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Small Biz Coach

How can I attract top talent when my company can’t pay big salaries? Add to ...

THE QUESTION

I need to hire good people, but we are too small to pay the salaries that experienced people are asking from us. How can I attract good people without paying them too much?

THE ANSWER

Small-business owners often feel at a disadvantage because many of the larger companies can pay employees more than they can. There is more to employment than money, though.

Not everyone likes working for large companies for their entire career. They provide great training and experience, but they often lack the “feel” that small companies have. That is worth something to people and that is why you can attract good people to your organization without having to pay more than you can afford. It is your secret weapon.

In my experience, people don’t work just for money. Often the culture, the meaningfulness of their contribution, and the ability to grow personally and professionally weigh large in their decision on where to work.

If you want to win the employment game, you need to find ways for your organization to seem attractive to potential employees. Here is my take on some of the things you can do:

Provide things that large companies can’t

People working in large companies often complain about slow decision-making, too much paperwork and a focus on the company and not the customers.

Smaller companies like yours have the advantage of having fewer managerial layers so you can make decisions much more quickly. Decisions are often made on the fly (not that they should always) and because you are close to your customers, you can react to their needs more rapidly than a large company can.

These are great selling points to people. My experience is that they will forgo some salary for these advantages.

Offer fair compensation packages

Just because you are small does not mean that you can pay significantly less than market rates. You need to know the market rates well and make sure that you can explain to employee prospects why the difference in rates exists. You can get away with paying less, but it has to be for good reasons.

Some of the reasons that I have heard about include:

· More fulfilling work

· Great culture in the company

· Flexibility to deal with family and children needs

· Likes where the company seems to be heading – your leadership

· A broad variety of challenges

Create a company culture that interests people you want to attract

There is nothing better than working at a place that puts a smile on your face. Many times my clients have asked how to create a positive culture in their organizations. The answer I often give is that they are the people creating it through their leadership.

If you want a fun environment, provide outlets for people to have fun. Some owners provide games rooms, after-hours “get-togethers” or other activities that employees are interested in.

If you want open communication, have regular communications with employees individually and as a group. Talk about things that are important to them and that contribute to the success of your company.

Finding the right people

Chances are that when you need someone in a hurry, you won’t find them very easily. That is why you always have to be looking and ready to hire when the right person shows up.

Networking is probably the most effective tool you have. It gives you and prospective employees the opportunity to develop a relationship where you get to know how each other thinks, acts, etc. That is an important part of the interview process.

Unfortunately, most business owners neglect networking because they feel that they are too busy running the business to spend time on it. I think that this is a critical activity that needs to be given priority.

When people find a “fit” that they like with you and the company, their salary will not be their top priority and you will be able to continue to invest in the growth of your business.

I’ve always interviewed good people even when I didn’t need to hire them. Sometimes you may find a place for a perfect person and other times you will benefit from developing a bank of great contacts whom you may hire later when they are available and you are ready. Those have often been my most successful hires.

Have a question for the Globe Small Biz Coach? E-mail smallbiz@globeandmail.com. Anonymity ensured.

Brian Brennan is a senior partner at MAX Potential, an organization committed to assisting clients with the successful growth of their businesses. He actively coaches small and medium-sized business owners in all aspects of their growing companies. He is also chair of TEC Canada.

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