How to hire for your startup (without breaking the bank)
Samantha Furley, August 1st 2022

One of the greatest challenges facing startup founders is how to scale with limited resources. As a business, you need to hire the top talent in the market. But staffing is arguably one of your greatest costs – and you need to get it right if you want the numbers to add up.  

As a startup entrepreneur, you need the right people, in the right roles, at the right time. But how do you get that top talent into your business? And how do you do that without going broke in the process? 

Firstly, treat recruitment as an ongoing process; it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Take your time. Effective recruitment is so much more than an ad on a job board. It’s more than ping pong tables and beer on a Friday. It’s a competitive market and attracting the right candidates takes time, money and more than a pinch of creativity. 

So, if you’re a startup recruiting on a budget, here’s some tips on low-cost hiring from our specialist tech recruiters. 

Think about your employer branding 

Too early for this? Nope. You’re in your brand infancy and yes, your employer branding will evolve in time. But if you’re serious about attracting tech talent to your startup, you need to be clear from DAY ONE about who you are and what it will be like to work for you.  

This is the ‘age of transparency’; everything you do or say, both digitally and offline, contributes to the building of your startup brand. Think carefully about the people that you want to attract and how/where you’ll reach them, whether through social media, blogging, event involvement or meetups.  

Hiring as a continual process 

Part of being a good startup founder is building a high-quality network with serious reach. Just like people, your startup business needs to build relationships, make connections, and engage with the world around it. 

Sod’s law dictates that the perfect candidate won’t be available exactly when you’re looking for them. So instead, leverage your network and build a talent pool, even if you’re not quite ready to make that hire. Join relevant Slack workspaces, LinkedIn and Facebook groups, post frequently to add value (not just when you’re hiring), and actively engage with the type of people that you’d be keen to attract as you grow. Think quality over quantity - and remember, the better your network is, the easier your next hire will be.  

Social amplification isn’t for the shy and retiring – so be proud (and loud) about your achievements. Because nobody wants to be the best-kept startup secret in the market.  

Widen your talent pool 

Don’t fall into a trap of homogenising your team. It’s easy to be narrow in your talent search, but diversity is a key factor in building a pool of talented, creative and innovative individuals. Embrace it – and avoid prioritising experience over capability.  

Consider hiring for attitude and training for skills. Tech-savvy Gen Z rookies, interns and placement students can add huge value to a fledging startup – at a mere fraction of the cost. Keen to avoid student debt and attracted by small business culture, they’re bypassing university in favour of exciting startups who will support them to cut their professional teeth on live projects.  

Likewise, if you’re looking to hire grads, try to avoid being drawn into university snobbery. Unless you’re willing (and able) to do battle for the Russell Group Alumni, prioritise applications from candidates who can demonstrate a diverse set of skills and intellect. Discounting applications based on a candidate’s university choice or socio-economic background is a short-sighted approach that will only restrict your talent pool.   

Finally, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t be making full-time, permanent hires when your budget doesn’t allow for it or when the role (or the skills required) are likely to change. Using freelancers, fractional CXOs and contractors will enable you to tap into the skill set and experience of a diverse team – but without the financial overheads of a permanent employee.  

Offer equity options 

One way in which cash strapped startups can compete on reward is to offer employees equity as part of their compensation package. For startups, it’s a savvy recruitment tool to incentivise employees who, in turn, feel invested in the business and relate to its value and purpose.  

The value in equity can be significant, both to your hiring and your team, but don’t assume that a quick Excel table and scribbled notes on headed paper will suffice. Take advice on the legal aspects, and make sure you create a credible story of the value on offer to help make it real. 

The power of (non-monetary) perks 

We’ve said it before, but financial rewards are often lower on the list of importance than many people think. Non-monetary benefits can be equally as appealing. But before you splash out on that ping pong table and beer fridge, think about what is valuable to your staff right now: That might be learning and development; a wellbeing budget; a four-day week. Establishing a creative and cohesive culture that embodies these qualities will make your startup a great place to work – and when people are proud of where they work, trust us when we say that they’ll tell their friends and networks.  

That said, we all have bills to pay. So our advice is to track market rates to ensure that you continue to offer competitive salaries. If prospective candidates ask about the salary or monetary benefits on offer, be totally honest with them. You’re looking for candidates who buy-in to your vision and the ‘bigger picture’ just as much (if not more) as the compensation package. So be upfront, rather than risk wasting time on someone who will bow out further down the line.  

As startup recruiters, we talk to hundreds of candidates each month, and are a talent partner to a variety of startups and scaleups. We can give you a sense of the wider talent market and offer a range of packages, depending where you are on your recruitment journey. 

If you’d like to talk more then drop a line to our Co-founder & CEO, Alan Furley, on alan@isltalent.com or connect with him on LinkedIn.  

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