6 Ways Small Businesses Can Outcompete Large Firms on Talent

Larger companies have many advantages when it comes to attracting top talent. These are six ways smaller firms can outcompete their larger competitors.
small businesses talent

Hiring top talent is critical to the success of any company. But snagging those rock stars is oftentimes a difficult goal to achieve for small businesses that are competing against larger companies with deeper pockets and perhaps more attractive benefits. Still, it’s possible to entice star employees away from the larger companies. In many ways, in fact, smaller firms have a lot to offer that larger firms cannot.

Here are some tips from some small-business owners who have found creative ways to hire top talent.

  1. Offer flexible hours and locations

The lure of working at home at least a few days per week is a powerful draw for many prospective employees, according to Mason Pelt, owner of the marketing consultancy Push ROI based in Dallas.

“Many people don’t want to be in an office every day,” Pelt said. “Giving someone remote days or the flexibility to work at odd hours is a big carrot to offer.”

Pelt noted an example of someone he worked with at a previous job who was nocturnal and basically worked throughout the night. The company ultimately didn’t mind the untraditional arrangement because the employee was getting their work done and getting results. “We didn’t care, because he did his job very well,” Pelt said

Larissa Pickens, owner of the design firm Float Design based in Austin, Texas, agrees with the idea that flexibility in how and where work is done is a unique benefit small employers can offer employees. Her company is small, but Pickens said she has been able to attract designers from places like Amazon.com Inc., Sephora and Calvin Klein by offering them freedom and flexibility.

“We’re a distributed team and my employees can work from anywhere, however they want,” Pickens said. “Work-life balance is such a huge factor for millennials that the idea of being able to work on their own terms is a huge incentive.”

To be sure, it’s not just millennials who are attracted to flexibility. It goes for working parents as well, Pickens said, so much so that she recently started a business, mommikinjobs.com, to pair stay-at-home moms with meaningful work they can do from home.

“I feel there’s a huge untapped market of highly-successful women who leave the workforce but would love to keep a toe in the professional world if they were given flexible, family-friendly conditions,” Pickens said. “Similarly, this offers small businesses access to high-quality, experienced creative talent they wouldn’t ordinarily have the resources for. As a work-at-home mom and business owner, I’m excited about the possibilities.”

  1. Don’t be constrained by typical hiring processes

Many large corporations create rules for hiring that often disqualify candidates for less than valid reasons, Pelt said. One example: degree requirements.

“No degree doesn’t mean no talent,” Pelt said. “Mark Zuckerberg [founder and CEO of Facebook] would be excluded by software firm jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree.”

  1. Get creative with perks

Gene Caballero, owner of GreenPal, a Nashville, Tennessee-based firm that has been described as the Uber for lawn mowing, offers his employees a music room. “Most of our employees are either musicians or play music for fun,” Caballero said.

Giving employees a dedicated space in the office to play instruments during the workday not only lets employees indulge in something they love, but it has other benefits as well. “Playing an instrument has been scientifically proven to engage practically every area of the brain at once, especially the visual, auditory and motor cortices,” Caballero said. “The brain is a muscle, and learning and playing music is like a full body workout strengthening those brain functions, allowing us to apply that strength to other activities, like creativity.”

  1. Play to strengths

Culture fit between employees and their workplace is vital. People who are at home and happy in a corporate environment are a different breed than those who thrive in small businesses. Emphasizing the culture of your workplace versus that of the corporate world goes a long way.

“We are small enough that when we make a decision we can implement it almost immediately,” said Ben Walker, CEO for Transcription Outsourcing LLC, based in Denver. “There is no red tape here. It’s exciting and there is rapid-fire change sometimes, whereas the large corporate jobs are slow-moving snails that seem to be robotic in nature. I don’t want that. When we want to hire people away we show them that excitement and what could happen if we do things right.”

Rebecca Barnes-Hogg, owner of YOLO Insights, a Little River, South Carolina-based business that helps other businesses recruit and hire, said that small businesses should focus on what they can offer rather than what they can’t.

“A small business can offer star employees the opportunity to work closely with the owners and be involved with the heart and soul of the business,” Barnes-Hogg said. “Creativity, innovation and calculated risks are often encouraged at small businesses. There are no layers of bureaucracy to go through so small businesses can act more quickly on ideas and feedback.”

  1. Show prospective hires exactly what it’s like to work for you

Barnes-Hogg said small businesses can do this by trumpeting employees’ accomplishments and contributions on social media, creating a cyber trail for prospective hires to follow. Ask your best employees: “What’s the coolest thing about working here?” Their answers will guide you to creating a “hiring story” that you can talk about with prospective employees.

“Use video to feature employees who work for you,” Barnes-Hogg said. “This is an excellent way to showcase some of your less sexy positions. You can show your accounting staff helping the community with taxes or your maintenance staff helping build a Habitat for Humanity house.”

  1. Give a sense of meaning

This is especially important to millennials, Barnes-Hogg said. “Millennials primarily want to know that their work matters and makes a difference.”

Pelt finds this in his business as well. “Most people want to feel that they are contributing to something,” Pelt said. “It’s much easier to make an impact even as a low-level employee of a small company than at Google. I’ll take less money to be able to make a greater impact with the work I’m doing.”

The bottom line, Barnes-Hogg said, is all about being human. The more human and truthful a small business is about its culture and what it’s really like to work there, the more attractive it will be for top talent to want to work there.

Wendy Webb is a freelance journalist based in Minneapolis.

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