What every small business owner needs to know about hiring and recruitment

All about SME recruitment

For many of our small business owner clients, recruitment is one of their biggest bugbears. So much so, that the stress of recruitment is enough to put some small business owners off expanding and investing in business growth.

In this article:

Where do you start with small business recruitment?

Finding and hiring the right talent

Getting help with SME recruitment hiring process

Key job staff retention issues - top tips for SME owners

The idea of finding the right staff, recruiting them, and managing them can be overwhelming. If you feel this way, you’re certainly not alone. A recent survey of 100 CEOs and business owners carried out by HR Duo, found that 69% said they found recruitment difficult.

Even when it’s clear that you need to add staff to meet your business’s potential, actually going through with it and, ideally, making a success of it, might seem like something that’s out of your reach. But fear not! As well as providing you with vital business finance, we also have some helpful guidance on recruitment. And guess what? We’ve written this guide with small business owners specifically in mind.

Where do you start with small business recruitment?

The first step in the recruitment process for small businesses is to define the role. You need to consider what work needs to be done, how long it will take and what you can pay. These are the fundamentals of finding the right candidate and making a success of your recruitment process.

A clearly defined role is important to finding the right candidate and also to minimising HR issues further down the line. If there’s a lack of clarity in the job description, problems are likely to occur later on. Candidates should know what is expected of them from the outset.

Quick look - Starting out with recruitment

  • Clearly establish what needs to be done

  • Define what skills and experience you need from a candidate

  • Calculate how much you can afford to pay

  • Set out the job description in detail

  • Consider whether your small business is an attractive place to work and make any changes needed.

Finding and hiring the right talent

This is probably the aspect that most SME owners find particularly problematic. A survey by Forde HR Cloud asked business owners what their biggest issues were when it came to recruitment and the majority were to do with finding the right people. For 50%, applicants’ lack of skills and experience was an issue, while 27% simply had a lack of applicants in general. Then, some 19% found that applicants had ‘challenging salary expectations’.

So, when it comes to attracting great candidates for your role, how do you go about it? If you’ve carried out all the steps in the ‘quick look’ box above, you’re part of the way there. Candidates want to apply for a job with a clearly defined job description, and that details expectations, salary and benefits.

Advertising your vacancy isn’t always easy. If you’re on a budget or if you’re worried about competing with much larger recruiters and employers, try putting in the groundwork yourself and using your network to your advantage. Instead of sitting back and waiting for great candidates to apply for your role, consider seeking out the right candidates yourself, through your existing network and through social media and LinkedIn.

These tools are incredibly useful to smaller businesses looking for candidates with specific skills. A message to the right person, with a friendly, personable tone, explaining a little about your business and offering to chat through the role, might be much more effective than simply posting an ad.

If you don’t want to spend time or big money on your recruitment, you could do much worse than posting your job advert with one of the larger online job ad sites. These often offer free and paid-for options, and spending a relatively small amount to boost your advert in the ‘search results is likely to be money well-spent.

Recruitment sites worth considering:





LinkedIn Jobs

Guardian Jobs

Once you start interviewing, there are a few tips and tricks that can help you assess the candidates and their suitability for the role:

  • Request candidates complete a short test that will help you assess their skills

  • Ask them to provide examples of previous work if relevant

  • Assess their cultural fit with the right types of questions. There are some great examples here

  • Don’t feel you have to fill every second - pauses help to encourage candidates to give full answers

  • Consider a recruitment agency to help you interview candidates

Getting help with SME recruitment hiring process

We appreciate that this takes time and effort on your part. If you don’t have the time to dedicate to this, or don’t have a member of staff you can delegate the task to, it might be worth working with a recruitment agency to help you track down the right match.

Outsourcing your recruitment to a professional recruitment firm may be pricey, but the financial benefits of finding the perfect candidate, who contributes to business growth, will exceed the costs many times over.

Choosing a recruitment agency may seem like a daunting task as there are hundreds of them out there. For specialist roles, consider an agency that is dedicated to these skills/your particular industry. They will have the inside knowledge as well as great candidates already on their books. If you’re looking for temporary staff, try a temp agency, which will have a range of flexible workers on file. They should be able to sort through quickly providing you with quick access to talent when you need it most.

A general high street recruiter might be the best and cheapest option, if you're looking to fill a more generic administrative role, for instance.

Key staff retention issues - top tips for SME owners


Many of our SME clients find that they lack the working capital needed to invest in training for their new recruits. Obviously, a lot of training can be done by existing team members or by business owners themselves. However, in some situations, more specific training may be required. Here are our tips:

  • Plan out your training requirements thoroughly

  • Set clear training goals

  • Start with the basics and build up

  • Hold regular training sessions for several staff members at the same time

  • Ask staff where they feel they are lacking skills

  • Consider small business loans to pay for external training expertise

Professional development

Most staff members will want to have an idea about how their career can develop within your company. You may feel that you can’t offer much by way of career development or incentives for loyalty and long service, but think again:

  • Consider incentives for long service, such as extra holiday days or benefits

  • Performance related bonuses are effective in generating loyalty

  • Offer opportunities to cross-train so that staff can pick up news kills and even move around within the company

  • Offer stints or sabbaticals to other offices or branches if possible

  • Delegate managerial and leadership tasks and roles to promising staff

  • Be open to creating senior roles for the right people

Giving your staff autonomy and control over their own work and area of the business, is a great way to boost engagements, loyalty and productivity. At the same time, it's important to recognise when staff members perform well in response to being given control. Complete this cycle of leadership and you'll have happy, fulfilled staff and a better performing business as a result.

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