HR 11 September 2018

How can small businesses punch above their weight when attracting talent?

It’s possible to punch above your weight and add exceptional people to your team

Are the brightest people always attracted to large enterprises? And if so, how do smaller companies stand any chance of winning and retaining their talents?

If you’re a small business owner, then hiring the right people can make a huge difference to the success of your company. However, you’ll probably be competing for talent against more prominent brands with more kudos and higher salaries, which can feel intimidating.

That said, it’s possible to punch above your weight and add exceptional people to your team — if you think carefully about crucial stages in the hiring process and beyond. Here’s what you need to bear in mind.

  1. Understand your audience

Some humility is needed here. You may be excited about your business, but the people you want to attract may have no idea you even exist. Many people think joining a small company could mean a dead-end job in the business backwaters. You need to recognise and overcome fears like these.

  1. Position your brand

Your target audience will want to know about your vision, mission and values. They’ll look on your website and maybe LinkedIn too. It is an excellent opportunity for you to tell your story clearly and creatively. Avoid bland, corporate-wannabe jargon. Sound different. Project energy and direction.

  1. Play to your strengths

Some people hate the suffocating politics of the corporate world and dread being a small cog in a giant machine. So you could use this to your advantage and position yourself as the plucky outsider, the free-thinker and the agile risk-taker. You may want to talk about your open culture and how people are listened to — and have access to your CEO.

  1. Draft the job description carefully

Put the person at the centre of your story. Explain that an incoming employee can make an impact. Appeal to ambitious people by talking about how you’ll be looking to develop their talents and use their ideas to shape the future of your company. Don’t lock down the job description too tightly, as SMEs often need to be adapt fast. You may also wish to be flexible about working hours and other benefits — which can make you more attractive to some candidates.

  1. Do the recruiting yourself

There’s a risk that recruitment agencies adopt a cookie-cutter mentality. But SMEs are rarely looking for off-the-shelf employees. Someone with a mix of skills may have added attractions. Respond to candidates quickly and professionally. Even large enterprises can slip up here, appearing rude and distant. Be warm and personal.

  1. Select team players

Don’t just look for experience – consider potential. Within SMEs, people often need to be all-rounders, adaptable and good under pressure. It’s a common mistake to choose people with the core skills but to neglect the soft skills. Even if someone is a genius, poor people skills can kill teamwork, destroy morale and sink a company. Hire people who are gifted, positive and likeable.

  1. Avoid a “panic buy”

Plan ahead for recruitment, don’t leave it until you’re desperate to hire someone … anyone! That’s like going shopping when you’re starving and buying junk food. Even if the process is long and exhausting, don’t hire someone because you’re at the point of almost giving up. Take a deep breath and begin again.

  1. Start well

Once you’ve hired someone, plan their induction. Ensure they feel welcome from day one. Make sure their PC, laptop, mobile, email address and everything else is there waiting for them. Help them to feel part of the team. Ensure your company lives up to your vision.

  1. Develop initiative

Plan frequent feedback at the start, then make the employee more independent and accountable over time. Give them objectives but don’t be too rigid. Allow them to own their role and use their initiative because how they go about tasks (and interact with others) can be just as important as whether they hit your targets.

  1. Gain the benefits

See the hiring process as an opportunity to sharpen up as a business. It could be the catalyst for broader benefits — from how you position the company and tell your story to potential clients, to how you treat other employees and handle appraisals generally.

What do I know?

I’ve worked with SMEs for years. I’ve seen poor recruitment almost bring a company to its knees — and successful hiring enables businesses to grow spectacularly. Key individuals can have a massive influence – for bad or good.

Stefano Maifreni is founder and director of Eggcelerate, the business expansion advisors

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