4 ways to attract the best talent to your small business

A young black women with red-tinted, braided hair, sits for a job interview.

As a small business owner, you have a lot on your plate – coming up with innovative ideas or products and keeping up with the market. Spend time on your high-value activities – like hiring and retaining the best talent in the market.

Over the life of your business, you may have had some highs and lows and finally built a strong team. But recently some of your solid, reliable employees may have left without explanation and your job ads aren’t getting many applications.

The hiring landscape is changing and you can take action to attract and keep the right people for your business.

If this sounds familiar, read these tips.

1. Have you clearly defined and communicated your Employee Value Proposition?

Most successful businesses have a Customer Value Proposition (CVP). It sums up the benefits a customer receives from using your services or buying your products, that is difficult to find anywhere else.

However, not all businesses have an Employee Value Proposition (EVP).

An EVP is a statement that describes the benefits of working for your business that would be a challenge to replicate by working anywhere else. These benefits can be tangible or intangible.

  • A tangible benefit could be a clear, structured career development framework that allows employees to understand what they need to achieve to reach the next seniority level or pay bracket.
  • An intangible benefit might be a feeling of belonging or appreciation that comes from working with respectful, collaborative and like-minded colleagues.

Don’t confuse your EVP with your CVP

There is a common mistake that many businesses make with a CVP and EVP, and that is they often only talk about the good things about themselves.

For example, say you’re a courier company. You might position yourself as the fastest, catering for fragile items, using the latest technology.

All these things are what’s important to the customer. ‘We do this, we are that.’ It’s not about saying we’re the most reputable brand in the market or that we deliver free cookies. That’s not why someone chooses you.

Too many companies focus on themselves and not the employee. And too many promote gimmicks like beer on tap or a ping pong table – they’re nice to have, but it isn’t going to make someone stay.

Target the type of employee you want

An important thing to remember with an EVP is that it should not speak to people you don’t want working for you (more on this in the next section). It should focus on and speak directly to your ideal employee, and their values, motivations and career goals.

What you want to be clear on is:

  • Who is the employee you are trying to attract?
  • What will be important to them to not only want to join the business but also stick around?
  • What is the unique value you can provide them with that is believable, specific and it is actually what they want?

Build a strong employee culture

A big topic that has been discussed over the past 2 years is flexible work. Unless you’re in industries like manufacturing, healthcare or retail, it’s likely that you’ve been able to set up your team to work remotely, at least part-time. But according to a study from PwC, around 75% of Australians prefer a hybrid of office time and remote work.

Think about the experience you want people to have that would make them want to come back to the office. Is it a nice, bright space conducive to working productively? Is it pleasing to look at? Are there spaces to do deep, concentrated work and also collaborate? Is it easy for people to get to?

You might even consider having a roster so everyone can come in on the same days. If all else fails, having a barista-grade coffee machine might draw people back – but these will do nothing if the fundamentals aren’t there. They are cherries on top.

These benefits are meaningless if the employee doesn’t feel as if they’re having an impact or if they’re scraping by with low resources. If the job isn’t set up correctly, it will be a poor employee experience.

Employees might ask questions like, do I like my job? Am I constantly put in unfair situations? Is my pay structure clear? Do I have a clear development plan? These aspects are hard to do well and hard to articulate. But that’s what is often most important.

Read: Create a desirable workplace

Avoid the cliches

One final tip with an EVP is that you need a cliche filter. ‘Work hard, play hard.’ ‘We’re about people.’ These are not hooks that will entice people to want to know more about your business and why they should work there.

The most effective feedback will come from someone who isn’t as close to your business as you are who will give you an honest response.

How to develop your EVP

Here are some questions to kickstart your EVP:

  • What do current employees love about working with your business and what prevents them from seeking greener pastures? Get feedback from them, make it a collaborative effort. There may be things that you aren’t aware of that the current team value.
  • What actions do you take to look after your people? Are there initiatives that you’re proud of?
  • What’s the culture of the business? Is it relaxed and down to earth with strong work–life balance? Is it fast-paced, exciting and innovative? Think about the words that resonate with people you want to work at the business.
  • Are you conducting exit interviews? While they can be tough to hear, if done correctly exit interviews can provide a lot of valuable insight into the employee experience. If your turnover suddenly skyrockets, maybe there’s a cultural issue such as ineffective management or bullying. Or maybe staff don’t feel they’re being challenged enough. It’s worth investigating why staff leave so you can get to the root of any problems.

