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Transferable skills - Corporate to SME

This is Part 2 of the series comparing the corporate world with that of an independent entrepreneur. This time, the focus is on skills that can be learned in the corporate world and transferred in the world of SMEs (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises).

Click here to read Part 1.


One of the biggest differences between the corporate world and the entrepreneurial one is, first and foremost, the size of the companies. In my case, I went from a 55,000-employees global firm to a sole-entrepreneurship. This has numerous implications, from office space, to opportunities for development and even your work-life balance.

What is really useful for me when working with smaller firms is to actually be able to structure their organisations. Very often they run behind the money without much focus or strategy. Being better structured and organised can often save them millions and also allow the company to scale. Without the appropriate structure, scaling is difficult and actually quite dangerous.

Building the correct structure involves building the correct organisational hierarchy and teams, introducing performance management systems as well as optimising the use of company resources such as software and hardware. My clients often grow for 20-odd years and then reach a ceiling that does not allow them to grow further as Founders / CEO have never worked in a bigger structure. Although bigger organisations often have a complex matrix environment, it allows them to manage multiple risks. To be sure, we do not want to add bureaucracy to the nimble structure of a start-up – but we do want to organise it in order to prepare it for the growth to come.


Another important skill that we learn in the corporate world, which can help both in the professional and personal life, is professionalism. Given the formal and hierarchical nature of big firms, professionalism is one of the critical skills everyone must learn in order to advance in the complex and political world of a corporation.

Professionalism comes in many forms, be it how you dress and present yourself, to being always prepared for a client meeting, having and communicating agenda prior to the meeting and writing meeting minutes after the meeting, or being proud and promoting your company whenever you go. It may also involve your professional conduct, be it protecting company information and data, developing respect for your boss and colleagues, as well as using the appropriate business language.

Start-ups are often very informal and laid back, which may attract younger working population, however, this may cause problems when presenting to potential investors, interacting with local political community or being taken over by a larger competitor. Similarly, serving the Board of Directors or getting things done in other countries with different culture to the company’s native one may prove difficult if not downright impossible. Professionalism goes a long way in all the aforementioned situations. As Oscar Wilde put it: “you can never be overdressed, overeducated or over-prepared”.


Words such as retention and customer lifecycle are often used in the corporate world and no wonder – customers should be the number one focus of every business. One can argue that they are even more important for a small business. As highlighted in the Part I of the Series, having a steady stream of clients provide a lifeline for a start-up to survive. In line with Pareto principle, big companies often derive 80% of revenue from existing clients and only 20% from new business.

In the Fortune 500 corporation I worked for, we used to say that “Customers are in the heart of everything” – a motto that has served me well ever since. It is much easier and more profitable to keep existing clients happy than to win new ones. The notion of customer lifecycle is also very important and, in simple terms, means that the client has value not only at the moment of purchase but actually during the whole “life” it spends with the company. Customers who come back for more are the dream of every business and with good CRM (Client Relationship Management) they may even be the advocates for your company and refer your firm to their friends, thus bringing new business. Now, that’s the best marketing!


Last but not least – teamwork. Naturally, working in a corporation necessitates teamwork as the organisation is very big and the projects complex in nature. As a sole entrepreneur, one can be an amazing sales person, do accounting and recruiting themselves and basically operate the whole business. This is very different to the world of a corporations where everyone has a rather small, concentrated set of responsibilities and accountability. As such, they are dependent on their colleagues and bosses to get the work done. Consequently, teamwork skills are not only useful but necessary in order to survive and thrive in the corporate world.

Teamwork pays big dividends in the smaller structures as well, especially so given that the responsibilities and tasks are bigger and more diversified. Therefore, everyone has to play multiple roles and leverage his or her teamwork skills to the benefit of the company. It’s of critical importance to the (co)founders as well – how they compliment their skills and strengths and weaknesses will lead to a “to be or not to be” of a start-up. The Jobs-Wozniak duo comes to mind, where the former was a marketing and design genius and the latter focused on technology, allowing Apple to become the success story it is today.

To be sure, teamwork will also help in your personal life and community work, therefore it’s worth investing time and effort to develop this skill as soon as you can.

Here we are, the 4 skills that can be developed in the corporate world and transferred into the start-up world and often into personal life as well.

Please let us know what you think about both posts of the series. We look forward to hearing from you!



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