Tips on approaching recruitment as a small company

Colin Bradshaw gives some tips on approaching recruitment as a small company.

You run a busy and thriving small business and are struggling to break through the next growth barrier. One clear option appears to be extra staff. But there are so many issues surrounding taking extra, or indeed any, staff on. Where do I find them? How do I find the good ones? How do I train them? And, above all, achieve all this while still delivering my day-to-day stuff? Often it appears to be easier and quicker just to do more yourself: you know what to do, you know it has been done properly, and moreover you know exactly how much it has cost to do it. However, this approach condemns you to three things:

1) Never being able to scale your business

2) Always being the limiting factor against any opportunity

3) Not having time to develop you, your business or your product or service.

So you decide you need some extra pairs of hands. Of course it is not easy to find the time to advertise, interview, bring on board and get the value from new employees, so what are the options.

Firstly, there is the straightforward recruitment option but you have to be aware of the following considerations. Make sure you follow the legal and process aspects correctly, ACAS offers some useful guides, but ask yourself these questions:

1) Am I clear on the purpose of the job and what I expect from this person?

2) Am I being fair and open in my selection criteria – avoid the ‘ism’s (ageism, sexism, racism)?

3) Am I clear on my responsibilities on taking on an employee?

But, putting the process and legal elements to one side, there are also some commercial factors to consider. Once you take on a member of staff on you have to assume you are committed to having them for a while. Not that you cannot ‘downsize’, but again there are processes to follow. The key considerations here are, how confident are you that this upturn in business is sustainable? What is your exit strategy if it turns out that it did not have the legs you thought it did? Nobody has a crystal ball but are you sure that this incremental level of business will carry on for a while and is not say just a seasonal affect?

So if you are not sure, are there any more flexible options that can help you grow, but don’t give you the permanent overhead of fully-employed staff?

Fixed-term contracts can give you additional pairs of hands or required skills for a set period of time. As with full-time staff you have to be sure what you are looking for and understand fully your expectations for the role, but the joy of this approach is there is a set end date. Now this can also be a downside as unless you can second guess how long you will need someone for, you might find a fixed-term contract coming to an end and you still have need of that person. You can of course extend but only with the agreement of the person and you have to treat them the same as a standard employee, the only difference being the contract has an end date. This position does effectively change after two years when they gain the same rights as a standard employee. 

The final options are more flexible and would include agency staff (who you hire on an hourly or daily rate direct from an agency), consultants or freelancers, (who you also hire on a daily rate but do so directly) or the more controversial zero hours contracts. These are where you employ someone but do not guarantee either fixed, or indeed any, hours of work. Fans of these contracts argue that they can offer flexibility to both employer and employee but critics claim they tie employees in to the one employer but offer no certainty of income.

Whichever route you take there will be an on boarding process to go through, even if the person is only going to be with you for a few days or weeks. 

Onboarding is critical as it describes what you need to do to make sure the new person knows what to do but also knows how to fit in. You don’t need to have a massive manual, particularly if you are only taking on one or two people, but it is useful to have answered the following questions:

1) Have you explained your business, what it does and how it works?

2) Are there any special processes or procedures people need to know especially in regards to health and safety?

3) Have you explained the role fully and what your expectations are?

4) Who do they need to know either to get the job done or from a social perspective?

5) Have you asked them if they have any needs or requirements, such as training or childcare?

This list is not exhaustive but will give you a view as to what you need to explain and understand. 

It is a dilemma for anyone running a small business who has reached their maximum capacity but knows there is potential for growth either from existing customers or from the wider market. The sad truth is that at this stage you may have to take step backwards to take the bigger steps forwards. Finding and bringing people on board takes time and effort – time you could have spent doing things and earning income within your current set up. However, if you invest this time and effort and find the right people to help you grow your business, then it will pay dividends in increased revenue growth and profitability. It is also the case that once you have taken on one new person then repeating that process becomes easier as your business grows.

There is no easy way to do it, you will make mistakes and it does take time. However if you don’t, then the limiting factor in growing your business is you.

Article by Colin Bradshaw – professor in management practice at the University of Bedfordshire.

Further reading on recruiting staff

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