8 Expert Tips on Small Business Hiring

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As a small business owner, you’re probably used to going it alone. You feel comfortable wearing multiple hats, juggling various projects and working long hours. But what happens when you wake up one day and realize you need to hire some help?

Attracting and retaining talent as a small business is no small feat. 51% of small businesses say finding good employees is their biggest challenge, according to research firm Bredin. There are several reasons for this. Among them is that it can be hard for small businesses to compete with the salaries, benefits and perceived stability of larger organizations.

The good news for small business owners is that the traditional concepts of where, when and how we work are changing. Remote work is gaining momentum, and today’s workers increasingly value flexible schedules. Additionally, working at a large organization isn’t for everyone. Many employees seek out the autonomy and flat organizational structure often found at small businesses.

While the scales are starting to tip, the experts I spoke to generally agreed that small business hiring is tough. They shared insights into how smaller companies—even teams of one—can find and hold onto great employees.

Tip #1: Provide flexibility

The most popular perk I heard from the experts was that small businesses often provide more flexible work schedules than large companies. Many of the experts employ full or part-time employees who work from home or other remote locations.

Dave Mason, owner and CEO of Tail of the Lion, a network of eCommerce stores, including The Knobs Company, says offering a flexible schedule and the opportunity to work remotely helps him compete for talent.

“I can’t afford to outbid a large Silicon Valley-based company for top talent, but I can afford to give them a lifestyle they’d never get in Silicon Valley,” he says. “I look for talented people who don’t live in such high-cost areas and those who want to work from home. This gives me access to an amazing employment pool that I can afford.”

Mason notes that about one-third of high-value employees stay with the company “for many years.” He credits his retention rate to structuring work around employees’ lives, rather than the other way around.

Tip #2: Offer opportunities for growth

Thomas Bradbury, technical director at GetSongkey, acknowledges that as a small business, it can be difficult to compete with the salaries, benefits and packages offered by larger organizations. However, he says this shouldn’t deter small businesses from seeking hires.

“As a small business owner or even someone who is starting out from home, there is one major benefit that you might be able to offer: a better opportunity for growth,” Bradbury says. “Growth is often limited in a larger organization. If you can get talent over to your side, you can provide [them] with an opportunity to grow with the company.”

Eugenie Fanning, VP, People at commercial brokerage firm SquareFoot, calls competing with large companies for talent “a constant struggle.” Like Bradbury, she suggests small businesses avoid vying on items like salary and instead emphasize the intangible benefits they can provide.

“Move the conversation to what you can give: a startup offers more in terms of career growth, skill development and management of responsibility,” Fanning says. “Communicate effectively and hire people who want to be a part of something new, those who enjoy wearing many hats at once and thrive on adding value.”

Tip #3: Tap into your network

One piece of advice I heard from several experts was to look at your and your team’s network of contacts to find good fits.

“The most successful tactic we’ve used for hiring has been leveraging our personal and professional networks,” says Andrew DeBell, co-founder of Water Bear Learning. “Since our company is fully remote, most of our networking happens virtually—discussing topics on LinkedIn, setting up calls with new contacts and requesting to be connected to relevant talent contacts. Finding talent within your own network helps both parties overcome those initial barriers of trust that can be so monumental in most hiring processes.”

Speaking of the hiring process, DeBell and others recommend being thorough during the interview phase to weed-out potential bad hires.

“There is always a high level of risk involved since you can never fully determine the quality of long-term work from a short interview,” DeBell says. “We are very diligent about details in hiring and make slow and deliberate decisions.”

Have these strategies worked for Water Bear Learning? DeBell says the company has retained 100% of its employees.

Tip #4: Make the work interesting

Want to keep employees around for longer? Give them the opportunity to work on something new, exciting or challenging, advises Joe Wilson, owner of Volare Systems, a custom software development company.

“We compete with bigger companies by offering flexible hours and fully remote work along with challenging, cutting-edge technology that software developers want to work with,” he says. “We are a 100% remote company and hire software developers from around the U.S. to work from home, coffee shops, the beach or wherever. We’ve been in business for 10 years using this model, and it’s worked well for us.”

Employees who don’t feel engaged with or challenged by their work may check out mentally and seek out other opportunities. Challenging your employees and providing stimulating work helps combat boredom and complacency.

