How to recruit and retain talented employees

August 2020


Employees are the lifeblood of any small business. Recruiting and retaining the right staff dictate whether they survive or thrive.

We look at how to approach hiring, finding staff and retaining them to help you plan your approach to recruitment and retention.  

How do you know who to hire first?

Running a small business often feels like you're trying to keep lots of plates spinning. You work across a range of tasks from social media to finances. So, when it comes to hiring it can be difficult to know where to start. 

Try writing down the different tasks you have to do on post-it notes and grouping them by type. Your marketing pile could include writing a newsletter, posting to Twitter and email outreach. 

What groups could you delegate? Where are your weaknesses? Where are you spending time and not adding value? 

Look for piles of tasks that represent large amounts of work you’re not good at. Keep in mind how you want the business to grow and how that workload will increase. 

Do you need a full-time employee? 

There are lots of ways to engage staff. Internships, apprenticeships and temporary staff help reduce risk and cut costs. They also provide an excellent route to recruiting new staff. 

You can test potential recruits by retaining them on a self-employed basis or giving them a short-term internship. This gives you an amazing insight into the quality of their work and the way they fit into the business. 

There is financial support available to help small businesses operate internships and apprenticeships. The government advice on taking on an apprentice includes a section on available funding. 

Where do your ideal employees spend their time? 

Small businesses lack the reach of their corporate counterparts. But they do have the personal touch and it's becoming more and more popular to work for a small company. 

Think about what events will allow you to get in front of potential recruits. University fairs and job boards provide access to graduates. Jobcentre Plus provides advice for businesses and can be used to post adverts. 

Industry events are useful too. Search for events related to the discipline you’re hiring for and spend time networking. For example, there might be a local meet-up for marketing experts. People are generally happy to make recommendations when they know you are looking to hire and have met you in person. 

Advertising on generalist job boards can lead to lots of applications and a long sifting process. It's possible to identify more targeted advertising opportunities. Think about the websites and publications your potential recruits interact with. This might be discipline-specific or something that’s regionally focused. 

What recruitment process will provide the most insight? 

A thoughtful recruitment process helps ensure small businesses get the right employees and reduces the risks of a bad hire. There are a number of elements to consider:

1. Recruiting staff: An informal chat 

Chatting to potential recruits outside of an office environment helps to understand more about their personality and potential cultural fit. 

A company's first few employees set the precedent. Whoever you hire after that will emulate the behaviour they see. It's crucial to get it right in the early stages of building a business and worth investing the extra time. 

2. Recruiting staff: Structured interview 

Formal interviews provide an understanding of what a candidate is capable of and how they act in a professional environment. Using a list of standard questions helps remove biases and create a unified approach across the business. This doesn't mean you can't ask role specific questions or delve deeper. 

Think about including a staff member from elsewhere in the business to check for cultural fit and provide perspective.

3.  Recruiting staff: Job-specific tasks 

Setting tasks provides a crucial insight into how potential employees work. This could include a role play for salespeople or a written test. 

A more involved approach is to offer candidates a small amount of money to complete a simple project. This means it's fair to ask for their time and you can learn about how they work and gain insight into a problem you're trying to solve. 

On-boarding is crucial to staff retention 

On-boarding is crucial to retention. The process needs to start before the new employee's first day. Make sure they have all the information they need to prepare. Think about inviting them to important meetings or social events too, although you have to be sensitive about the time commitment. 

Make a big deal about new hires. Small businesses have the opportunity to run a social occasion or office-based celebration for every new hire. You can also make an announcement on social media, internal email and the company website. 

Connecting new staff members with someone outside of their chain of command can help. This will embed them in the social and cultural aspects of the company and give them someone to talk to about any issues. 

Try to collect feedback about the hiring process. Ask new recruits to submit information about what worked and what didn't, anonymously if possible. Learn from this and keep improving the process. 

Whichever of these tactics you use it's important to spend time thinking about how you can improve your hiring process. The success of your small business depends on it. 



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