Tout Company Culture When You Can’t Compete on Pay

Q: I started a small company and I’m ready to hire great people to help me grow it, but I don’t have a lot of money or benefits to offer.  How can I compete for talent with companies that are able to pay so much more?

A:  I hear this question (or a version of it) quite a lot.  And I would be lying if I said it had an easy answer, because it doesn’t.  But just because you are outmatched in the salary and benefits department doesn’t mean you have to settle for lesser talent.

Many talented, creative, bright people want to work for more than just money.  They want to feel that their contribution makes a difference to the company, to society and the world.  In my opinion, small companies provide a much better vehicle for providing that “I-can-make-a-difference” experience than do bigger companies because in smaller companies everything –making decisions, changing direction– is more direct and  immediate, and less bogged down with big-company layers.  Think of that as an advantage to be touted while hiring.

But you can’t stop there.  The way to attract good people to your company is to define and build a unique company culture.  If an applicant were to ask you, “What does it mean to work here?”, or, “What are you in business for?” you should be able to give a clear cohesive answer.

Whether your company writes software, provides a service, sells a widget or mows lawns, you must have a company culture anchored by a compelling core value that appeals beyond money.  That core value could be “giving back”, a commitment to be “100% green”, “sharing prosperity”, or “make work fun”.

Remember, as a company you don’t need to be –nor should you try to be–all things to all people.  As long as you concentrate on creating an authentic culture, on defining your core values and clearly communicating what makes you unique, there will always be a few talented people who after asking themselves, “What does it mean to work here?”, and, “Would I be willing to take lesser pay to be part of it?” will answer, Yes!


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