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How to attract the best senior talent when your business is just starting out


It’s one of the great dilemmas of starting a business – How do I attract the best people who will produce great work and attract great clients, if I only have limited funds and a small body of work to inspire them with?

Hiring the best talent straight off the mark is not easy, not cheap and it can be risky.  It may be tempting to take the ‘safer’ option of hiring less experienced staff at the start with the intention of attracting more experienced talent as the business grows. But they will most likely struggle as they won’t be as experienced and the owner will likely burn themselves out by taking on too much of the workload.

With more senior staff able to produce great work from the get go, you gain momentum much faster as your reputation for great work grows, attracting more clients and people who want to work for you.

While it might leave you biting your finger nails in the short term as you’ve had to invest up front to secure great talent, it will give you a better chance of making a bigger profit in the long term.

But it takes more than a promise of a big salary to lure great talent to an emerging business.  Here are some of the things I’ve done in my business to attract and retain great talent.

Use recruiters

Choose a recruiter that you like and that likes you.  They must understand what you’re trying to do and be really enthusiastic about it – this will mean they will head hunt more effectively for you.

Because they are in your corner, they’re selling you to potential prospects that aren’t actively looking for new opportunities.

Sell them the vision

Once you’ve found a prospective employee, you need to sell them your vision for the business, why you’re different or better, and why you’ll succeed long term.

You need to continue to sell the vision even once your new talent is on board.  Promote your purpose, values, and point of difference constantly – slip it into conversations whenever you can.

Live them. It’s pretty hard some days, but try to always demonstrate your values in action and lead by example.

Offer them a challenge

The people you’re attracting are currently at the top of their game, and the right person is looking for a challenge and an opportunity for personal growth.

The idea of being part of an exciting new venture, where they may have more creative freedom to do cutting edge work, build a new team and put themselves to the test can be very empowering.

To get the best from these people, remove as many barriers as you can to make it easier for them to do the kind of work they want to do.  In my business, I’ve eliminated or streamlined as may administrative processes as I can.

For instance, I’m now focusing our business on project management, not time management, and in doing this we’ve created a working environment which gives staff the flexibility to work when and where they’re in the zone.

Give them skin in the game

Because they’re already doing what they do well for someone else, they may be at the point of seeing if they can do it for themselves.

Offering some type of equity opportunity encourages better work and gives them a taste of ownership but with a safety net.

An employee share scheme can incentivise, but you may want to think about how you can also make them accountable.

Be transparent but positive

Any entrepreneur will tell you that business is not always smooth sailing.  If you’re going to employ more senior staff, particularly ones with a stake in the business, you’re going to have to be transparent about how the business is going.

In saying that, if things are taking longer than expected (as they tend to do in business), keep smiling and giving your senior people confidence and assuring them that things are going in the right direction.

They are looking to you to ensure your vision is realised.  So continually reinforce your progress relative to the plan and vision you set out.

Don’t disregard cultural fit

Yes, it’s great to have very talented and experienced staff, but cultural fit is an important element that you should not ignore.  You can have people who are the best at what they do and have great experience but perhaps they don’t fit with the rest of your team.

That’s going to greatly impact the culture of your business and ultimately it won’t be sustainable.  Culture fit and work ethic are equally as important as talent and experience.

As with any growing business, you need to prioritise what you invest in, and in my book if you invest in great talent you’ve got a much better chance of being successful.

PaWl Cubbin is the founder of ZOO Group. ZOO Group is a growing creative network with the best multinational talent and an independent spirit.  ZOO Group’s unique business model and working environment fosters strong partnerships between its creative people and client people, this ensures nothing gets between them and the work.  ZOO Group has agencies in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Singapore and Auckland.

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