How to Find Good Employees for Small Business

Posted on January 18, 2021

As someone who has worked for a number of small organizations (and not too long ago, joined a large global employer) I can tell you that there are a number of benefits of working for small businesses. While big brands are offering talent a plethora of compensation perks, small organizations often get overlooked in finding good employees for their business. Why? I believe it’s the perception that hiring top talent starts and ends with salary. Or lack of Foosball tables and free coffee.

According to recent LinkedIn research, while job postings from small businesses have declined by 22% (as a result of the uncertainties around the current economic landscape) – workers are looking to join small firms that have a clear vision and provide opportunities for rapid advancements.

As a matter of fact, data shows that employees at smaller companies are 34% more likely to receive a promotion and 74% more likely to become managers.

Something that is becoming highly uncommon in larger organizations which are looking to go lean, perform cuts to improve operations and have senior leaders who have held their roles for a significant amount of time (lack of growth opportunities for fresh talent). So how does this translate into small business opportunities?

I will outline below various factors, backed by personal experience and studies, on the often overlooked ways in which small business can attract talented employees.

Sell Community (Internal & External)

How to Find Good Employees for a Small Business: CommunityDuring my full-time role at CIS Office Plus I truly got to witness the power of small business community, both within the organization and the geographic communities that they served. I was working for the head office that served about ~20 independently owned stores across Canada. Mostly in tertiary markets (small cities/towns/rural communities). Think of the setup as a Canadian-owned Staples. Except that each location had an independent owner operating under the brand name.

What really impressed me during my time there was the close-knit support and assistance that each of these independent locations provided to one another. In some cases, even when their markets overlapped and they competed.

It was like one big family working together, finding ways to compete with the Amazons and Staples of the world. It worked. Still does! I know this may sound cliche and cringey, but it was on full display without any of the BS.

Additionally, the work that they put in within their communities was unbelievable. It was not done for some ulterior motive (positive PR, although it came as an intangible benefit) – they truly did participate in local non-profit events, fundraising and support of locally needed programs. They have been doing so for years and in return, those communities support them. Creating one big local ecosystem of economic uplifting – making a difference economically and personally.

This plays a huge role in hiring talent that believes in the power of socially responsible operations and growth. Much of which represents new talent entering the workforce. It’s different than simply writing a big cheque and sending it off to an organization that everyone has heard of, taking publicity photos and writing releases along the way. It embeds this level of giving back into the daily operations of your small business identity.

When talking about perks and benefits for new hires, do your business mention any of the following?

  • community efforts
  • ongoing sponsorships or support of local organizations (youth sports teams, non-profits, fundraisers, etc)
  • values and mission
  • supportive work environment

If not, it might be time to put these to the forefront of every job listing going forward.

Emphasize Contribution

How to Find Good Employees for a Small Business: Benefits I’m sure all of us at some point in our careers have felt a significant level of importance, contribution and satisfaction when our work effort is clearly connected to success. This tends to be less common in larger organizations where most employees feel like they are a small cog in the machine.

In smaller organizations, even the smallest task plays a significant role in helping the business succeed:

  • providing exceptional customer service that results in a positive customer reviews
  • closing a big accounts that exceed goals
  • implement new technology that improves efficiency

These are just some examples. Small business leaders can place emphasis on this by connecting the daily work of every employee to the direct growth or performance of the organization. Connect all of these “small tasks” to the outcomes of the company as much as possible. It illustrates the importance of everyone involved and gives the perception that they are a big part of organization. You can do this on a team by team basis, or an individual level. Just ensure that it is done regularly.

Counter Big Company Benefit Perceptions

How to Find Good Employees for a Small Business: PerksPool tables? Free coffee? Daily catered lunches? While this sounds unbeatable – there are plenty of alternatives that small business can offer. These “fun, in office perks” such as a pool table are great initially, but down the road every person wants to have the freedom to manage their own career path and personal ambitions.

As someone who comes from a European background, where the standard paid vacation days range from 20-24 days per year regardless of experience level (yes, you read that number right) – I feel like this is a huge missed opportunity that many organizations in Canada overlook. We as Canadians (both employees and employers) underestimate the huge benefits of taking regular time off. As a matter of fact, one study shows that majority of bosses agree that vacation IMPROVES employee’s focus and prevents burnout.

Instead of trying to compete on higher salaries or funky cafeteria rooms (which can add up in operating costs) why not consider offering a starting 4 or 5 week paid vacation?

That many days of paid vacation sounds absurd, doesn’t it? That is 20-25 days out of the office the whole year! It doesn’t sound so absurd considering that a recent Glassdoor survey found that the second most wanted benefit by majority of talent entering the workforce is vacation/paid time off (only behind comprehensive healthcare insurance). Meaning that large organizations will be limited by this factor – most having policies in place that prevent a potential hire from joining due to time off shortfalls. Your organization can offer this phenomenal perk and have a significant advantage in attracting top talent.