2. Stop competing with the big guns

You’re not a Big 4 bank, a tech giant or a management consulting firm. You need to change your mindset of thinking you need to offer the same benefits they do.

Chances are, the people that are won over by free gym memberships, days off for their birthday and all-you-can-eat buffets aren’t the people you want working for you anyway.

With large corporates, people that are attracted to work there usually value the brand name, having resources at their fingertips, having a particular title, and probably want to work in the CBD or fully remote.

There is nothing wrong with this but this type of person might not suit the enterprising nature of your growing business.

Focus on your strengths

What are the things you have to offer in your small business that large corporations can’t offer?

For example:

  • Rapid-growth small to medium-sized businesses typically have faster, better career progression.
  • There is more flexibility in job roles and taking on exciting projects.
  • There’s a whole market of people who don’t live or want to work in the CBD either, who prefer to work in the suburbs where your business might be.

You can’t compete on the same terms as big business. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have serious perks of your own.

Find those who are motivated by a job well done

Don’t underestimate the power of purposeful, authentic, affirmative verbal communication and actions either.

One of the smallest but most impactful actions that has happened to me was when my manager recognised I was putting in extra hours and had produced a lot of good work over a period of months. The business was flat out and we were in the process of training new staff as well. When I mentioned I was going to take a half-day of annual leave the following month, my manager said, ‘Don’t worry about reporting any leave, just have the time off. I see the hours you put in. Don’t worry about it.’

The simple recognition of my hard work meant so much. It wasn’t about the annual leave, it was about the appreciation of my effort.

As a business owner, you want people who are motivated by doing good things, having opportunities to grow personally and professionally and who care about the work they’re doing. They have a bigger reason to come to work than novel gratifications.

There are a few ways you can find this out in the hiring process. One is to advertise your newly developed EVP (as above) in the job ad. To back this up, in the interview ask what prompted them to start looking elsewhere from their current company (revealing their motivation). At the end, ask what the most important things are to them in their next company and role. Ideally, this aligns with the first question and gives you a clear picture of what this person values in an employer.

3. Fish in different talent pools

If you are looking to hire quickly and have a gap to be filled, it’s less likely you are going to find someone that ticks every box on your selection criteria. As we’ve already noted, you are probably also getting fewer applications from your job ad. This doesn’t mean there aren’t people out there looking for work. You do have options.

For example:

  • Advertise in different job boards. Look at industry-specific job boards such as Finance and Coffee for mortgage brokers or the Loop for creatives.
  • Advertise where your candidates are – for example, university notice boards or websites. Universities and TAFEs are often looking for jobs to advertise to their students.
  • Use your networks. Can you attend virtual industry events or research Facebook Groups where potential talent might be occupying?
  • Improve your job ads and descriptions.
  • Can you look at alternative talent pools for candidates with transferable skills instead of hoping someone new will come from the place you always look?

4. Focus on hiring potential

Absolutely everyone is looking to hire experienced, qualified candidates right now. This is combined with a shortage of talent across the board.

‘The great resignation’ hasn’t quite hit here, and a lot of high-performing people have likely been well looked after during the last 2 years because their organisation has recognised they can’t afford to lose them.

Ask yourself what the difference would be if you were to choose between not hiring anyone with industry experience for a critical role for the next 3 to 6 months versus hiring someone new to the industry right now with a cracking attitude and a high potential for learning.

What would the impact on your business be if you were to spend that time training someone versus posting ads and scouring LinkedIn?

If you can be flexible with who you hire, focus on soft skills and traits like motivation, attitude and the right behaviours over industry skills and x years of experience.

Think about the transferable skills that someone could bring from outside the industry that could actually give you an edge over your competitors for 2022.

Spoiler alert: they absolutely will.