For most businesses, people are the key asset. This is especially true for smaller businesses that exist in the service industries where staff may actually be the only real asset to speak of. Tom Jordan, Managing Director of digital creative agency Acknowledgement, offers some advice on how smaller companies can best utilise their most valuable commodity.
Growth is often one of the key objectives for smaller businesses but growth can create many problems. A lack of staff with the skillset required is a fundamental reason why smaller businesses find it difficult to grow.
The idea of natural, sustainable growth is great. However, in practice the process can often work out differently. Companies will look to grow by increasing sales or orders successfully but often fail to secure the extra staff required to carry out the work to the same standard. In this scenario, the founders and existing staff often have no choice but to take the strain as new staff are hurriedly sought. People become tired, there is no time to recruit anyone new and as a result, the quality of work suffers. The downward spiral can continue as current employees become increasingly disgruntled with excessive work hours and end up handing in their notice, leading to further staff shortages!
How can a small company attract good staff, keep current staff happy and also ensure that everything is in place to hire new staff when needed?
Attracting good staff
The first part of this challenge is to identify what “good” means to everyone involved. Look at the role you need to fill, the job description associated with it and what kind of candidate would be good for your company. Then also start to think of where your ideal candidate is likely to be now and why your role would be a step in the right direction for them. This is really important, as you’ll need to sell your company and the opportunity it represents to potential employees.
Next, you need to reach these people. LinkedIn, job boards, mailing lists and recruitment consultants are all useful tools here (although in the case of recruitment consultants - expensive), but your best tool is word of mouth. Ask as many people as you can. As you’ve already thought about where your ideal candidate is likely to be you can be fairly selective about whom you ask and direct with what you are looking for. If you offer a success fee to the person who recommends the successful candidate you may find people are more forthcoming and spend a little longer thinking about who they know.
Once you’ve made contact with some people who might be suitable it’s important you briefly sell the opportunity to them. Sure, you want to make sure they are capable and suitable for the role, but you can do that later - first you need to get them in front of you to make that decision. As a small business it’s more than likely that the person you are chasing has never heard of you so you’ll need to tell them a little bit about the business and why you are so good. Concentrate on what the opportunity could mean for them and their career. A smaller company can mean a lot of positive things: more agility, more opportunity to change things, more opportunity to be recognised and more opportunity to progress faster. It can also often mean greater financial reward. The right candidate should recognise all these things and therefore be interested in meeting up.
Meeting up is only the first stage in recruitment and you should follow a thorough recruitment process. One thing I will say is that good staff attract good staff. So assuming you have some good staff already, involve them in the interview process.
Keeping current staff happy
So we’ve dealt with attracting new staff, but what about your current staff? Big and established employers will have comprehensive benefits package that include things like gym membership and healthcare. Although expensive, it is important to match these wherever possible. Many employees won’t take these benefits up, but the fact you’ve gone to the time and trouble to ensure there is an offering in this area is usually valued and appreciated.
The great thing about being a smaller company is that you can get to know your employees in a way a larger company could never do. This is a massive strength that you can play to. In my experience, thoughtful, impromptu gifts that reward extra hard work or mark an employee's achievement are remembered for a very long time and create a huge amount of goodwill. Consider giving managers an annual budget for just this sort of thing.
Having a plan for when new staff are needed
This last section is the easiest. Don’t ever stop recruiting! Assuming your business is growing, you should always be trying to attract the best candidates in the market place. It can sometimes take six months from end to end to get a good candidate so why not start the conversations sooner rather than later? Always be honest with candidates and if there isn’t an immediate vacancy let them know so they can decide if they are wasting their time or not. However, as your stature and reputation for being a good employer grows you may find that people are more than happy to come for a chat – even if there is not an immediate opportunity.