How to Hire the People Who Will Make Your Small Business a Success

Katie Fleming

Katie Fleming

Co-founder and COO of Owner Actions

An interviewer shakes hands with an applicant while working to hire for a small business

Will your idea succeed? The answer can depend on the people you bring on board. That’s why it’s vitally important that you hire good, capable, accommodating employees for your small business.

The problem: It can be really tough to find qualified people who will give it their all every day.

The good news is that there are simple strategies to overcome this problem. Here, we’ll coach you through some of the steps you can take to find great applicants, ensure they’ll be a good fit for your business, and keep them happy—and engaged in their work—over the long term.

Here are some tips for getting started:


Determine who you need.

Before you hire employees for your small business, make a list of the positions you need to fill. Of course, some of these positions will need to be filled by multiple people. Keep a running tally of the precise number of employees you need.


Next, be clear about the qualifications you expect your employees to meet. Take time to define the skills, personality traits, and strengths you believe your employees should have to excel in a role and be a good representation of your organization.


Think of additional nice-to-have qualities you’d like to see in your candidates, too. As you begin evaluating candidates, you can refer to this list and move forward with people who demonstrate these traits.


Create a job description that hooks.

By spending time on job sites or a successful competitor’s job board, you’ll likely find postings for jobs that are similar to your own. Refer to those posts as you structure your own, but make adaptions that suit your business. And, importantly, be sure that your postings:

  • Excite potential applicants about the perks of working for your small business.
  • Emphasize your brand values.
  • Explain role responsibilities.
  • State your must-haves.
  • Explain how interested candidates should apply.


Need help writing job descriptions? Check out this free resource from


Know where to look.

You can share your job posting in lots of places. Here are a few ideas:

  • Job sites such as Monster
  • Job posting boards at local colleges or career centers
  • Personal social media accounts
  • Social platforms such as Nextdoor


Not all of these options will bring you the candidates you’re looking for. You’ll need to experiment to find what works best in your local market. You can also talk to other local business owners about the sites and strategies they find most effective for finding great candidates.


With your posting, be sure to share an application. This form will help you collect the essential data you need for each candidate. You can find lots of free templates online or build your own with a tool like Jotform or Monday.



Assess your applicants.

How will you hire the right employees for your small business? A proven process can help.


As applications begin rolling in, you should have a process to evaluate each candidate for fit to the role you’re aiming to fill. Your process might start with eliminating any candidate who doesn’t meet your must-have qualities for success. Then, you might set aside (but not yet eliminate) any candidate who doesn’t possess the nice-to-have qualities that are important for the position.


These two steps may help you find a manageable number of applicants to interview, but if you have an abundance of qualified applicants, you might set some priorities. Look for people who have transferrable skills or experiences in roles that are similar to the one for which you’re hiring, show evidence of being self-starters, or come with glowing recommendations from previous employers.

Here’s a great way to home in on the candidates who meet your qualifications: Email a pre-screening questionnaire to those who pass your initial assessment. Plan to ask up to 10 questions about their experience, skills, and availability to ensure you move forward with the candidates who are most likely to help your business succeed.


There are systems you can adopt to manage your hiring process and help you prioritize candidates. Check out these popular options:


Learn more about these options in our article, Solution Finder: Applicant Tracking Systems.


Set up video or on-site interviews.

Once you’ve identified a reasonable number of candidates, you can schedule interviews to meet each one.


Whether you meet virtually or in-person is up to you. You might opt for video interviews for your initial meetings and discussions of the opportunity and on-site interviews for later rounds of interviews.



Ask the right questions.

You can learn a lot about candidates through on-the-spot questions and deep dives into their responses, but you should also prepare a list of questions that will help you make 1:1 comparisons—and ensure you avoid questions that are prohibited by federal, state, and local governments.


Prepare some questions that will help you confirm your candidates’ experiences, test how they might respond to typical on-the-job scenarios, and evaluate how they would think through difficult problems they might face. Here are some sample questions that can help you get started:

  • What were some of your primary responsibilities in your last position?
  • What would your past coworkers, friends, and family members say about your punctuality?
  • How would you describe your work ethic?
  • What motivates you to perform at your best?
  • How do you feel about following a set of procedures?
  • What would you do if you thought of a better process than one that’s currently in place?
  • Which accomplishment are you proud to have completed?
  • What would you do if you didn’t get along with a coworker or manager?
  • What would you do if a customer accused another employee of wrongdoing?
  • How would you handle a customer who makes frequent purchases and returns with little explanation?
  • How would you handle customer complaints that seem unreasonable?



Be specific about the workload, responsibilities, and opportunities to learn and advance.

Interviews are a great opportunity to learn about a potential new hire, but you should also devote time to explaining the role, the expectations you have of your employees, and the perks of the role and small business, including opportunities for training, growth, and advancement. The time you invest in this step is important: It can help your candidates assess whether the role is a good fit for them.


