By Nelson Daramola
The job market has radically changed in the last decade, more so since the outbreak of the Covid-19 in 2019. Ideas like freelancing and remote work that were thought to be emerging trends but not mainstream ways of working and employing staff have now disrupted the job market with many employers and even a greater number of workers preferring these options. Millennials and Generation Zs active in the job market are increasingly choosing to freelance, work remotely for foreign companies or go the entrepreneurial route which has almost always been there because they want freedom and more flexibility to pursue and promote things they care about. This position is backed by The Deloitte Global 2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey. This is a challenge for big companies in general but for startups and micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), it is a potential existential threat because if you don't attract quality talent to help you run and grow your business, the challenges faced by it are likely to be fatal to its survival. So, how do MSME owners convince people that want higher pay, greater flexibility and relative freedom to work for them? I am going to suggest a few ways that I have identified over the years as a business manager.
A key part of the academic programmes that many universities, polytechnics and tertiary institutions run is an industrial training programme or internship. This means that without having some work experience in a relevant organization, a student cannot complete the academic programme they have enrolled in many tertiary institutions. For an MSME owner, this group of students is a fantastic pool of potential employees to tap from because their immediate reasons for working are not tied to high pay. Even for those that might be heavily motivated by huge pay, they have lower negotiating power than a graduate that does not have school grades and academic performance to worry about. You should position your business strategically to attract them to want to intern with your organization. To do this effectively, it is a good idea to contact the tertiary academic institutions close to your organization’s location or those that teach specializations that are relevant to your industry. For example, a fintech company in Yaba, Lagos should have a good working relationship with the computer science and banking and finance departments of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) and Yaba College of Technology (YABATECH) which are in close proximity with it. This will give your business an advantage in terms of getting some of the smartest students coming out of these academic institutions that can have internships or industrial training (IT) with your organization. The benefit for you is that you can tap into their energy and enthusiasm to build cutting-edge products/services while they in turn get practical, real life experience that would prove valuable for them in the future after graduation. The major disadvantage of employing staff this way is that most will not stay for more than a year at best which means that you might lose some knowledgebase and momentum anytime one of your interns leaves. However, this challenge can be tackled in two ways; first, by ensuring that you keep proper record of work done and the procedures through which it is done. In this regard, collaborative applications like Google Workspace and Microsoft Teams. So, anybody that joins thereafter can follow the workflow from previous tasks done and learn from them. Secondly, mistakes from the past can be learnt from and new interns can be guided to avoid such during their on-boarding by using real work-based artifacts developed by previous employees. In this way, you achieve a scenario where you have a system that can run regardless of the personnel put in place to use it.
Apprenticeships are similar to internships in the sense that you are recruiting people in order to train them. However, there is a significant difference in the sense that apprentices tend to stay for a longer time than interns, usually about two years or more and they are often trying to master a professional skill rather than seeking training to complete an academic qualification. Vocations like tailoring, bricklaying, carpentry, plumbing and catering rely heavily on apprenticeship for knowledge transfer and employment purposes. A good master professional treats their apprentices with dignity and respect and also ensures they are paid fair stipends for the work they do. While it is true that apprentices are getting knowledge and know-how from working with you, it is not in your best interest to exploit them. When this balance of training-learning-compensation is reached, you are likely to find that you can scale your business significantly with this additional manpower. Do not be hesitant to train your apprentices effectively because the more skilled they are, the better the quality of products or services that they can deliver to your customers. However, to reduce the chances of unethical practices from your apprentices, it is important to test them for integrity and good work ethics before taking them onboard because the way to relate with existing and potential customers good have serious effect on your business. It is also important to open feedback channels with your customers so that you can get genuine feedback on the performance of your apprentices.
3. Part-time Employment
A key limitation for many startups and MSMEs is funding. So, while it might be easy to identify the kind of professionals and quality of talents you need, you might not be able to afford them. A way out of this predicament is to employ such professionals on a part-time basis. For example, many private schools in Nigeria do not employ French and Information Communication Technology (ICT) teachers on a full time basis. They are often recruited on a part-time basis and paid based on the number of classes and the number of times they teach in a month. This allows the school management utilize their services to meet the needs of their students without incurring heavier personnel costs. It also allows such teachers the opportunity to earn a good income from their knowledge and skills while maintaining their freedom to work in other places. This arrangement is used in different industries as well such as health, tech and fashion. Whatever your industry, you can adapt this strategy to meet your manpower needs. To get the most out of this arrangement, you need to ensure that the terms and conditions of the employment are clearly understood and agreed by both parties involved. The fact that a worker is employed on a part-time basis should not lead to lowering of standards in terms of their deliverables.
