Small Business Staffing: How to Hire the Best Startup Talent

These are the best ways to secure talented new hires for your startup.

Staffing a startup represents a major challenge for many small business owners. While there’s no arguing that bringing on rock star employees can help advance your business objectives (faster than bottom-of-the-barrel applicants) you may not have the leverage of high salaries, exorbitant employee benefits, and other employee perks.

So how can you overcome these challenges in order to secure the best talent for your startup? Consider the following approaches:


Understand Your Value Proposition

Startup life represents a distinctively different culture than what is found within traditional corporations (which, for many employees, is actually a perk). As Rich Sloan, the co-founder of Startup Nation, explains “People get involved in a startup for three reasons. One, they like creating; being part of something new. Two, they want to participate in the upside. Three, they want to live a meaningful life, and the closer you are to the success or failure of a business, the more meaning and purpose you feel.”

Knowing that people are seeking opportunities like the one you have to offer may make it easier to connect with the right type of employees. For example, knowing if a job candidate wants to be a part of something “bigger” could make it easier to identify those who are experienced, but burnt out on traditional corporate life. You could also use their desire to participate in a startup’s upside. Find recent college grads who are skilled, but not yet tied down (i.e., need salaries to support a family).

Once you start looking for new employees, remember that the best people to advertise your company are existing staff members. Providing a monetary incentive for employees who refer successful candidates can be a good way to quickly find talented people who will fit well in your organization and company culture.


Offer Flex Work in Exchange for Lower Salaries

Just because you can’t offer much in the way of compensation to new hires doesn’t mean you have nothing to bring to the table. In fact, as a growing company, you can offer one major selling point that most corporations can’t – remote work arrangements.

A 2011 Cisco study of 3,000 current and recent college students found that two of every five students surveyed said they would accept lower-paying jobs that came with more flexibility in terms of device choice, social media access and mobility – compared to higher-paying jobs with less flexibility.

Today’s workers are more conscious than ever of work-life balance, making them especially attracted to jobs that give them the necessary flexibility to run errands, balance child care and take care of other personal business as needed, on their own schedules. As long as you put the necessary precautions in place to ensure that the work gets done, startups are in an ideal place to offer this highly-sought-after perk to high-performing employees.


Provide Intangible Employee Benefits

Along these same lines, for most people, work isn’t just about being paid to perform a set of tasks. There are plenty of intangible benefits that are considered part of the job selection process that exist outside of compensation negotiations.

For example, you can:

  • Offer to help potential employees secure work visas and permits to live in the U.S. Few companies offer this perk, though doing so can help give you exposure to a much wider pool of talent from around the world.
  • Provide outstanding training and development opportunities. In most cases, offering to assist employees with the cost of pursuing further certifications is much less expensive than providing higher salaries or better benefits – and may pack just as much of a punch.
  • Give employees a percentage ownership in your company. Doing so will provide them with a potentially lucrative tradeoff that encourages taking lower salaries in exchange for future rewards.
  • Create an engaging, ideal workplace. Bring in a massage therapist on Fridays, treat your staff to weekly coffee outings or arrange for on-site dry cleaning pickup. All of this costs substantially less than what you’d otherwise pay top-performing employees, making it an economical way to create the type of work environment that will attract the best employees in a cost-effective way.

Remember, you wouldn’t be a startup entrepreneur if you didn’t have a creative, independent spirit. Put these virtues to work on your human resources strategy, and you should be able to find ways to bring on top talent without overstepping your budget.


AJ Kumar is the co-founder of Single Grain, a digital marketing agency based in San Francisco. Single Grain specializes in helping startups and larger companies with search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media and various other marketing strategies.


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