Growing a small business is demanding on many fronts, but for many business owners one of the hardest tasks is to successfully recruit, hire and retain new employees. Finding the right talent and building your team is hard for every business, but in a small business the challenges and risks are greater.
That’s why it’s critical that your small business commit to some essential strategies that can help set you on the right path toward recruiting and supporting top-notch employees. Here are five key steps to talent and recruiting success to consider implementing at your small business:
1. Plan pathways, not just positions.
Typically, by the time a small business is ready to advertise a position and find a new employee, the need is severe and the focus is solely on establishing a core list of critical tasks, then posting the opening and getting candidates in for interviews. The problem with this isn’t just that it’s shortsighted — it’s that it gets to the heart of why small businesses often struggle with retaining the employees they do hire.
The one thing you can’t afford to do is hire a person and drop them into the deep end of the pool with little instruction and no support. The way around this is to think in pathways, not just positions. What roles could this position evolve into in the future, and what kinds of opportunities could open up for a person who takes this job if/as the company grows? By emphasizing these considerations, you not only give potential candidates something to be excited about — you also strengthen your clarity about the true nature and scope of the position.
2. Recruit where others aren’t.
The war for talent today is extremely demanding, and that’s before we even get to compensation. Small businesses are locked in battle against much larger and better-funded companies for the same talent. If your competition can afford to pay top wages but yours are just average, or if your competition offers better benefits and you’re just happy that your employees *have* benefits, then you need to consider how to overcome the competitive challenges you face. One proven strategy is to focus on connecting with candidates where other companies may not be.
For example, Chick-Fil-A franchisees are known for seeking new employees through local church youth groups, where they know they can find young adults who are committed to the community and eager to do a job that has a vision for serving others. A California-based startup company that delivers monthly subscription packages partnered with a local nonprofit to recruit individuals with intellectual disabilities and train them for the shipping operation. A small IT company in the Northeast engaged with an urban youth education program and a veterans’ workforce development organization to train new talent who are eager to work.
And an award-winning Virginia-based staffing company built their small business by specializing in recruiting individuals who need flexible work arrangements but who have deep experience and credentials, which often means that companies can obtain access to more experienced professionals at a lower cost. Each of these examples shows the power of looking for talent through unique partnerships and within unique populations.
3. Build your pipeline from the bottom up.
Small businesses tend to struggle retaining early-career employees because they can so easily lose them to companies with more resources and the appearance of better opportunities. In response, small business owners often shift their focus toward seeking more experienced candidates in hopes of overcoming this risk, when in fact it might be better to double-down on their existing strategy.
The key is to build from the bottom up. Instead of focusing on candidates for an entry-level position who just graduated from college, focus on building a pipeline of individuals who came into the firm via internships. And if you’ve historically focused on recruiting candidates with a bachelor’s degree, try shifting your focus to those with an associate’s degree instead. The earlier you connect with candidates in their career lifecycle, the more success you’ll ultimately have in shaping — and meeting — their career expectations.
4. Build your pipeline at all times.
Stop thinking of hiring new employees as a task that takes place at a finite point in time, and start thinking of talent as a strategy that has year-round components associated with it. Hiring may only happen at certain points in time, but talent development and recruiting happens all of the time. That means putting your focus on consistent advertising and recruitment marketing so that new candidates are always coming in. It also means abiding by a regular calendar of events and programs to keep your company in the spotlight of the talent marketplace, such as job fairs and employment workshops. Finally, internships and other learn/work opportunities can provide a valuable pathway to shape future talent as well.
5. Understand the unique benefits you offer as a small business.
Finally, don’t underestimate what you offer to your candidates that large corporations can’t offer to theirs. You offer a close-knit working environment; an opportunity to work in close proximity to the CEO and other executives; a flatter organizational structure; the chance to make an impact and help build a business; a more flexible and dynamic work environment; and more.
It’s ironic that small business owners often struggle to articulate what their company offers to employees that others don’t, so consider asking your employees to tell you what they think makes working in your business special.
And finally, remember that the employees you already have on your team represent one of the greatest benefits that you offer to new candidates. Consider establishing a mentoring program for new hires and other pathways to welcome them into the business and ensure that every new team member finds her or his footing firmly.
What these five steps all have in common is that they recognize how small businesses are unique — both for candidates and for the employer. With this in mind, these five steps can help you leverage everything you have to maximize interest, applications, successful new hires, and longstanding retention as well.
Building a small business is a journey — for you, and for your employees. Emphasize the value of that journey in your talent strategy and you’ll be setting your company on a firm foundation for lasting success.