Small Business Meet People, Discover Talent

by Deborah Ziff Soriano | November 27, 2018

Denver area-based entrepreneur Francis Donovan says one of his biggest challenges was finding a compatible team of employees to help orchestrate a national series of 5K and 10K road races for his small events company.

“We always got a lot of applicants for our jobs,” said Donovan, who sold the business two years ago and now runs Mystemic Marketing, a marketing consulting firm. “The challenge was narrowing it down to who would be the best fit because it’s such a small team. That personality fit is hugely important with a small business, probably more so than someone’s experience or skill-set.”

Donovan's story is not unique. Many small business owners are responsible for juggling dozens of tasks to keep their business afloat and may not have much time to devote to hiring. A 2018 Indeed survey found that 56 percent of small business owners said it was difficult or very difficult to find the right employees. Building a dream team by sifting through Internet listings or responses to want ads can be exhausting and ultimately fruitless. And yet, getting the right person in the job is often crucial for the success of a small business.

Check out these three ways small business owners can source and hire talent:

1. Coworking spaces

Shared workspaces, called “coworking” spaces, can be fertile ground for finding complementary talent. That’s because they attract other small business owners or independent contractors who may have skills that can help you build your own business.

“Referrals are still the number one way people find professional services because it’s a trusted form,” says Nicole Vasquez, co-founder and chief community officer at Deskpass, a monthly coworking membership that provides access to more than 200 shared workspaces in major cities across the country. “With coworking, I feel like I make informed decisions. Instead of having to sift through 300 listings for an accountant, you now can ask people through referrals or can vet them yourself indirectly by seeing them every day.”

Small business owners say the shared workspaces create a sense of community and an immediate network. Depending on the space, they may be able to attend events like meet-ups, happy hours or group brainstorming sessions.

Vanessa Jackson-Lopez and her husband, Calvin Jackson, who frequently work out of coworking spaces to run their Chicago-based creative agency, The LemonAd Stand, say they met their business partner when they attended a monthly meet-up where he was speaking on app development.

“It’s a matter of being friendly and getting to know the people around you,” Jackson-Lopez says. “Keep a digital contact list of people you meet at these places because you never know when you’re going to need someone with that skillset.”

two men in suits shaking hands

2. Professional networking events and conferences

Getting involved in professional organizations — attending local meetings or national conferences — can be another useful way to grow your team.

John Sterrett, founder of Austin, Texas-based Procure SQL, an IT consulting firm, says his network grew by being an active member of an association of data professionals who use the Microsoft data platform, SQL Server. The first two hires he made for his business, a marketing administrator and database administrator, came directly from a user group in Austin.

Sourcing employees through the professional group meant he wasn’t starting from scratch when he reached out to them about a job. He already knew their likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses.

“That made it to the point where the interview process was more of just a formality,” he says. “I already knew everything I needed to know if they were going to be a good fit.”

3. Hire from within

Hiring an intern can be a win-win for both the small business owner and the intern. The entrepreneur gets labor at a discounted rate and the intern gets a taste of what it takes to work in that environment and hands-on experience.

Internships are a good way for both employers and employees to see whether a full-time role is the right fit, both financially and in terms of career development.

Donovan said he found interns for his event marketing and production business by posting on local college job boards. It was a low-risk trial period. The intern got a sense for whether he or she would want to work for his company and Donovan got a chance to check out a potential employee before having to commit to a permanent hire.

Finding someone with staying power is important for a small business.

Internships are a good way for both employers and employees to see whether a full-time role is the right fit.
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“You invest a lot of time training people how to do the job; teaching them the intricacies of the industry and the position,” Donovan says. “If they leave after a couple months, it’s really hard on a small business. Finding someone who’s at least going to stick around for a year or two is really important.”

Deborah Ziff Soriano

is a Chicago area-based freelance writer. Her work has appeared in U.S. News & World Report, the Chicago Tribune and AAA Magazine.