Good workers are hard to come by. Now more than ever small business owners are struggling to recruit top talent. These owners often end up shouldering more of the workload or delegating the work to an already lean team.
This is why having a strong recruitment process is essential to securing top talent for your small business.
Small business owners want to work with people they trust—people who will help them build their best business while doing their jobs properly. With the right people and process in place, entrepreneurs can focus on growth while their team manages daily tasks.
But there remains the question: How do small business owners recruit and retain talented employees? The answer isn’t so simple.
With unemployment rates at record lows job seekers have the advantage. Top talent can afford to be selective with potential employers. Businesses need workers more than workers need jobs.
Nearly one in four small business owners say finding qualified workers is their biggest priority. They need talent, but they can’t afford to pay a competitive salary.
The share of American small businesses raising pay reached a 17-year high this year, but despite offering more enticing pay packages, many small business owners struggle to fill open positions.
In a tight labor market, here are some ideas to add to your recruitment process to help your small business compete for top talent.
Use Your Size to Your Advantage
Don’t apologize for being small. Position it as a positive, corporate life isn’t for everybody.
“Small business will not be able to compete with larger companies on wages, benefits or perks,” says Ira S. Wolfe, TEDx speaker and author of Recruiting in the Age of Googlization. “Workers may quit for economic reasons, but they stay because they feel appreciated and fulfilled. Small companies offer a unique advantage for entrepreneurial workers and those seeking a strong culture and purpose.”
Lisa Chu, the owner of Black N Bianco, a boutique for kids’ formalwear, can relate to other small business owners who face competitors offering impressive compensation packages.
“I find it difficult to hire qualified employees who show tremendous potential,” she says. “Large corporations are offering epic perks.”
While she can’t recruit based on salary and benefits, Chu can provide what massive companies cannot: a small, intimate work environment with a family feel.
“One of the benefits of being a small business is we all have a good working relationship. Our close relationship makes the job a lot more rewarding,” Chu says. “I offer something different: a work environment with true friendships.”
Oftentimes, your greatest competitor for talent isn’t another company—it’s self-employment. Many full-time employees are leaving their steady jobs in favor of the freedom and flexibility of contract work.
The freelance economy is more than 57 million workers strong, according to Upwork, and freelancers are projected to comprise the majority of the workforce in the next decade.
Now is an especially appealing time for freelancers, considering a shifting market and a rise in technology that makes it all the easier to find and perform contract work.
Small business owners are smart to broaden their talent search to include freelancers. Robert McGuire, the publisher of Nation 1099, a web publication for freelancers, notes that savvy companies use self-employment to their strategic advantage by developing the flexibility to find, onboard and engage a growing pool of freelancers.
“In our own survey of freelancers, we call this emerging professional the ‘career freelancer.’ They are committed to this way of working. They aren’t between jobs,” McGuire says. “Compared to the average worker, they are more educated, more tech-savvy, more engaged in their work and more actively upgrading their skills.”
Hiring a full-time employee is a major investment, especially for small businesses with limited resources.
Instead of filling an empty position with a full-time worker, consider restructuring the role as a project to make it more appealing to freelancers.
Show Candidates the Path to Fulfillment
In the corporate world, it’s easy to get lured in by job titles and salaries. But with layers of committees and people, it’s nearly impossible for workers to know if they’re making any significant impact.
In his book Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, author Daniel Pink highlights three key elements of satisfying work.
- Autonomy: the desire to direct your own life
- Mastery: the desire to improve on something that matters to you
- Purpose: the yearning to do what you do to serve something larger than yourself
While corporations might have compensation power, small businesses can give employees a chance to experience true fulfillment in their work. At a smaller company, workers have greater control over their day-to-day and can work at something meaningful and see the results.
Maike Gericke, the founder of Scrypt Media, says it’s critical for small businesses to give employees a sense of ownership and responsibility from the beginning.
“Someone who feels responsible for a part of the business and gets recognition for achievements is much more likely to stick around,” he says. “Working in the right small business or start-up can be a fast track to growth that is almost never possible in a major organization.”
Everyone craves significance and meaning. We invest so much of our lives at work, it’s important for that time to matter.
When you promote your small business as a way for high impact candidates to make a real difference on something they’re passionate about, you’ll make your company irresistible to the right job seekers.
Promote an Employee-Friendly Culture
Small business owners can also compete for top talent by building a desirable culture. When you run a small business, you make the rules. You don’t need approval from a board of directors—you can run your business how you wish.
If you want to let your employees work from home in their pajamas until noon, do it. The strategy has worked for Ginger Jones at WebPunch.
“We offer guilt-free flexible schedules. No questions asked. The same goes for vacation schedules,” says Jones. “We also allow workers to work from home. Because of this, we have had no problem hiring [top] talent, and we have kept our employees for years. We have become a family.”
Flexibility matters more than pay to most job seekers, which is a good thing for small businesses. According to a FlexJobs survey, 84% of job seekers say work flexibility matters most when considering a potential job.
When it comes to providing real work-life balance and flextime that truly flexes, small businesses can excel.
“High-quality workers have watched Baby Boomer’s toil away in corporate America with little to show in the end. [They] have seen Generation X chase the next promotion with never-ending hours in the office,” says Sean Pritchard, co-founder, and CEO at MilitaryHire, a job and resume board for military veterans. “High-quality workers don’t want to be chained to their desks. They realize they can deliver top results and have a work-life balance. They are looking for an employer that understands this.”
Take a Smarter Approach to Recruiting Top Talent
When you’re searching for your next employee, make sure you’re taking the right approach. Wolfe explores in his book how many companies use outdated recruiting tactics, which won’t get them far in an age of automation and an evolving concept of work.
You don’t need the budget of a much larger enterprise to freshen up your recruiting strategy. One way you can discover new talent is through Google My Business, a tool that allows businesses to manage their online presence.
“In an uber-competitive environment for online ranking, Google My Business offers a free and simple way for small business to get the word out and advertise both the business and job openings,” Wolfe says. “This is a huge opportunity for small businesses to get their jobs seen with little or no budget.”
You can also widen your reach with your website. Many small businesses design their sites for customers but fail to communicate with talent.
It’s important to make it easy for candidates to find your open positions. If you want to build a great team, great people must be able to find you.
“We have the same benefits, culture, and flexibility, but now we’re communicating them better and putting them somewhere targeted specifically to people looking for jobs,” he says. “We use our careers site and social media to showcase some of the things people don’t think about when they envision a career in pest control. It’s all about helping future employees picture themselves as part of the team.”
Leahy suggests small business owners show potential employees what their path could be.
“It’s not enough to just say there are advancement opportunities,” he says. “New hires, especially Millennials, need to see the steps it takes to get there. Share the stories of other employees who have moved up in the company and the steps they took. Show a priority of promoting from within.”
Building Your Team
Great employees are out there. It takes a thoughtful approach to recruiting and a strategic reframing of what you can provide for job seekers.
While it’s helpful to offer a competitive salary, think beyond compensation. Small businesses often have offerings and perks that are rarely found in the corporate world. Emphasize what sets your business apart and use those differentiators to find and grow your dream team, one solid employee at a time.