An important, but under-appreciated, aspect of running a small business is finding (and keeping) the right employees. In retail, your employees are a representation of your store and as such they need to be personable, motivated, and well-trained. Turnover can be expensive, as hiring new employees can cost you between 30-150% of their yearly salary, and any disruption in service caused by short staffing can put a bad taste in the mouth of customers, costing repeat business. Since many small business owners are new to the hiring process, even some basic tips and tools can dramatically improve the quality of candidates they find.

Keep a List

For starters, don’t wait until you absolutely need a new person, or someone quits on you, to find someone else. Running small searches all the time and parsing out the best candidates to keep on file is essential. You may need a new employee on short notice, and waiting will cause you to make a snap judgment on whoever is available instead of finding the employee you really want. It also gives you a base list for when you are gearing up to let go of an underperforming employee, without making it obvious they will be replaced.

Where to Look

Sources for finding candidates are numerous. If you have a good website, a great start is putting an employment page up. Most people are using the internet to find jobs instead of going door to door filling out applications. Make sure the application process is steam-lined and simple to use, since most workers are filling out multiple applications a day and might skip over confusing or time-consuming applications. Sites like Craigslist are also great for finding local talent, but expect a lot of duds and spam responses. An old fashioned “Help Wanted” sign can help you find candidates already familiar with the atmosphere of the store.

Mining Established Relationships

Family and friends (yours and those of employees) are always a great place to look, since employees know what the job entails and usually want their coworkers to pull their weight. You could even offer a small referral incentive, paying out only if the new hire lasts a set amount of time (3-6 months). However, this method can also be dangerous. You have to make sure employees don’t simply want a friend to hang out with on the clock. Equally important is weighing the consequences on relationships, especially if you hire friends or family. Some employees found in this fashion can assume special privilege, and firing can have a severe impact on established relationships. Weigh this option carefully and save it for the best candidates.

Interview with a Plan

Once you get to the interview process, it’s important to have an actual plan. Figure out the attributes that you are looking for, and keep score. Prepare open ended questions, some broad, and some job specific. The candidate should be doing most of the talking. Listen and pay close attention to their responses. If possible, have another manager or employee in on the interview. People tend to pick up and remember different things, so multiple viewpoints are encouraged. Afterward, it’s good to get together with the other person and hash out your feelings on the candidate, compare notes, and decide if they would make a good hire.

Investing in an Employee

Once hired, it’s important to protect the investment you have made on the employee. Offering a pleasant workplace is a good start. Incentivizing improved performance is attractive for employees that actually want to advance their skills. Consider a clear-cut evaluation program, so that employees can understand the types of things you want from them. Small, frequent raises are more attractive than waiting a year for a big one, so consider making it a year round system.

Thinking about each of these aspects of hiring and retaining employees will enable you to build a strong and loyal workforce, which will avoid work disruptions and make for a better shopping experience for your customers.

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