The ‘Small Business’ War for Talent: Part 1

Mike Beringer, SHRM-CP, HR Business Partner | Jul 31, 2017

Part 1 of a 4 part article: Catching Muskies

In today’s market, top talent is scarce, and expensive. It’s difficult to find, attract and hang on to.  It’s like that elusive forty-inch muskie you’ve been trying to catch for the last five years in the small lake near your cabin up north (if you live in Wisconsin you know what I’m talking about, and I feel your pain). You know it’s out there, you’ve seen it splash around in the water chasing the blue gill around, but you just can’t seem to catch it. No matter how many lures you use, no matter what tree you fish near, you just can’t get a bite.  All the locals know about it, heck, the locals have probably named it… “Frank”. Frank has become a legend locally, and is typically blamed for all sorts of things happening on the lake:

“The loons aren’t on the lake this year, Frank must have got them”

“My dog’s tail is bleeding, Frank must have bit him while he was swimming”

“Lake is extra cold today………. Frank did it”

But then, one cool, crisp summer morning, you unexpectedly see Frank slowly following your lure. You slowly work the lure back towards the boat, pull it up close and get the net ready. Frank grabs your lure, you yank it up out of the water into the boat.  Frank flops onto the floor of the boat, looks up at you and says, “Sorry, your offer isn’t as competitive as the guy in that boat over there, I’m going to let him catch me”.  He spits out your lure, jumps back into the cold, unforgiving lake, and swims off to be caught by your neighbor…

The biggest, best talent is hard to find, and even harder to catch.


Trust me, Frank is out there, but as a small business you’re likely going to be competing against a plethora of other anglers, with bigger, more expensive boats (budgets), better quality reels (compensation and benefit plans), and state of the art fish-finders (reward and recognition programs). When you finally do get the attention of that muskie that’s been lurking beneath the overhanging birch tree, you better know what to do.

Just because you’re a small business doesn’t mean you don’t need critical talent. In fact, you likely need it more than the big guys do. You may have more resting on a single individual, or s/he may have oversight or span of control over a majority of your company or operations. In a small business, having even one or two muskies on your team can make all the difference.

So, you’ve found Frank, interviewed him and he sounds great.  He has the critical skill set you need to take your business to the next level. You know Frank is already receiving a very competitive package where he’s working. Now you need to go beyond that somehow. It may seem hopeless, like there is no way you can compete: but there is. The fact that you are a small business, with less rigidity, more flexibility and moving at the speed of light will give you an edge when tailoring your offer to have just the right impact on your candidate.

Here are some ways small businesses can compete in the War for Talent:

Part 2: Know Your Candidate         

Part 3: Transparency is Key

Part 4: Leveraging Your Attributes

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