Amanda McCulloch, Chief Executive of TMM Recruitment, suggests that rather than trying to compete with bigger players, small businesses should turn their nimbleness and entrepreneurial story to their advantage.

All too often, smaller businesses and start-ups are at a disadvantage in the employment market because established and larger companies are assumed to have more to offer prospective employees.

Smaller, more agile businesses should turn the tables on their larger rivals and showcase what makes them great places to work.

Set the scene

Potential employees need to be able to connect with your story. Oftentimes candidates are attracted to smaller businesses because of the nature of the challenging work, or the new technology which is being developed. Understanding the passion and drive that has got your business to where it is today will attract the people who can help you take it to the next level.

The right person could be hiding in plain sight, but if you’re not crafting and sharing your story your target audience won’t know you exist. For example, a senior executive with a corporate background might be ready to move to a non-profit organisation because it is aligned with their personal aspirations, or to a company which is trying to bring a product to market which has the potential to create a meaningful difference – whether through improved efficiency or sustainability.

Ask the right questions

Having set your business apart, make sure your interview does not fall short. In addition to delving into the skills and attributes match, discover how the candidate’s personal goals align with your business goals. If you employ people who can achieve their career goals while helping to progress your business then this should be a successful, and potentially long lasting, partnership.

Communication and storytelling will stand you in good stead once your new employee is on board because they will understand the vision for the business and should be able to see the part their role plays in achieving that vision.

Despite this, there’s still the potential for things to unravel if the executive is not crystal clear on job content, in-house systems, and team support. Explore expectations during your interview conversation because although it’s unrealistic to expect the level of systems or personal assistance that are available in large companies – many candidates do! If they are not excited about being “hands on”, then it will never work.

Have the answers

Entrepreneurial start-ups are associated with risk. It’s reported that almost 60% of UK small businesses fail in their first three years. Potential employees worth their salt will have done their research and will expect you to show, in as many ways that you can, that the business is a solid investment of their time. Be prepared to explain to potential employees how they will develop in the business and be part of the growth and story.

The offer

All too often smaller businesses fail to recruit the candidates they want because they are unable to compete on salary. It’s time to get creative and think beyond the traditional salary and benefits offer.

Tax efficient pension contributions, flexible working times, reduced hours, remote working, flexible benefit plans, salary uplifts tied to personal performance and bonuses linked to individual, team and company-wide goals may suit your business.

Incentivising someone to join the company through profit share, equity package or share options which can be exercised in the future are powerful tools. In medium sized, large, and publicly listed organisations independent remuneration committees are responsible for implementing reward policy but small businesses tend to seek advice from accountants on tax efficient, HMRC approved schemes. Appropriate, attainable targets are important levers during offer negotiations and link personal motivation to the interests of the business once the executive is in post.

The job description is another area where a smaller company’s agility comes into play. Once the primary responsibilities have been agreed there is scope to develop the job organically, fully utilising the employee’s talents in the business while increasing their engagement and productivity. Surely a win for everyone.

Chemistry & Culture

Often when catching up with candidates after a job interview, they’ll talk about whether they felt they made a connection with their interviewer – it’s gives them a feel for whether the interview has gone well or not.

It’s this connection that they want to cultivate once they take up their new post so it’s vital that there’s continuity between the interview, hiring and onboarding processes to ensure a smooth start for the new employee and to set the stage for a successful working partnership.

Smaller companies operate without layers of bureaucracy and a positive work culture where individuals feel valued and supported can develop quickly. It sets the scene for teamwork, “being in it all together” and alludes to the opportunity for professional growth and development. There is an opportunity for employees to make their mark with fast-track promotion, and significant career development for people who want to take on more responsibility.

Try before you buy

In a small business, the smallest change can have a big impact on overall team dynamic. Offer, no, insist a potential recruit spends the day in your business getting a feel for the people and job. It’s an immersive experience and an opportunity to reinforce the job content, systems and team support point mentioned earlier in this article.

Outside the box

When recruiting, covering all bases is key for smaller businesses and they must play to their strengths. By taking this approach and capitalising on the differences between themselves and larger employers they can widen their recruitment pool, and in the longer term truly benefit their business.