Freelancing is a popular recruitment model for MSMEs because it allows you to use the services of highly-skilled professionals for specific tasks or projects. Let us imagine you own a local bakery and you want to design a logo, promotional fliers and design a website to promote the business. It would be very unwise to say you want to employ a graphic designer and web designer on a permanent basis to deliver these business artifacts. The cost-benefit analysis would not make sense for most people. Consequently, it would be better to employ a freelance graphic designer and website designer to design the promotional website and fliers for you. They get paid for the project and you do not have to bother about paying them after this until you need their service for other projects in the future. There are many freelance websites out there like Upwork, Fiverr, and Freelancer. You can post your projects on these websites, get freelancers to bid on your project and you select the ones you think are the best fit for you based on past projects completed, skills and of course willingness to work for an amount within your budget. To get the most out of this arrangement, it is important that you clearly define the task you want done and what the key parameters for assessing the quality of work done are. It is also important that you carefully assess the freelancers that apply for your project so that you do not waste time, effort and resources on the wrong freelancer without getting the results you need.
5. Virtual Employees
The world is now a global village thanks to the Internet and this has lead to a large number of jobs moving online, what this means for small business owners or manager is that you can employ people to work for you full time on the internet. So, if you are a busy executive, you can have your travel itinerary, flight and hotel bookings done for you by a virtual assistant. They can also help you organize and host virtual meetings and a multiplicity of other functions. This will allow you focus on tasks that are critical to you and increase your productivity and profitability effectively. In selecting a virtual assistant, you need to consider their availability across your time zone in addition to their competence. Therefore, in your advert seeking for a virtual assistant, clearly describe the working hours that the ideal candidate should be available to work for on a daily basis. To avoid problems, it is better to select a virtual assistant that is familiar with your location and living in a location with a similar time zone to yours.
Sometimes, the level of skill and expertise required by an MSME or startup might be so great that trying to get professionals who have it to become your employees is not likely to happen based on your smaller profile and limited resources. In such situations, it is a good strategy to pitch partnership with such people. Depending on the kind of business registration you have, you may be able to change a business venture to a partnership or bring a skilled professional as a director of a limited company. Sometimes, such professionals may have a strong network that you want to connect with, a skill that is rare or unique insights that will allow your business have a stand-out advantage. The important thing here is to determine what you are giving and what you will receive in exchange. Angel investors and venture capitalists may also fall under this category. Agreements should be made and clearly spelt out in a legal binding document.
Small businesses can get tasks done using bots by utilizing automated tools such as chatbots, virtual assistants, and workflow automation. Chatbots can be used to answer customer inquiries and provide support, digital virtual assistants can automate mundane tasks such as scheduling appointments and managing social media accounts and workflow automation can automate processes such as ordering products, invoicing customers, and managing inventory. All of these bots can help small businesses reduce their workload, increase efficiency, and save time. You should do your research to identify the bots that have the functionality and features your business needs and fall within your budget.
Starting a business and ensuring that it survives and thrives is a huge challenge that not many people have the capacity to achieve. To help you achieve it, you should try and leverage on your network of family and friends, social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Telegram and WhatsApp. Sending your information out to a large audience via the Internet and Social Media is a great way to connect with the different categories of workers that I have listed in this article. It is also a fantastic way to identify jobseekers who are actively seeking to work in organizations or businesses like yours. It is also important to engage with other entrepreneurs and business managers to keep yourself up-to-date and conversant with the latest management and job market trends. Actively doing all of these will give you a great chance to attract and retain some great employees. The most important resource any business has is its staff. Therefore, being able to attract competent and trustworthy people to work with you regardless of your budget is critical to your success. I hope you find the tips in this article useful and would love to get your feedback.
Nelson Daramola is the Manager at Rock Springs Ventures and Services Limited, he can be reached via [email protected]