Small Is Beautiful: 4 Ways to Build Your Employer Brand Without Breaking the Bank

building an employer brand

These days, the term “employer branding” gets bandied about a lot. But what does it mean? Like consumer branding, which builds reputation and recognition for products, employer branding is about doing the same for your workplace. However, rather than attract customers, the goal is to attract your future employees.

Big firms spend millions of dollars on their employer brands. They hire dedicated teams of HR professionals to make and share content about their cultures. They also highlight information about their perks and programs through multiple channels, including social media, video, blogs and third-party sites such as Indeed Company Pages, which combine employer reviews and ratings with company storytelling.

But here’s the truth: even if you don’t have the budget for a dedicated employer brand specialist, the tools and techniques these professionals use are available to all, regardless of size. Nobody has a monopoly on telling compelling stories, educating prospective talent or building positive associations.

For SMBs, the key is to focus on those unique qualities and strengths that only you can bring to the table. What does this mean in practice? Let’s take a look.

Strength #1: Individuals can have a direct impact on the business

For some people, big firms are just too big. One of the most attractive things about working for an SMB is the direct impact an individual can have upon the organization.

Think about powerful brands that started out small but still made a huge impact—like Apple (three guys in a garage), Starbucks (three ex-students of the University of San Francisco) or Virgin (built on a small mail-order record company founded by a high school dropout).

At smaller firms you can directly set the tone for the workday and have the power to work closely together with others and get things done.  You create the culture in a way that feels real and immediate, and in a world where people are constantly bombarded by slick marketing campaigns, this is a powerful advantage. You can’t buy this kind of authenticity.

But it’s not helping your employer brand if nobody knows about it—so share it!

Feature actual employees on your company’s website and social media pages instead of stock photos of models. Encourage team members to leave reviews on company pages. If the content is authentic, your voice will shine through and help you attract people who are a great culture fit.

Strength #2: Employees have the opportunity to try new things

Here’s another benefit of working for an SMB: you get to wear different hats. Roles don’t tend to be so specialized, so employees have opportunities to learn new skills.

Maybe you were hired to keep the books, but you find yourself presented with the opportunity to do customer care, or sales, or work on social media—or tackling another interesting task.

For people who want to explore and gain experience in different career areas, this can be a very attractive environment. So bake these kinds of stories into your employer brand.

Feature examples of employee growth and development on your Company Pages or social media channels. Let employees talk about how the opportunities they had to learn new things on your blog. Shoot video, take pictures—just make sure you get the story out there.

Strength #3: The freedom to be unique with a personal stamp

Big firms may have deeper pockets for luxury perks, but SMBs have the lead when it comes to getting really local, personal or even downright quirky when it comes to culture.

For instance, the Austin, Texas–based firm Amy’s Ice Cream has a really novel approach to the application process. At Amy’s, candidates are given white paper bags to take home. What the applicant does with that bag before turning it back in is entirely up to them, but it’s expected to represent some aspect of who they are, and points (and jobs) are awarded for creativity.

You can also transform your location into a dynamic place that reflects your values and attitudes. Maybe you close down for one day out of the the year to go kayaking. Maybe you let employees bring their dogs into the office. Maybe you are committed to protecting the environment and have a culture of biking to work and encouraging active living. Maybe you even allow employees to work from anywhere in the world they want for a month.

What works for you? There are many ways to showcase your culture that needn’t break the bank—so do it!

Strength #4: Emphasize your personal ties to the community

Today, lots of people want more than just a paycheck; they want to know that their work has a larger social purpose.

But you don’t have to support major overseas development projects to “give back.” SMBs can do this too by staying close to the communities where they are based.

No one knows your neighbors better than you do, so make sure your efforts resonate with the values and tastes of the community you serve. You can do lots of things to build up the philanthropic side of your employer brand, from sponsoring a local Little League team to taking part in volunteer efforts like a park clean-up—or even handing out branded kites at the local park on a windy day.

Or you could even take a leaf out of Salesforce’s book and give employees VTO—“volunteer time off”—to dedicate to the causes they care about.

The key thing here is scale. It’s hard for big brands to develop that close, personal appeal, that undefinable sense of personal warmth.

By giving back, everybody wins—the community and your employees—and candidates will see that you are a company that cares.

Conclusion

Whatever your small business decides to do to build its employer brand, always remember to stay true to who you are.

Candidates may be turned off by any effort that seems overly slick or that can be dismissed as insincere talk. As with most efforts, the best way to begin an employer branding endeavor is to listen to the employees you already have. What do they love about working for you, and what are their concerns?

Use these as a foundation to make the changes you need to build your employer brand. Once you embark on this effort, keep listening to your employees.

Now, get out there and start building an employer brand that will attract the kind of employees who will make a difference at your company!

Raj Mukherjee is Senior Vice President of Product at Indeed.

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