Connecting small business departments can make or break a company. If data remains siloed within the various departments, it can lead to inefficient processes and workflows, with no one in the company able to get a 360 view of the customer or a clear overview of the entire business. Everyone is working with just their piece of a puzzle – unable to zoom out to see how it fits into the whole picture.

This was standard not long ago. But now, as more and more organisations undergo digital transformation, they are connecting their small business departments and uniting data. As more SMEs pivot to face the challenges of the next normal, they are delegating new responsibilities to the workforce. Some traditional functions and departments like sales are growing and evolving, while other departments like marketing are turning to automation to shed the burden of repetitive tasks, becoming laser-focused on the new standards of customer engagement.


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As small business departments evolve, roles evolve too. Let’s look at the most crucial departments for your small business and how the business structure can provide a blueprint for success in the new normal, the next normal, and beyond.  


What are the six central functional units of a business?


The six central functional units of a business are: 

  1. Production

  2. Research & Development

  3. Sales

  4. Marketing

  5. Human Resource Management

  6. Accounting and Finance     


What departments does a business need?


Standard business departments include administration/operations, research and development, marketing and sales, HR, customer service, accounting, and finance. Some businesses may require additional departments, such as an IT department, while smaller organisations may not have a dedicated IT team.

One way to get started without an IT department is by using cloud-based technologies that don’t require the same amount of on-site infrastructure and then use tools like Salesforce’s Lightning Platform to build and deploy apps quickly.

Product-based businesses will also have a production department that fulfils production orders and handles any changes to products.


What is the most common structure for a small business?


A functional organisational structure is the most popular choice for a small business. In this structure, workers are grouped by their expertise and specific functions, creating uniquely skilled groups with clear direction. 

Departments that are set up in this manner are usually managed independently, or with start-ups and growing SMEs, multiple functions are often handled by just a few people. While this can create a highly focused environment with clear objectives, it can be surprisingly inefficient in some instances. This is because if the departments remain in siloes, they can’t view the bigger picture, making it impossible to provide support across functions. For SMEs without large departments, making sure data is integrated to get an overview of the customer is important – even if just a few people are performing all the functions.


What is the best organisational structure for a small business?


The best organisational structure for a small business depends on the company’s needs and the workforce’s skill sets. Best practices might include keeping functions and departments separated by expertise, but then focus on breaking silos to unite data, provide better visibility and enable support across departments. 

The ideal organisational structure prioritises both expertise and agility. One way to nurture agility is by upskilling and cross-skilling across functions. Platforms such as My Trailhead empower businesses to prepare for the future of work quickly and easily.


What departments are needed to run a small business?


The departments needed to run a small business will vary, but three functions are common in nearly every industry.

  1. Sales and marketing: Every business will need to generate sales and build relationships. Sales and marketing departments will handle everything from promotions and lead generation to public relations and account management.

  2. Operations: Operations are responsible for bringing a company’s ideas to life and delivering the promised product or service. This includes handling production, shipping and fulfilment, and customer service, amongst many other things.

  3. Financial and Admin: Businesses need to track revenue and expenses, provide balance sheets and hand tax issues.  Admin functions will depend on the needs of the specific business but would typically include office management and HR functions like hiring. Bigger businesses usually have a finance department, while SMEs will often rely on an individual to handle these responsibilities.


Creating an organisational structure for your small business departments


Even though small businesses may not have the need or resources for all the functions and departments that larger companies do, it’s still essential to create an organisational structure and make sure that roles are clearly defined.

Small businesses can start by focusing on some essential elements: sales and marketing, operations, and administration. Look at what roles need filling within these three small business departments. For instance, sales and marketing may require a PR director, a marketing manager and an account manager. At the same time, operations may include a product development team, shipping and fulfilment operators, and customer service reps. Some roles, such as accounting, product development and graphic design/branding, may be filled by external contractors and suppliers.

When it comes to executive leadership, businesses need a creative, innovative thinker who can spot emerging opportunities and an organisational thinker who focuses on execution and operation to seize those opportunities. Ideally, these roles will be filled by multiple people. Still, it’s possible that one leader is capable of taking both a micro and macro view of the company, and that a visionary can also be a technician with a knack for execution.


The future of small business departments


As a business grows, so does its needs. New roles may emerge, or with the help of technologies, old functions may expand to include new responsibilities. An organisational structure should be flexible and able to evolve as required. With new tools, training platforms, and innovative strategies, the future of small business departments is limitless. 


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