How can SMEs attract and retain the right talent during an economic downturn?

By Stefano Maifreni, Founder and CEO of Eggcelerate


Are the brightest people always attracted to large enterprises? And if so, how do smaller companies stand any chance of winning and retaining their talents?

If you’re a small or medium-sized enterprise (SME), hiring the right people can make a massive difference to your company’s success. However, you’ll probably be competing for talent against more prominent brands with more kudos and higher salaries, which can feel intimidating.

That said, it’s possible to punch above your weight and add exceptional people to your team — if you think carefully about crucial stages in the hiring process and beyond. Here’s what you need to bear in mind.


Tip #1: Understand your audience

 Some humility is needed here. You may be excited about your business, but the people you want to attract may not know you even exist. Many people think joining a small company could mean a dead-end job in the business backwaters. You need to recognise and overcome fears like these.

Stefano Maifreni


Tip #2: Position your brand

 Your target audience will want to know about your vision, mission and values. They’ll look on your website and maybe LinkedIn too. It is an excellent opportunity to tell your story clearly and creatively. Avoid bland, corporate-wannabe jargon. Sound different. Project energy and direction.


Tip #3: Play to your strengths

 Some people hate the suffocating politics of the corporate world and dread being a small cog in a giant machine. So you could use this to your advantage and position yourself as the plucky outsider, the free-thinker and the agile risk-taker. You may want to talk about your open culture and how people are listened to — and have access to your CEO.  


 Tip #4: Draft the job description carefully

 Put the person at the centre of your story. Explain that an incoming employee can make an impact. Appeal to ambitious people by talking about how you’ll be looking to develop their talents and use their ideas to shape your company’s future. Don’t lock down the job description too tightly; SMEs must adapt quickly. You may also wish to be flexible about working hours and other benefits, making you more attractive to some candidates.


Tip #5: Do the recruiting yourself

 There’s a risk that recruitment agencies adopt a cookie-cutter mentality. But SMEs rarely look for off-the-shelf employees, and someone with a mix of skills may have added appeal. Respond to candidates quickly and professionally. Even large enterprises can slip up here, appearing rude and distant. Be warm and personal.


Tip #6: Select team players

Don’t just look for experience – consider potential. Within SMEs, people often need to be all-rounders, adaptable and good under pressure. It’s a common mistake to choose people with core skills but neglect soft skills. Even if someone is a genius, poor people skills can kill teamwork, destroy morale and sink a company. Hire people who are gifted, positive and likeable.


Tip #7: Avoid a ‘panic buy’ 

Plan ahead for recruitment, don’t leave it until you’re desperate to hire someone … anyone! That’s like going shopping when you’re starving and buying junk food. Even if the process is long and exhausting, don’t hire someone because you’re at the point of almost giving up. Take a deep breath and begin again.


Tip #8: Start well

 Once you’ve hired someone, plan their induction. Ensure they feel welcome from day one. Ensure their PC, laptop, mobile, email address and everything else is there waiting for them. Help them to feel part of the team. Ensure your company lives up to your vision.


Tip #9: Develop initiative

 Plan frequent feedback initially, then make the employee more independent and accountable. Give them objectives but don’t be too rigid. Allow them to own their role and use their initiative because how they do tasks (and interact with others) can be just as important as whether they hit your targets.


Tip #10: Gain the benefits

 See the hiring process as an opportunity to sharpen up as a business. It could catalyse broader benefits — from how you position the company and tell your story to potential clients to how you treat other employees and generally handle appraisals.


Parting advice

 I’ve worked with SMEs for years. Poor recruitment almost brings a company to its knees — and successful hiring enables businesses to grow spectacularly. Key individuals can have a massive influence … for bad or good.


Stefano Maifreni Bio

He has a background in the ICT industry, where he worked for blue chips and FTSE250 companies. Subsequently, He further developed and diversified his experience working closely with a portfolio of growing companies and start-ups in technology-intensive and innovative sectors, such as IT, Technology Manufacturing, Drones, IoT, AI, GreenTech and Insure/FinTech.

Stefano is the Founder of Eggcelerate. If you are a CEO of a small B2B business experiencing flat-lined results, Eggcelerate’s FlexCOO service will help you achieve focus and sustainable growth and bring your business back on track.

He has P&L management, international expansion experience, and international and intercultural expertise in managing, developing and leading cross-functional teams in complex environments.

Stefano is an Executive MBA graduate of the London Business School and a published author (Forbes, The Guardian, The Telegraph, and various SME-focused publications) on topics from Strategy to People and Operations.




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