Small businesses face a common challenge. According to the 2018 Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Summit report, 70% of small businesses struggle to compete for talent and find and retain skilled talent.

At 70 percent, this issue is nearly a pandemic among small businesses.

In fact, according to the Summit (the largest gathering of U.S. small business owners), recruiting was the top barrier preventing small businesses from growing more quickly.

Without the right employees, it’s hard for small businesses to grow and thrive.

So, what’s a small business to do?

The good news is that there are many ways to attract and retain high-level talent. You may just have to play outside of the traditional benefits sandbox.

Let’s take a look at five proven ways your small business can recruit and retain top talent.

1. Offer Flexible Work Schedules

Today’s employees value flexibility.

People live unique and varied lives. And – this may come as a surprise to some – employees are people. (More about this later.)

Flex hours, flex days, and remote work provide employees with the ability to balance their work lives and their personal lives.

Whether your employees struggle to juggle daycare schedules, band practice or trips to the gym, everyone benefits from some flexibility in life.

Ctrip’s Remote Experiment: Chinese travel website Ctrip conducted an experiment where they allowed half of their workforce to work remotely for 9 months.

When the experiment ended, Ctrip found that their employees were 13% more productive working from home than the office and that the business had saved roughly $1900 per remote employee.

Your Action Plan

Offer flex time. Flex time can be executed a number of ways. It can mean having defined windows for arrival and departure (for instance, employees must arrive between 9am – 10:15 and leave between 5pm and 6:15). Or, it can mean that employees can work whatever hours they choose as long as they meet a minimum number of hours or complete a minimum number of tasks.

Budget for flex days. Flex days can also be interpreted a number of ways. Some companies offer days off that are accrued by working extra hours during the days that are worked during the week.

Allow your employees to work remotely. Working remotely simply means working from a location that is not your office. Provide employees with portable laptops instead of PCs so they can take their work on the go.

2. Provide Opportunities for Advancement

The promise of career advancement is a compelling enticement for new hires and current employees.

Higher status, new challenges and an increase in pay are appealing, particularly for the top-level talent small businesses are seeking.

If you want to attract – and hold onto – skilled employees, you have to give them opportunities to grow with your business.

The facts support this.  A 2016 Gallup poll found that 87% of millennials feel that career growth opportunities are important in a job.

Newsflash – millennials are your future employees!

However, small businesses often have short corporate ladders and limited funding for higher salaries.

But, don’t be discouraged. While you may not be able to offer a corner office and a three-figure salary, that’s okay. Small businesses have other traits in their favor.

Your Action Plan

Speak openly and speak often… about the opportunities for advancement at your company. Make sure your job candidates know what the path to advancement looks like at your business.

Keep the conversation going. Continue to touch base with employees once they’re hired. Discuss employee’s strengths and values. And touch base about how they feel about where their career is now… and where they’d like it to go.

Walk the talk. Don’t just talk about advancement – support your employees when the time comes for them to evolve into a new role. Be open to their feedback and give them the autonomy to create their own path if it supports your business.

3. Create a Positive Corporate Culture

The average American spends most of their day at work.

If your business has a toxic work culture – retention will suffer and you’ll have trouble getting quality talent in the door.

But, if you build it (a positive work culture), they will come.

Okay, so maybe your office isn’t the Field of Dreams.

But, a positive work culture has a tremendous impact on your employees.

Emma Seppala and Kim Cameron of the Harvard Business Review write in their article “Proof That Positive Work Cultures Are More Productive“:

…a large and growing body of research on positive organizational psychology demonstrates that not only is a cut-throat environment harmful to productivity over time, but that a positive environment will lead to dramatic benefits for employers, employees, and the bottom line.

Corporate culture can be a mysterious intangible thing. But it is immediately detectable.

Your Action Plan

Acknowledge and reward good work. The Gallup Business Journal  recently shared,

The best managers promote a recognition-rich environment, with praise coming from every direction and everyone aware of how others like to receive appreciation.

