Get Creative In The Battle For Talent

Employees are the backbone of any SME: a strong team can set the pace of business growth. Businesses of all sizes are fast realising they are only as good as their workforces, and that bad hiring decisions waste time, money and hamper growth. So how do SMEs position themselves to be able to attract the best candidates so they can make those all-important recruitment decisions?

Small businesses face fierce competition from larger firms that lure folk in with annual trips to Vegas or Chamonix, free food round the clock, beer Fridays and gyms in the office. According to a 2013 survey by CIPD, more than six in 10 employers reported experiencing a ‘war for talent’ with managerial and professional vacancies the most difficult to fill. Recruitment is increasingly cutthroat, in spite of persistently high UK unemployment figures.

But working for the likes of Google isn’t just about the perks, or the salary. From an employee’s perspective, the prospect of developing their skills by working on dynamic projects with talented, forward-thinking people – and learning from them – is incredibly exciting. Talent breeds talent, and working with the best makes you better.

That means, in order to compete, it’s up to SMEs to shout about what sets them apart. Essentially, attracting the best talent requires a self-PR job. Think about and communicate what your business can offer the best candidates that other companies cannot.

For example, there are many highly skilled professionals who would relish the opportunity to shine in a small business, as a big fish in a small pond. It’s likely you can offer a higher level of responsibility than larger firms – perfect for self-starters who want to be instrumental in making a business grow and who care about their career development. You may also be able to offer shares or options, which will not only entice and retain talent but have the added benefit of incentivising business growth.

However, there’s a high cost for the best talent, and that leads me to the second question that SMEs must ask themselves: ‘does this role really merit a full-time, permanent hire’? For selected projects – like top-level strategy or research – SMEs simply may not be able to justify the salary and associated costs of hiring a full-time employee. Hiring interim workers, based in-house or working remotely, is an increasingly popular option.

Fortunately, this is conducive to employees’ approach to working, which is undergoing a seismic shift. Enabled by new technology, people are increasingly shunning the traditional 9 to 5 model, as well as urban living and the daily commute, for greater flexibility and a better quality of life. And this doesn’t just benefit employees.

The old employee/employer contract is giving way to a pay as you go model where businesses cherry-pick from the best available talent and recruit resources to tackle crucial projects. The pool of freelance talent available in online marketplaces for short-term hire, on a project-by-project basis, is now a gulf.

The cost savings for SME employers on tight budgets only paying for the expertise they need, when they need it, are appealing, and there’s the added benefit of being able to test the quality of work before offering permanent positions – a far lower risk recruitment strategy than the traditional CV and interview.

In small and large businesses, freelancers are being engaged for all manner of tasks – from market research and product launches, to contract negotiations and mergers & acquisitions. Independent contractors are also filling senior management roles, to cover periods of absence, manage change or implement strategy. Employers can effectively ‘parachute’ an expert professional into a situation and trust them to focus on their core task, unhindered by the organisational politics and administration that can slow the pace of change.

The quality of freelancers selling skills via online marketplaces varies as dramatically as the quality of candidates seeking permanent roles. The most in-demand professionals can handpick not only which businesses they work with, but what they work on, so talking up your project’s USP is just as crucial as promoting your brand’s credentials.

So winning the war for talent requires a two-pronged attack: shout about why you’re the SME to work for, and get creative about how you hire.

MBA & Company is an online talent marketplace that offers businesses expertise on demand. The platform caters specifically for the top 1% of business professionals worldwide – those with an MBA, MSc or PhD from a top school and at least five years’ experience.