How to hire when you’re a cash-strapped startup

Sarah Chester, December 17, 2019 4 min read

This is a guest post from Talent Works International, a Tech Nation growth programme partner.

Raising investment and scaling your startup can be something of a chicken and egg conundrum; you need money to scale, and you need to demonstrate growth in order to raise. But how can you start growing your headcount when funds are still in short supply? We’ve put together the ultimate guide of how to hire quality candidates on a limited budget.

Establish an employer brand 

In the early stages of your business, one of the many things you’ll be focusing on is your company brand. However, there’s another brand that you should be spending time on too – your employer brand. Establishing an employer brand will help you with a whole host of thing, such as increasing the number and quality of inbound applicants, reducing your hiring costs and creating a talent pool of candidates.

Developing an employer brand will enable you to compete with big businesses. Differentiate yourselves from established brands by communicating your brand on your social channels. Share your company values, post pictures of life in your startup and give a sneak peek of your culture.

Your employer brand will evolve, so don’t worry about getting everything sorted from day 1. It could be as simple as writing down a list of values that you’d like your company to reflect. Ensure everyone in your business understands your values and communicates these clearly throughout the hiring process.

Some early-stage businesses dive straight into recruiting without giving their employer brand a second thought.

Use this to your advantage.

When a quality candidate is faced with two offers from budding startups, which one will they choose? The company which has clearly communicated their brand and what they stand for, or the one that hasn’t?

Use your network

A good place to start with growing your team is engaging current team members in your search. A-Players know A-Players, either through previous roles, university, internships or apprenticeships. By asking colleagues to tap into their networks, you’re increasing your chances of securing long-term hires.

Recognising and rewarding people for their referrals is also a great way of boosting morale. It’s the thought that matters – so whether it’s a cash bonus, a bottle of their favourite tipple or a hand-written note from the founder, a little acknowledgement goes a long way.

To ensure a steady stream of referrals, look at implementing an employee referral programme. Having an incentive in place is a proven method for recruiting great hires, saving both money and time, as well as increasing retention rates. 

Not all benefits break the bank

Some big brands are famous for their over-the-top perks. Take Google, for example. Their list of benefits includes free lunches made by a professional chef, onsite massage therapists and a swimming pool.

But what should you do if your business can’t afford expensive benefits?

You may not be able to compete with high tech fitness facilities and free food, but there are some benefits which won’t put you in the red. Research by Harris Group found that 72% of Millennials prioritise ‘experiences’ over ‘things.’

This is great news for savvy startups.

An affordable option to boost your benefits package is to offer the opportunity for employees to take time out to volunteer for worthy causes. This enables employees to give back to a charity of their choice, and according to CIPD, 93% of volunteers say it improves their skills too.

Promote flexible working

A recent report reveals that two in three people would like to work flexibly. Working hours are one of the critical factors that candidates look for when scanning a job description. According to CV Library nearly half of professionals believe it is one of the essential parts of a job offer. Also, with a third of employees preferring to work flexibly than take a 3% pay rise, it’s proof the simpler things often work best.

As well as being a persuasive and increasingly popular perk, offering flexible working enables your business to access a more diverse talent pool which in turn drives increased innovation, creativity and profitability.


One of the simplest ways to attract talent is to offer them an opportunity to grow and progress in their career. If you invest in training and development, then let candidates know. Include information on your careers page and job advertisements and make sure everyone who is part of the hiring process has an understanding.

Too cash-strapped to afford training? Take a leaf out of Google’s book and enable employees to spend 20% of their time on learning. This could be spending time on a personal project, going into further detail on something they worked on that week or even doing a free course or tutorial online.

Although employees’ time has a monetary value, long term this learning time will benefit employees and employers alike. Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page said, “We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google. This empowers them to be more creative and innovative. Many of our significant advances have happened in this manner.”

There are plenty of resourceful ways to attract talent. The most crucial thing, which businesses tend to overlook, is establishing a set of values and cultivating a company culture early on so that your employer brand can be communicated during the hiring process. It’s then easier to determine the most appropriate (yet affordable) benefits to provide to employees once your values are defined.

The perks that tend to attract quality candidates are the ones that won’t cause havoc with your cash flow. Flexible working, volunteer days and learning opportunities are just a handful of benefits that are not only cost-effective but valuable for your business, as well as your employees.

Download Talent Works’ new ebook, cooking up your employer brand – the startup edition, to find out more about how to hire on a budget.

scaling, talent, Talent & Skills, Early Stage