Competing with bigger businesses for talent? Here’s how you can use size to your advantage.

When it comes to attracting and retaining talent, it’s easy to presume small businesses are at a disadvantage. After all, big companies often have greater brand awareness, prestige, higher salaries, trendy perks...

Any candidate would be crazy to choose a small business over a big player, right?


In so many ways, small businesses have a competitive advantage over bigger brands. Culture, connection, impact, value … all these things come to the fore in small businesses.

But too often, smaller players constrain themselves by believing they’re second best. Many employer branding agencies operate by the same belief by mostly working with large companies, focusing on how to turn these well-known brands into even better-known ones.

Of course, small businesses also need to drive their brand awareness to attract talent. But here’s the critical difference: you don’t need the whole world to know about you … but you do need the right talent to know about, and appreciate, your employer brand.

So, how do small businesses find the talent they need?

Firstly, let’s dispel a few myths:

Myth 1: You need to be a household name

If you think people prefer to work for bigger, better-known organisations, think again. Sure, some people might. But certainly not everyone.

In fact, many people find they’re better suited to (and perform better in) smaller organisations. This is particularly the case for people who have experienced both worlds. How many of us left school, went to university, and dreamed of working for a big brand - only to find the reality was vastly different from what we thought it would be?

Myth 2: It’s all about viral campaigns and views

Launching a massive above-the-line recruitment campaign might get you some reach and clicks. But will it get you quality applications from people who perform and do well? Probably not.

If you’re a hair salon wanting to hire more staff, you don’t need accountants, aged care workers, mechanics, engineers and every profession under the sun to know about you. But you do need hairdressers to know about you! And you don’t need a million views - you need one or a few great hires!

Your talent strategy should be exactly that: strategic. Invest in connecting with and inspiring the talent you need.

Myth 3: You need to offer big salaries and benefits

People want to get paid. That’s fundamental to employment. But once that box is ticked, then what? What do employees in 2023 and beyond really want?

If we look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, many of the people you’re seeking to hire aren't doing too badly. Most are fortunate to know where they’re sleeping tonight, and they have the basics covered.

Our CEO, Mark Puncher, says that what people truly want in their careers (and to reach self-actualisation) are:

And these four fundamentals are where small businesses intrinsically have the upper hand.

“It’s one thing to feel valued, but critically, people want to feel valuable, they want to know that what they do actually makes an impact. Where are you likely to feel more valuable - in a small organisation or a large one? It’s so easy for people to feel like a number in a company of thousands. But if you’re a small business, you have a real opportunity to nurture a culture of connection and let people know they truly matter.” says Mark.

So, if we agree that small businesses have the ability to give people what they want in a career (connection, impact, value), then what’s going wrong? Why are small businesses struggling to find - and keep - great talent?

The answer is simple.

Small businesses consistently fail to tell their story.

You are unique - your offering, your team and the culture that connects them. How can you share that to capture the attention and imagination of people who would thrive with you?

Here are five places to start:

1. Turn your job ads into a magnetic mirror

What do your job ads say? To stand out from your competitors, you must highlight the nuances of your culture and the connection between your people.

For example, if you have a team of 50, that looks and feels very different to a team of 50,000. Every single one of those 50 people is seen, and they matter. And they’re likely to be much closer to the action and impact they crave. Do your job ads tell that story? Or do they say the same old things as everyone else? (Check out our video on how to avoid cliches and say what you really mean in your job ads.)

If so, you’re definitely not alone. So, learn how to inject your personality, culture and points of difference into your job ads. Want some help? Give us a call.

2. Invest in uncovering and crafting your unique, authentic employee value proposition

Employee value propositions (EVPs) can be pretty complex (and expensive) if you’re a large organisation. But if you’re a small business, they definitely don’t need to cost the earth, and they’re SO powerful.

If you’re going to do it, we recommend (and yes, we are biased!) using an external provider who really understands employer branding - especially for small businesses - and how to activate it in your ads.

3. Create authentic content … with a strategy

Content refers to your job ads, of course, but also your social media, website copy, images, videos, and people stories.

You don’t need a big budget to create and share content. In fact, when it comes to talent, authentic content will outperform expensive, hyped-up stuff any day of the week. The key is to get the fundamentals of how to put it out there right.

For starters, craft a few stories that showcase your people and culture. Instead of simply re-sharing them over and over, you can re-angle and re-purpose them to create hundreds of pieces of content. Think employee testimonials, blog posts, social media posts, graphics, website banners, and so much more.

4. Nurture the candidate experience

Large organisations have the budget and resources for specialists not only in talent attraction, but also in the interviewing and selection process. When you’re a small business, you don’t always have that luxury. Often, you’re the one conducting the interviews!

It’s hands-on and hectic. But being part of that process is so worth it.

Your presence, by default, can create a great candidate experience from the outset. Think about it: how many people applying for a job at a big organisation are interviewed by the CEO or another senior leader? With a small business, they’re not meeting a recruiter - they’re meeting you, the face and the engine of the business. What a fantastic opportunity to nurture their experience of your culture from the get-go.

5. Listen to your people

Here’s the thing no one talks about in employer branding: listening to your people is one of the most powerful things you can do.

If you want to attract better talent (and retain the people you have), talk to your team members. Genuinely listen to their perceptions and experiences of the organisation they work for (remember, it will be different to the organisation you work for!). Learn from them so that you can improve the business, together.

And that’s the key. Remember how we talked about people wanting to feel not just valued, but valuable? What better way to make your people feel valuable than by listening to their story, engaging them, and involving them in your organisation’s improvements, direction and strategy? Try doing that if you’re a global conglomerate with an overseas HQ! Not easy!

So, in case you didn’t get the memo: small businesses have a super strong talent offer! You have an amazing opportunity to capture the hearts and minds of current and future talent. Now’s the time to grab it!

And if you’d like help articulating and amplifying your employer brand or simply want to continue this conversation, please contact us - we’d love to hear from you.

About the Author

When Lauren Forcey isn’t writing compelling content that amplifies an organisation’s employer brand, you’ll either find her running stupidly long distances or eating snacks. Actually, she’s usually doing both, at once. She’s also a mum, wife, journalist and former small business owner ... and still wrestles with the fame that came with winning the healthy cake baking competition at the Royal Darwin Show one year. As Senior Storyteller at EBA, Lauren uses the power of storytelling to give an authentic insight into the people, values and culture of an organisation, touching hearts and inspiring people to act!

About Employer Branding Australia

We exist to help you attract the best talent and keep them engaged. Together, we’ll create and promote your 'Why work for us?' and turn your authentic people stories into your most powerful marketing tool.

Contact us today for a free, honest assessment of your employer branding opportunity.


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