finance staff member, the rest of the C-suite if you’re the CFO) to develop them. Many people who transition from corporate finance to a small business miss the structure provided by a large company’s well-established processes. Having agreed-upon metrics and goals helps you direct your energy to the right places, and it ensures that other key players agree with that direction. 

Also, use these early days to catch yourself up to speed on the company’s finances. You will likely be pulled into strategic decision-making meetings very quickly, so you want to know your stuff. 

Make sure you know the company’s cash position and recent financial performance. If they have CPA or banking partners, set up meetings with them. It might also help to sit down with key vendors. Ultimately, you want to get a feel for as many finance-impacting components as possible. 

Transitioning from a corporate job to a small business is no small feat, but it can be extremely rewarding. If you’re looking to have a bigger impact and more agility, it’s well worth considering this move. And if you want to talk to a team that has experience working with both small business finance departments and corporate ones, we’re here.