Consider narrating what a typical day in the role would be like. If possible, plan to walk your candidates through the workstations at your site and show them the environment where they’d be working.


Once your business is up and running, you might also bring some of your current employees into the interviews and allow them to share their own experiences.



Address their concerns.

At various points of your interview, you should encourage your candidates to ask questions about the role. Try to answer their questions thoroughly, and ensure that they understand your answer before moving forward to other parts of your discussion.

You might not be able to anticipate all of the questions your candidates will ask, but you can log their inquiries and ensure that you touch on those topics in future interviews.

Make your selections.

After completing your interviews, you should assess how well each candidate met your qualifications, prepared for the interview, answered your questions, and left you with a favorable impression.


You can eliminate candidates who show a lack of interest, a negative attitude, or any other red flags that could signify a potential problem. Move forward with candidates who seem dependable and eager to take on the challenges of the work that’s required, provided that they pass their background screening and receive favorable reviews from the references they provide.


Set up programs for training, support, and feedback that’ll help you retain your top talent.

How do you plan to retain your best employees? Consider some of these best practices:

  • Set up a thorough training program as part of the onboarding process
  • Offer frequent training or job shadowing opportunities
  • Provide regular updates and feedback
  • Offer incentives that will keep your employees engaged and excited about working for your business


Frequently asked questions

Who should I hire first?

It usually makes sense to start with your management team. This will help you set the right tone for the rest of your hiring process and ensure that the employees you hire will work well with the managers in place.

Once you’ve hired your management team, lean on them to help you screen applicants, make calls to candidates, and conduct the interview process.


Which experiences matter most?

Some of the most important manager experiences include:

  • Work in a similar, customer-facing role
  • Experience in scheduling and supervising shifts
  • Experience in managing inventory
  • Success in handling customer concerns


Ideally, your employees will have experience working in similar roles or with similar businesses. Look for transferrable skills, such as working with customers, handling cash, stocking shelves, or following workflows, that might help them succeed in a role within your business.


How much should I pay?

Pay what you can afford, but at a minimum, you should try to keep compensation in line with your competitors. If at all possible, you might consider paying a little more than your competitors to attract their top talent.


How can I leave a favorable impression on my favorite candidates?

Here are a few tactics that work well for many business owners:

  • Demonstrate your own passion for your business
  • Show your competence in the role you hold
  • Voice your confidence in a candidate’s ability to succeed
  • Explain the perks of the role, which may include time off, incentives, training opportunities, or opportunities for advancement
  • Keep lines of communication open so your candidate knows that you’re interested in continuing the process


How do I navigate other hiring concerns, such as setting up employment taxes?

Before you hire your first employees for your small business, you should file for a federal tax ID number. Follow this link to visit the IRS website and complete the form.



You’ll also need to register with your state’s labor department and learn about your state’s labor requirements. Each state has a website you can visit to begin the process. You can find the contact information for the department in your state in the chart below.

Some states have a separate process to ensure proper taxation and withholdings, and this process usually takes place through the department of job and family services. Be sure to ask the representative you speak with about the specific steps that should be taken when you hire new employees for your small business.

(334) 206-6020


(808) 586-8982


(617) 626-7100

New Mexico

(505) 841-8437

South Dakota

(605) 773-3101


(907) 465-2784


(208) 332-8941


(517) 335-5858

New York

(800) 447-3992


(844) 224-5818


(602) 542-4661


(217) 782-6206


(651) 284-5070

North Carolina

(800) 625-2267


(800) 628-5515


(501) 682-4500


(800) 457-8283


(601) 321-6000

North Dakota

(800) 366-6888


(801) 526-9675


(916) 654-7241


(888) 848-7442


(800) 735-2966


(888) 405-4039


(802) 828-4000


(303) 318-8000


(888) 396-3725


(406) 444-2840


(405) 521-6100


(804) 371-2327


(860) 263-6000


(502) 564-3534


(800) 833-7352


(503) 947-1394


(800) 987-0145


(302) 761-8482


(225) 342-3111


(775) 684-1890


(833) 722-6778

West Virginia

(304) 558-8000


(850) 245-6000


(207) 623-7900

New Hampshire

(603) 228-4033

Rhode Island

(888) 870-6461


(608) 266-3131


(800) 436-7442


(888) 634-4737

New Jersey

(609) 292-1704

South Carolina

(803) 737-2400


(307) 777-6367


Finally, visit to review the federal requirements you must meet. Through this link, you’ll find essential forms and information that will help you assure tax compliance.


Final advice: Focus on continuous improvement

Every time you post a new position, you should take notes on the quality of responses you receive, the effectiveness of your screening process, and the kinds of questions you could ask to avoid a consistently occurring problem with your process. You should also ask for feedback from the people you hire to learn what they liked about the process, where they felt it fell short, and what they think you could do to improve the experience.


What’s next?

After hiring your team, you can work on other key tasks, including preparing for opening day. We can help you with every part of your preparations. Log into your owner’s portal for articles, checklists, and advice you can use to make your venture a success.

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