Good work can be rewarded with simple words of praise, public recognition in front of peers, monetary bonuses, awards, positive evaluations, and promotions. Just make sure to recognize your employees’ contributions… or they won’t be your employees for long.

Establish corporate values. Millennial consumers are known for their desire to align themselves with brands that share their values. Millennial employees want to feel that their work matters and speaks to values as well.

Foster social connections. Encourage your employees to think of and treat each other as teammates. In fact, research has shown that employees with a “best friend” at work tend to perform better than employees without a close social connection.

4. Treat Your Employees Like People

We’ve all heard that business is business. “It’s not personal.”

But, work is personal. We work with people all day long.

When companies fail to remember that employees are people, those companies falter.

If you want to keep employees around, showing them care as human beings is a great way to do it.

I learned this lesson when I worked as a corporate trainer.

We were taught that our students don’t care what you know, until they know that you care.

So, in order to connect with and successfully train students, it was essential to treat those students with respect and care.

The same is true of employers and employees. Employees respect companies that respect them. And, employees want to invest in companies that invest in them. This reciprocity is actually a documented concept of social psychology.

Your Action Plan

Respect personal commitments and crises. If an employee experiences a death in the family or a medical emergency provide them with the time, space, and support they need to get through it.

Don’t be the employer who says, “Yes, I know you’re having surgery. But, will you be in that day?”

If an employee needs to pick up their kids from daycare, don’t shame them for leaving early. Instead, talk about how to best structure their work so that they can still accomplish all of their goals.

Give your employees the autonomy to do their job in their most productive way. This may mean allowing for flexible hours (which we already know you’re going to start doing, right?), providing a converter to create a standing desk station, or simply refraining from micro-managing.

Support your employees’ well-being. Allow employees to hit the gym during work hours. Offer incentives for making healthy life choices like quitting smoking, exercising or meditating. Or, even initiate your own company health program with access to a gym and personal trainers.

If you care about your people, your people will care for your business.

5. Crowdsourcing as a Talent Scaling Solution

Sometimes, you can get bogged down when hiring for a specific position. At other times, you need only part-time help or someone who can easily scale their hours to match your needs.

In such cases, consider crowdsourcing as a talent scaling solution.

Hiring people is hard. There’s a lot that goes into the decision. From recognizing the need to justifying the costs, sifting through applicants and interviewing standouts, negotiating contracts and onboarding new hires — it’s a complex process with a lot of room for error.

The stakes are even higher for [small businesses and] startups. Every penny spent has got to deliver a return, and new hires take a whole lot of pennies. What’s more, those new hires, if they’re worth their salt, are probably going to turn around and ask you to spend even more pennies to make it possible for them to do their job. This is especially true when it comes to marketing and design.

But this is where crowdsourcing can help minimize risk and maximize return.

There are three distinct ways using crowdsourcing platforms for your creative needs can help you better manage how you scale your team.

1. Temporary talent stop gaps — Let’s face it. Sometimes a [small business or] startup simply does not have the budget to hire a designer full-time. Sometimes they don’t have the money to hire a traditional freelancer.

2. Longer-term Freelance Relationships — One of the really cool things about creative crowdsourcing platforms is that they are a seriously deep talent pool where you’re exposed to tremendous professionals you might not otherwise have been able to reach with your recruitment efforts or in your own searches for assistance on the web.

3. Employment Auditions — Perhaps one of the most underutilized features of creative crowdsourcing platforms is the leveraging of the talent pool for direct hiring purposes. Not only do these projects let you see the design chops of the participants, but they showcase things like communication skills, receptiveness to criticism, work pace, and more.

Many of our clients leverage crowdspring in just this way. Over the past decade, our community of 210,000 creatives has helped some of the world’s best small businesses, entrepreneurs, agencies, Brands and non-profits with logo design, website design, print design, product designpackaging design, and even naming businesses and products.


Katie Lunden is on the customer support team at crowdspring, one of the world’s leading marketplaces for crowdsourced logo design, web design, graphic design, product design, and company naming services. Katie helps entrepreneurs, small businesses and agencies with branding, design, and naming, and regularly writes about entrepreneurship, small business and design.