Small agency recruiting: Attract your ideal employees

Written by: Karl Sakas

Do you feel self-conscious about recruiting employees to your small agency? Are you concerned you can’t pay job candidates as much as bigger agencies in town? Do bigger agencies near you have a bigger lineup of big-name clients?

Small is relative. Small might be five people, 20 people, or even 50-100 people compared to a global agency like Ogilvy, Razorfish, or BBDO.

Your agency’s size is what it is. Don’t grow for the sake of being big—grow to the right size for you.

Embrace your size—here’s how to make being small a strength rather than a weakness.

Benefits to working at small agency

There are lots of benefits for employees who work at a small agency. Here are eight to consider highlighting.

1) Bigger impact: Your employees can make a bigger impact on the business, compared to a big agency. People won’t—and can’t—be anonymous at a small company. They can organize a volunteer program, suggest a social outing, or recommend improvements to a process that will make their life easier.

2) Less red tape: You need a certain level of process to function properly, but I bet taking vacation time at your agency doesn’t require people to file three forms.

3) More portfolio-building experience: Especially for designers and developers, people can build their portfolio faster. They might work on a dozen clients a month, instead of two huge clients the entire year.

4) Better titles: Working at a small agency often means taking a better job title in exchange for getting less pay than at a larger firm. That’s not a match for everyone, but ambitious employees are often willing to make that trade. Here’s more advice on choosing job titles.

5) Faster career progression: It’s easier to go from being a generalist at your agency to become a specialist elsewhere (or to become a specialist at your agency as you grow). You may not have a structured promotion process like a big agency—but you also probably promote people on merit instead of arbitrary minimum timelines.

6) Closer-knit teams: People at small agencies get to know each other well, for better or worse. When you have strong performers and a culture that’s right, you can get great results from this closeness.

7) More daily variety: Smaller agencies are less likely to have specialists. A front-end developer might also be doing design or back-end development. A PM might be pitching in to do QA and an account manager might be helping on information architecture. Not everyone wants that variety, but you can find plenty of people who do.

8) Access to—and guidance from—senior leaders: People have more access to executives at small agencies than big agencies. The boss is someone they see every day, instead of someone they might meet a few times a year at all-hands meetings. You’ll need to find a balance on this—you don’t want to be interrupted 20 times a day—but don’t discount the value of this access. People also like getting career guidance from industry veterans.

Think about your recruiting sales pitch

You can sell adventure, instead of cubicles. Earlier this year, I toured the headquarters of a large insurance company. It was gray cubicle after gray cubicle, with the occasional bit of color as the office workers tried to make the most of their space. When you have hundreds or thousands of employees, it’s efficient to cram people into cubicle farms. Conveniently, you aren’t big enough to need cubicle farms.

For instance, a client in Australia had a beachfront office—a great location, but in a run-down building and with eccentric neighbors. My advice was to focus on the location, without hiding the kooky characters. It’s all part of the adventure of working at an on-the-rise agency.

Still self-conscious about your office? See my article about office makeovers on a budget.

Summary for your agency

When you recruit employees, turn potential negatives into positives. Being small can be a plus for the right people—look for people who want to make a big impact.

Question: What benefits can you highlight in your agency’s recruiting?

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