If you want to motivate your employees and encourage them to stick around, try these strategies. Set monthly, quarterly or yearly goals and offer incentives when employees reach these. Provide additional training and even the opportunity to travel. Let team members lead projects, including ones outside of their regular duties or relevant job experience. You may be surprised how well your employees perform.

Tip #5: Prioritize communication

While the opportunity to work remotely is an advantage some small businesses can provide, there is the risk of remote workers feeling lonely and isolated. One strategy to mitigate this risk and help remote workers (or any worker, really) feel engaged is to prioritize regular, clear and compelling communication.

Shiyang Gong, founder and CEO of legal software company AiLaw, recommends small business owners do whatever they can to facilitate communication between employees.

“Companies should provide [employees with] portable laptops and also create an infrastructure that supports remote communication by using instant messaging and video conferencing services,” she says.

While providing company laptops isn’t practical for every business, there are other cost-effective options for connecting your workforce. If you’re a home-based business or have a single office location, consider a communications solution like 8x8 Express. You can get unlimited calling, unlimited video conferencing, and unlimited texting and chat for only $12/month. Find out how you can get a free 30-day trial.

Gong notes that a combination of flexible schedules and support for remote work has helped her company achieve a high employee retention rate. What’s more, Gong says employees bring their best selves to work, which benefits the entire business.

Tip #6: Post job openings strategically

Throwing a job posting up wherever you can sounds tempting, right? Not so fast. SquareFoot’s Fanning says that small businesses need to be strategic in where and how they post an opening.

“You have to be more active in your recruiting methodology,” she says. “Make sure you’re posting to the right places. Don’t just post your listing everywhere. Make sure that the people you want to see the job descriptions are finding them.”

This could mean posting an opening on Upwork if you are looking for some freelance help. Perhaps instead of announcing an opportunity on all of your social media platforms, you only post on LinkedIn, where other professionals and active job seekers will see it. There’s no right or wrong answer. The point is to think about who you want to see the opening and identify where those people will most likely see your post.

Fanning provides an additional tip: check out The Mom Project to find candidates who are looking to reenter the workforce and want more flexibility then what’s usually offered at larger organizations.

Tip #7: Seek employee referrals

Related to looking for potential hires within your network, consider offering a referral incentive program to those already working for you.

“We’ve realized that one of the best strategies to finding good employees is to rely on referrals, especially those from current employees,” says Daniela Andreevska, marketing director at real estate market analytics firm Mashvisor. “New employees recommended by current employees have proven to be more motivated, highly skilled and to remain in the position for longer.”

Research shows that employees hired through referrals tend to reduce time to hire, integrate better and get up to speed quicker than non-referrals. Plus, they save businesses money. 82% of employers say referrals have the highest return on investment compared to other hiring sources, according to CareerBuilder.

If financial referral incentives aren’t realistic for you, consider offering other rewards such as extra time off, company swag or the chance to enter a drawing.

Tip #8: Recognize good work

You may have the most innovative, flexible workplace culture, but the reality is it doesn’t take much to sink employee morale. Lack of recognition is one of the most common reasons why employees leave a company, according to Gallup.

Adam O’Leary, president and owner of marketing agency Encite International, understands how important it is to acknowledge employee contributions.

“Something I like to keep in mind is making sure my employees know they’re doing a good job,” he says. “Praise means a lot, and sometimes it’s easy to forget. When I see good work, I say so.”

O’Leary adds: “While our office is on the smaller side, we work together effectively because we know each other so well. I can’t stress the importance of creating real relationships with your employees enough.”

Those relationships help the Encite team feel comfortable having frank discussions and offering constructive criticism when necessary, O’Leary says.

Regular praise and generally treating your people well has an additional benefit. Your business may earn the reputation as a great place to work, a distinction that can help recruit job seekers to your team.

Overcoming Hiring Challenges Is Possible

It’s no secret that small business hiring can be a challenge. But there are distinct advantages small businesses have over larger companies. Lean into your strengths, be flexible and think outside the box. You just may end up with your perfect employee.

Want more tips for running your business? Check out the blog post, “8 Time-Saving Tips for Small Business that Actually Work,” to discover how you can manage your time, be more productive and fight burnout.

Michelle Fitzsimmons

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Michelle is a Senior Content Writer at 8x8. She was previously an editor at TechRadar, a leading consumer tech news and reviews website. Now she’s focused on helping small businesses reach their goals. When she’s not writing, she enjoys going to hockey games, walking her dogs, hiking, volunteering and reading. [...] Read More >