Making the transition from the corporate world to an SME

Insights on transitioning to a smaller business as well as advice to SMEs on making the most of new hires from the corporate world

Kerttu Inkeroinen was climbing the corporate ladder at Kimberly-Clark and Coca-Cola before she left in 2015 to take up the role of marketing director at SME Union Hand-Roasted Coffee. She quickly embraced the entrepreneurial spirit and is now happier than ever. Her decision was just as rewarding for Union co-founder Jeremy Torz – who realised the value of an experienced marketer in helping the company continue to grow and expand.

Here, Inkeroinen shares her insights for those considering taking the jump from corporate to SME while Torz offers guidance and advice for SMEs seeking an employee from the corporate world.

1. Pursue your passions

The array of great SMEs can make it more difficult – and especially important – to pick to a company you wholeheartedly believe in. Union Hand-Roasted Coffee – a pioneering coffee roaster with sustainable development at its core – truly aligned with my interests and principles. Union changed the UK coffee scene by being the first company to introduce direct trade as its business model and is still innovating today. It’s inspiring to be part of a business that has a positive impact on tens of thousands of lives around the world as well as producing the excellent coffee – another of my passions. Union is a great story waiting to be told to a wider audience – a gift for marketers.

2. Get to know the business, owners and colleagues thoroughly before making your decision

Working closely with the founders and other members of the management team means it’s crucial you respect them and enjoy their company – much more so than in larger companies. It’s equally important to know that you have the trust, support and authority to enact change. Some SME owners can find it hard to let go and let someone else take charge. Luckily this hasn’t been a problem for me at Union.

3. Keep learning throughout your career path

Ask yourself, ‘Will I learn more by moving or staying at my current company?’ Smaller marketing budgets and resources don’t mean fewer opportunities – SMEs offer the chance to gain experience and insight in management and running a business outside of your specific function while making a real difference to a company’s future. Instead of limiting your options, as some people think, moving to an SME can broaden your experience and open up wider opportunities. It’s also common to realise that you love working in a smaller business and decide to continue on that career path, like I did.

4. Check your working style will gel with a smaller company

Get ready to be hands on – having a smaller team and resources takes some getting used to. A benefit is that my colleagues are endlessly passionate and engaged in our mission which makes a big difference to the working culture. A little self-sufficiency and a clear plan are important as there are fewer guidelines to follow. This can sometimes be daunting but is always exciting!

5. Stay connected

There are less peers and marketers in a smaller team on who to sound ideas out. It’s crucial to stay connected to your networks as well as keeping abreast of the latest news, trends and events. Free events are always useful for networking and fresh ideas – signing up to as many mailing lists as possible is a good start.

6. Make the most of it

In larger companies I was part of some amazing campaigns with great people – but the opportunity to affect real change and to contribute to the direction of the company feels much more immediate in a smaller business, and is hugely rewarding.

Making the most of a corporate hire, by Jeremy Torz

1. Hire to drive the business forward. Some people consider joining the board of a smaller company as a rung on the ladder or a notch on the CV. We deliberately wanted someone with a real affinity to us, our coffee and our culture. Kerttu’s brief is to bring about change and drive the growth – so it was essential that she shares our vision.

2. Utilise their experience. At Union, we tended to develop people and nurture talent from within – Kerttu’s experience and background gave us the external view we needed for change and progress. Having her on the team has allowed us to develop our brand holistically instead of looking at it from within specific sales channels.

3. Value a good cultural match. The right requisite professional toolkit doesn’t guarantee personalities will align. Give your new hire the space from very early on to be effective without the needing to sign off everything. Build trust through dialogue – making it clear from the outset that you will look to set them free as soon as possible.

4. Highlight the wider advantages. The perks of being in an SME can be very unlike the corporate world – which makes it important to be clear about the benefits of your organisation and the role. One particular reward is being able to give people the chance to realise change and tangible results across the whole company as well as their immediate role.

5. Empower them. Kerttu has been invaluable in helping speed up our decision-making process while emboldening us to make exciting decisions supported by industry-leading analysis. People in the corporate world often have to ‘sell’ their ideas to stakeholders to get the business on board. Kerttu excels at this and has put this skill to great use at Union.

Kerttu Inkeroinen is marketing director and Jeremy Torz is co-founder of Union Hand-Roasted Coffee.

Further reading on corporates

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

Related Topics


Leave a comment