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How Small Businesses Can Compete For Talent With Big Companies How Small Businesses Can Compete For Talent With Big Companies
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How Small Businesses Can Compete for Talent With Big Companies

Northwestern MutualVoice Contributor •  April 28, 2015 | Business and Careers

By Katie Morell

On the northern end of Windsor Street in Summerville, Mass., just across the Charles River from downtown Boston, sits apparel printing company QRST’s. Lately, business has been good. Tech companies pop up weekly near Harvard Square—less than two miles down the road—and that’s been keeping owner Peter Rinnig and his employees busy.

“We will read about a startup getting funding on a Tuesday, and Wednesday we’ll get an email from the founder asking for 500 shirts by Friday,” Rinnig says. “It’s great.”

Rinnig’s operation, which also specializes in printing shirts for concerts and college events, includes nine full-time employees, including himself, and two who work part time. There are several other clothing printing companies in the area, but QRST’s stands out for the tenure of its employees, most of whom have been with the company for nearly a decade.

How does such a small business compete for talent with the bigger players in the market?

According to Rinnig, it all comes down to a simple formula: sincerely caring about his employees, offering fun perks and a friendly atmosphere, and hiring the right people.

Rinnig’s employee Paul is a perfect example. Now one of QRST’s lead printers, Paul started working for the company 10 years ago. During the first summer of his employment, he asked for a week off to tour with his band.

“I allowed him to take that time, and then he asked for two weeks off the following summer. That eventually became six weeks,” says Rinnig. “So now he will disappear every summer, and he always knows that he has a job when he comes back.”

Although Paul’s absence means Rinnig and other employees have to cover his shifts, Rinnig feels that offering such flexibility is worth it to keep a great employee.

QRST’s also offers its employees perks such as occasional free tickets to concerts (a trade for printing event shirts) and sign language lessons.

“One of the employees I’ve had for 11 years is deaf. Everyone in my shop knows sign language because they have to speak with that employee,” he says. “If they want to take a sign language course at night, I will reimburse the cost.”

Rinnig works hard to hire the right people for his business and over the years has learned to trust his intuition. He tries to hire similar personalities so he won’t run into what he calls “an oil-and-water situation.” That dedication to solid hiring helps to create a friendly atmosphere at work.

“I buy lunch for everyone on Friday, and we all have a beer on Fridays around 3:30 p.m., then talk about what we are doing over the weekend,” he says. “I’ve been to some of my employee’s shows. We care about each other outside of work and I think that is really important.”

Roberta Matuson, author of Talent Magnetism: How to Build a Workplace That Attracts and Keeps the Best, provided a few more tips on how small businesses can stay competitive.

1. Spruce up your site. An updated website is vital for attracting top talent. Make sure your site is easy to read and displays all of your job postings, she recommends.

2. Spend time on your job postings. Specify exactly what you are looking for in each of your job postings. Better yet, use what Matuson calls “results descriptions.”

“Skip the boring job description, and talk about the results you expect that person to achieve,” she says. “For example, write that in a specific role a person will have to develop strategies around specific skills and tasks.”

3. Differentiate yourself. Think about how you are different from your competitors, and put that in your job description.

“I was talking to a small business owner with 50 people in his company who takes his employees twice a year to an all-expenses-paid resort,” says Matuson. “I don’t know of too many large companies that do that. As a small business, you have the ability to differentiate yourself.”

4. Be visible. The more you, the small business owner, are out in your community, the better. Great candidates look to work with exemplary leaders, so volunteer with local organizations, apply for awards and talk to journalists about writing stories about your business. Anything you can do to elevate your brand helps bring in the best workers, she says.

5. Talk up your culture. During the interview process, focus on selling your company to the candidate.

“Be intentional and tell them why your company is a great place to work,” suggests Matuson. “Sharing the details of your company’s culture will help bring in the best people.”

Bottom line: Small business owners can absolutely compete with large companies for talent. Focus on your culture; create a friendly, inclusive atmosphere; get out in your community; and you will be well on your way.

Katie Morell is a writer and editor living in San Francisco. She specializes in business, travel, human interest and social justice topics. Her work has appeared in Hemispheres, BBC Travel, Crain’s Chicago Business, American Express OPEN Forum, USA Today, and other print and online publications.

Originally published on Northwestern MutualVoice on

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