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3 Things Small Business Can Do to Compete with Big Business for Talent Small businesses can lure talent away from bigger organizations if they do three things that align with what job seekers want.

By Cynthia Kay

Key Takeaways

  • Employees will come to you if you show that your small business provides faster opportunities for growth and work-life balance.
  • If an employee is interested in a particular idea, support them.
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You see it everywhere. "Now Hiring," "Benefits from Day One," or "Join our Team."

Everyone is searching for employees, and if you are a startup or small business trying to hire them, the statistics are scary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 9.8 million open jobs in the US. Even with people entering the workplace by the thousands, there are still not enough workers. Large businesses with massive recruitment efforts and great benefits find it difficult to recruit talent.

So, you might wonder if a smaller entity can compete. Yes. I have lured talent from bigger organizations such as retailers, media networks and global manufacturers. How? By showing that small business provides faster opportunities for growth and work-life balance.

Here are three things that small businesses can do to attract talent.

Related: How Entrepreneurs Can Find Great Talent Despite a Labor Shortage

1. Provide greater flexibility

Most small businesses are not overly corporate. Policies and procedures are simpler and do not need to be one-size-fits-all. As you recruit, telling potential employees that you are open to options is a huge plus. Can an employee work from home one or two days a week? Can you provide flexibility in work hours? Can an employee request time off without endless approvals?

Pay is important. But numerous workplace studies show that flexibility is "very important" to job seekers. The goal is to get work done and be responsive to customers. At a small business, where and how that happens can be accomplished in many ways. When it comes to work-life balance, the pandemic forever changed what employees want from employers. The bottom line is this: people want to know that you care about their well-being and provide flexibility. Share that when trying to attract talent.

Related: How to Attract and Retain Employees in the New Age of Work

2. Offer variety

There is greater structure in larger companies, and individuals have very specific roles and tasks. Without that structure, there would be chaos. In a smaller firm, it is all hands on deck because there are fewer people to shoulder the work. An employee may walk into something new every day. They may have a variety of tasks instead of being slotted into doing one job over and over again. This appeals to those who want to do interesting work that changes day by day. Let's face it; no one wants to be bored at work.

At my company, employees love that they can work on various projects for various customers instead of being assigned to one job or customer account. They do not have to wait in line to get great assignments. We move people around so that they can use their gifts and talents. Part of the week, an employee may be on location working with customers and back in the office the rest of the week.

People like to do what they are good at and have opportunities to try new things. We offer newer employees the opportunity to shadow others so they get the full picture of what we do. We look for fun and creative projects that challenge our skills. If an employee is interested in a particular non-profit and wants to use our media production resources to produce a media project, we support them. It builds their skills and helps us give back to the community. Of course, you can't accommodate every request, but working on these projects at slower times can build culture.

Related: Corporate Charity Is What Inspires Greater Employee Engagement

3. Give employees a voice

It is no surprise that what motivates younger workers is different than their older counterparts. What do they want? They want to be part of the process. They want to participate and make decisions. They want a voice and be consulted about issues or changes related to their job. They need, and usually want, to find new and diverse ways of doing things. Workers like the idea that they can bring something to the organization and implement it without going through endless gatekeepers.

In my organization, employees play an important role in the hiring process. The team generally meets the applicants and interviews them before I do. Why? They must be able to collaborate with them, so they should have the opportunity to weigh in. As a bonus for the company, they become invested in the success of new hires. Team members are also asked to particpate in equipment buying decisions and help develop new products and services. Create these opportunities and then highlight them with potential employees.

Related: The Secrets -- 4 of Them -- to Gaining Employees' Trust

The right fit for a small business

There is one important thing to note when it comes to recruiting. To fill a position, it is easy to try and force a fit with your organization. Over the years, I have discovered that the right employee for a small business is quite different than one that wants to work for a large company. These individuals are enticed by working for a recognizable name or brand. They love impressive titles, structure and benefits. These individuals should work for a large firm. They probably will not do well in a smaller company with fewer hands to do the work, and the landscape is vastly different.

The ideal employee for a smaller firm like mine must be a self-starter. That is because we are "lean" by design. They must be entrepreneurial. An individual that is a good fit for a smaller entity does not wait for someone else to step up and figure it out. They love a challenge.

Finding individuals who are right for your small business is not easy. However, small businesses have much to offer and can compete with the big guys. In fact, we are a great alternative for younger workers and those tired of corporate life. We just have to provide greater flexibility, more variety in the work and the opportunity to have a voice.

Cynthia Kay

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

A small business leader for over 35 years.

Cynthia Kay is Founder of Cynthia Kay and Company, an award-winning media production company. She is an expert in small business and has worked with small business leaders across sectors, industries, and growth stages for 35+ years. She is the author of Small Business. Big Success.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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