How can I convince key talent to work for me, rather than a larger rival?

This article first appeared on April 18, 2011.


I want to attract a top-level operations person to my start-up but don’t want to fight it out with larger rivals with bigger wallets for the same talent.


Are there other good avenues other than the big jobs sites to get someone on board?


It’s important to consider these questions before you hire:


Do you already have a business that requires an operations person on a huge income who comes from a structured environment?


Or do you want to create you own unique culture of operators that understand your vision as the leader of the start-up?


The question you need to ask yourself is, “What does my business need now, in 12 months and in the following 12 months for an operational perspective?”


Of the current 12-strong team I have I have not advertised and hired on any job boards (big, small or fee) or engaged the services of a company that does.


Three current employees were contacts within my business network (suppliers or previous business colleagues/peers). Seven have been referrals simply because I have spread the word through my contacts that I am looking for particular skills.


Two were headhunted from rival businesses. Likewise I have referred many great friends, colleagues and contacts to trusted peers seeking certain skills in their own businesses.


This has no commercial reward other than to help those that help me. It’s a mutual respect.


Very early on in my start-up, I took on a CFO/COO. He was an established operator in my industry and came from probably one of my biggest rivals. He approached my business directly.


I thought he was going to be an amazing hire. He had incredible knowledge, knew how to run the financials of a huge company in my space, had IP that I simply didn’t have for scalability and of course could tap into a list of companies and potential new clients.


He didn’t work out, for a few reasons. And none of these were relevant to his personality or the actual person (of which he was a very nice man).


He was expensive – not for his skills, but for the overheads of the business. The business didn’t have the sales or activity to support his high salary.


The business did not have the volume of operation or financial work to keep him either interested or focused on the very basic requirements of a start-up.


He had no one to delegate the small stuff to that in his previous role would have been done by someone much more junior. Quite simply he got bored and I didn’t want to waste money on his boredom.


I took a different tack, and I hired a much more junior operator. I asked all my contacts and networks if they knew of a person that would be willing to run my finances, operations, be chief cook and bottle washer and keep the engine oiled and moving while the sales team were out and about selling our tails of and developing market space.


In short, I needed someone reliable, consistent and who could easily follow my leadership and embrace my vision. I found her via a personal referral.


She was a fraction of the cost of the corporate rival and far more flexible and willing to think like a start-up. Which meant no task was beneath her.


A start-up company needs to be agile, nimble and have an ability to evolve and change quickly. Make sure you embody these qualities in order to get the right staff for your business, rather than go down the same route as every large company.


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