We’re in an employee-centric age where the ‘great resignation’ is redefining business’s relationships with their workforce, along with how they approach the employee experience (EX). But providing a great employee experience is just one piece of the puzzle for SMEs, who also have to find new ways to attract talent in a hyper-competitive environment.

Small businesses that struggle to retain talent may face spiralling recruiting and training costs. And SMEs that cannot attract new recruits may find themselves falling into the digital skills gap. No matter how you look at things, the demand for talent is far outstripping supply.

So how can small businesses increase employee retention and become more attractive to new recruits? How can they create a workplace that not only drives productivity but fosters a sense of fulfilment in the workforce? 

Let’s look at how employer branding can be the key to building better relationships in this new climate – and how SMEs can get their employer branding right.


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What is employer branding?

Employer branding is how a business presents itself to its workers and potential recruits. It’s a combination of its USP (Unique Selling Proposition) and its EVP (Employee Value Proposition). In other words, employee branding captures both what the brand represents as a whole and the experience it offers its employees.

Gone are the days when offering a good salary and benefits was enough. Today’s workers focus more on work-life balance, flexibility and meaningful work. The Small and Medium Business Trends Report shows that flexible scheduling is the top expectation of employees, and 27% of SME leaders are trying to connect employees’ work with their passions. These are essential factors to consider when creating your employer brand.

Is your SME known for being an exciting, innovative workplace? Does it offer flexible scheduling or remote working? Does it provide its employees with training and the opportunity to upskill? Does it prioritise sustainability or give back to the community? Does it balance purpose with profit? From tech to ethics, all these things can contribute towards successful employer branding.


Five tips for successful employer branding

It’s crucial to build an employer brand around your business’s story or USP. What is it about your business that differentiates it from its competitors? Is it the people? Is it its unique services or products? Or does your SME have a meaningful mission, responsible leadership or a genuine desire to make the world a better place? Find your differentiator, and then centre your employer brand around it.

Telling your business’s story – and showing workers how they fit into that story – is an essential aspect of employer branding, but it’s not the only one. Here are five other things to consider when creating an employer brand.

  1. Highlight your SME’s core values. The days of purely transactional relationships are in the rear-view mirror, and today’s workers and consumers are increasingly mission-driven. This is especially important to remember when recruiting, as potential hires will be reluctant to work for a business that doesn’t share the same values that they do. When building your employer brand, don’t forget to highlight your SME’s core values. After all, workers don’t just seek a paycheck; they seek a sense of purpose.

  2. Take stock of your business’s current reputation. Sites like Glassdoor and LinkedIn now offer prospective employees a view of what they can expect in a workplace. These sites can be powerful recruiting tools if your former and current employees are happy.  However, if employees have had negative experiences, these sites can be warning sirens, sending potential candidates to click away towards businesses with more employee-centric reputations. It’s important to take feedback from employees on board and then make adjustments as needed.

  3. Turn satisfied workers into brand advocates. The sites mentioned above can make or break a business’s reputation as an employer, and all it takes is a few dissatisfied workers to change the perception of an SME. Unfortunately, bad reviews have much more impact on perception than positive reviews, with some estimates stating that it takes 40 positive reviews to counter one negative one. With that in mind, encourage happy employees to leave reviews and share positive experiences.

  4. Tell the story of your brand. Storytelling has become somewhat ubiquitous with more prominent companies, with some organisations even hiring Chief Storytellers. And while an audience may not always want to hear the origin story behind every product they buy, it is essential to tell your story to potential team members. Think about how your business was founded, what it’s trying to accomplish, where it’s going next, and who’s helping you get there. These things all contribute to the story of your organisation.

  5. Get the word out. Highlighting your employee brand through social media channels is an excellent way to connect with potential employees. Teaming up with influencers can also help you reach new audiences. A growing number of career influencers are using platforms like TikTok and Instagram to connect with Gen Z and have a pre-existing audience that might be a match for your SME.


How can small businesses level up their current employer brand?

Small businesses must adapt to keep up with the new expectations and concerns of the workforce. What worked before the pandemic may not work now. And things that once drove employee engagement, like financial rewards, may not be as effective.

The good news is that by focusing on employee branding, SMEs can provide a better EX. By delivering a better EX, businesses will benefit from increased engagement, increased productivity and happier, more fulfilled employees.  

One easy, cost-effective way to enhance your employer brand is to offer digital training programmes. These on-demand programmes are beneficial for both SMEs and the workforce, who can learn important new skills. Even better, these skills can lead to exciting new opportunities. A recent study showed that 50% of Trailhead users gained skills that led to a promotion or a raise.  

Technology is also a driver of EX. AI-powered tools can be leveraged to automate mundane, time-consuming tasks. By automating these productivity killers, SMEs can free their workforce to focus on more rewarding work. And by using AI to analyse data, businesses can create a more data-centric culture. 


Where will employer branding take you?

The competition for talent has put many small businesses in a difficult position, especially if they have limited resources. And retaining talent is proving to be just as challenging – a crucial concern since it’s much less costly to retain an employee than hire a new one.

But by focusing less on transactional relationships and more on creating meaningful ones, small businesses will position themselves for a purposeful, productive future.

Download the Small and Medium Business Trends Report to see what's driving small businesses today.

And to find out how to increase employee engagement and create a more productive workplace, check out our eBook, Personalisation and the Art of employee Engagement.


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