Dangle the carrot

There are winners and losers in any economic slowdown. That applies across the board, from the big corporates right through to the one-person start-ups.

A sense of realism is required and anybody embarking on a new enterprise must weigh up all the risks and opportunities. However, one standpoint which needs to be considered is that tough trading conditions can actually provide an opportunity to appoint talented and experienced staff.

The latest government figures show unemployment jumping 60,000 to 1.67 million in the three months to June and analysts expect the figure will continue to rise over the next 12 months as the downturn in finance and property spreads to other sectors.

This backdrop means there’s a growing pool of people looking for a fresh start – including workers who might have just the skills needed to propel your business forward.

You may not be able to offer large salaries but you can entice new recruits with other incentives such as stock options, flexible working initiatives and profit share. Staff at the search advertising company Espotting, now rebranded as Miva, worked for next-to-nothing in exchange for equity after the company launched in 2000. Such “carrots” don’t just aid the search for skilled employees but help engender loyalty and commitment to the cause, which in turn lowers staff turnover.

A collective approach to business might also work. Award-winning Edinburgh Bicycle allows every worker to become an equal member of its co-operative once they’ve served a one-year apprenticeship, giving them all an equal stake in the firm. The company now has 75 full members after starting out as a humble repair shop and boasts stores in its home city, along with Aberdeen, Manchester, Newcastle and Leeds.

A start-up is also more likely to be able to offer flexible, home or remote working which is an attractive draw for any person pondering their work-life balance. Because of its size, a newly starting business is able to adopt an innovative approach to technology such as the use of video-conferencing, broadband and mobile applications to allow this to happen.

New staff can also be persuaded to join if you commit yourself to an active, coherent Corporate Social Responsibility strategy. Offering time off to do pro-bono work for charitable causes is one example. More and more employees welcome these opportunities to expand their outside interests and use their skills for the benefits of worthy causes. And such schemes not only cement your business in the local community but also put something back into it.

Ian Bushby is head of start-ups at BT Business


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