If you want to be effective at your job, it's important to know what you're getting yourself into when you join a new company or take on a new client. A major differentiator in business relationships: working with enterprise versus startups. The most obvious difference between these two types of companies is size, and how established they are. But they are also very different in terms of culture and workflow.

My experience is working with SEO, but it's likely you will find these things to be true no matter what department you're in. This topic is especially relevant to SEO because when it comes to technology and market demand, people change their minds quickly. To adapt and stay on top of what's happening in the market, you need to be able to take action quickly. But what if the company you are working with is slowing you down? Regardless of the company structure, how you perform matters a lot.

What to expect on day one

With enterprise companies, there will always be bureaucracy. Enterprise-level companies range from hundreds of employees to thousands, so there are levels to the decision-making process. This can force companies to react to the market slowly. If you suggest a new strategy, you can expect the process to take a while. When I was at Monster, it often took two weeks to a month to implement a new strategy. (Eventually, I was able to work much faster, and get new projects going in a few days. More on that below.) With enterprise, you are more likely to encounter a mindset of entitlement. There will also be people who want or need to be in charge. When you present ideas that go against what they are used to, you are likely to get pushback. Radical changes can be a lot harder to implement, even if they are good for business.

The organizational structure of a startup is more flat. People will have different titles, and there is some hierarchy, but basically you are all working together. Startups are very agile and nimble, are much more likely to try new ideas or radical approaches. Provided the idea isn't too risky, a startup team is much more likely to make a change instead of doing what they've always done. But that doesn't mean startups don't bring their own cultural challenges. When everything is flat, there can be too much discussion, and sometimes nobody takes responsibility for things. To get things done in this environment, you may have to direct a project even when that's not in your job description. The key to being successful here is to observe the culture of the startup and adapt accordingly.

Shift your communication strategy

When working with startups, they give you a lot of trust and ownership in what you do. There is not much micromanaging. The flip side of this is that sometimes no one is managing a project, no one is taking the lead. Because startups are so open and fluid, it's not always clear who is in charge of what!

Learning to default to action can be a powerful skill in a startup setting. If you notice that things aren't moving, you must take charge yourself. Send a message in a public/open channel that says, “I'm going to do ________ by this date, and if anyone objects let me know. If no one objects, I'm going to move forward with a launch.” Decision-makers are busy, and might not be focused on what you're focused on. Don't be afraid to bug people to get the answers you need. If you don't get a response right away, wait 24 hours then message them again. It's not being rude, that's just how it works. Especially on Slack!

At the enterprise level, you will likely have to go through the proper channels to get things done. This makes a lot of sense from a security perspective, especially if you are working with a competitive product. In this situation, I suggest taking ownership of your role in the project and demonstrate that you are trustworthy. When I worked at Monster, I asked my boss for more access. I said, “If I fuck things up you can fire me.” I wanted to make it clear that I was taking full responsibility for my actions.

Soon, my team was one of the most efficient in the company. We had production-level access. Which means we could get things done in within the day or 72 hours max, as opposed to waiting for the normal sprint of two weeks or more.

Know how to work the room

OK, so the other thing that helped me be successful at an enterprise company like Monster was building relationships with the right people inside the company. I went to lunches with as many teams as possible. I learned who the key decision-makers were, and got to know them. I befriended someone in the Database department, someone in QA and one of key person in Engineering. That way, I had contacts in all the right parts of the company who could help me get approval and move quickly. Without the relationships I had at Monster I wouldn't have been able to do my job as well as I did.

At startups you can basically apply the same strategy, it will just be a little different in practice. Get to know key people: someone at the C-level or someone who is a Director, at least. That will help get things moving along. They introduce you to the company and then it's up to you to get the job done. Know what the startup's KPIs (Key performance Indicators) and OKRs (objectives and key results). As long as what you're doing contributes to the key objectives of the company, you shouldn't have any problem getting support from whoever else you're working with along the way.

If you are taking a full-time position, it's good to prepare yourself for the challenges of your new company, whether it's a startup or enterprise level. And if you are a consultant like me, you may need to learn to work in both types of environments interchangeably. If you are strategic in how you communicate and network with the right people, you can be quite successful.

Have you worked at a startup, enterprise company, or both? What was your experience like? Tell me about it in the comments!


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