Think of it this way: you’re giving your talented employee(s) a chance to pursue their personal interests while having them on an affordable salary structure. Additionally, if you’re afraid of covering them while they take time off – this could be a perfect opportunity for you as the leader of the organization or other divisional leaders to cover their role (temporarily, while they are away) and learn the intricacies of their roles so that you fully understand the scope or challenges of their work. This not only helps you put yourself in the employee’s shoes but gives you a chance to understand how you can better support them, and how their work impact the bottom line of your business. Too busy? Why not have a more junior employee take on some of the responsibilities and expose them to new tasks so that they too can learn and grow. It’s a win-win situation all around!

Not open to this idea? Here are some other alternative compensation perks to consider:

  • paid time off for volunteering commitments
  • flexible working arrangements (work from home, varying daily start/end times, etc)
  • learning reimbursements
  • community support
  • wellness top ups

Now keep in mind these are just some ideas that may not be exclusive to small businesses. Think of ways that your unique organization and community works, then find ways to implement meaningful perks regardless of how unorthodox they may seem. You don’t have to follow the norm, you can set your own.

Engage, Engage, Engage

How to Find Good Employees for a Small Business: EngageIn case you were unaware of the benefits surrounding employee engagement, I will provide a few that I think are staggering (source of data):

  • companies with high employee engagement are 21% more profitable
  • employee engagement reduces absenteeism by ~41%
  • good company culture increases revenue by 4x

Engaging employees, however, is much harder than it seems. It’s not simply offering paid lunches every Friday or having a holiday shutdown in December. It requires closely looking at teams, roles and responsibilities and how they play into career aspirations as well as the overall success of the company. As mentioned earlier in the post – emphasizing contributions helps improve employee engagement.  That is just one of the many factors. Each and every employee will have different triggers – pay close attention to employee’s needs. Listen to what they have to say and work directly with them to create an engaging environment.

If you’re looking for some common ways to keep employees engaged – the below list may be a good starting point:

  • recognizing employees makes them feel highly engaged
  • make sure employees have enough challenges and variation in their workday
  • ensure that you set clear expectations from the start
  • timely and BS-free communication (good AND bad updates, without any fluff)
  • support their professional development (training and education)
  • encourage employees to pursue interests outside of work

This is the hardest factor to get right (in my opinion). Not just for small organizations, but for businesses of every size. It takes a lot of effort and understanding of the team – but done right, it can have significant impacts on your organization’s bottom line and the retention of top talent.

Recognize & Reward

How to Find Good Employees for a Small Business: Recognize & RewardYou recall the stat mention in the introduction of this blog – the one that says that 74% of small business employees are likely to become managers? As indicated earlier I truly believe there is misconception among small business owners that money is everything. A lot of younger talent (similar to me) is looking for a way to expand their skill set. To get opportunities to lead a team, learn how to delegate, take ownership of responsibilities, etc. Things that we cannot theoretically or technically master without direct hands-on experience.

Taking a course on running Google Ads will give me tangible skills (and ways to test campaigns) on how to work in the platform. But doing a course on management or team leadership is much harder to do so (regardless of how “hands on” the course or training is).

How often do you recognize someone’s good work in your small business? Do you have conversations your top performing employee? Do you outline a plan on how they can get there? In your job postings, do you mention the opportunity for the person to grow into a leadership role?

Not only are you showing your recognition for the work that they perform but you’re involving them in the steps necessary to take their career to the next level. Interestingly enough, according to some studies about 37% of employees consider recognition the most important method of support. In another report, only 29% of employees are “very satisfied” with current career advancement opportunities while 41% of those employees consider this a very important factor in job satisfaction. What does this mean?

There is an opportunity for small businesses to provide engagement and advancement paths for talented employees. Opportunities that are becoming scarce in large organizations.

Let’s look at a very straightforward example:

Your business is looking to advance digitally as a result of the current economic environment – you want your business to become a strong player in ecommerce. This may be the perfect time to seek specialists, strategists and coordinators that have experience in the field. Give them the opportunity to take the lead with this new initiative. Not only will your organization be getting technical expertise – but you’ll be able to train and nurture someone internally. Opening doors for a bigger level role and an opportunity to build an entire team that will see everyone be more satisfied in their roles and contributions to overall company goals.


I know that was quite the lengthy read. But it is such an exciting and important opportunity that I feel a lot of smaller organizations miss out on. Which always makes me curious: how many smaller organization are willing to try any of these efforts? Something completely different and unique? I’d love to hear your experience in the comment section below.