How to Hire Good Employees and Boost Your Recruitment Strategy, According to 6 Kansas City Entrepreneurs

Are you wondering how to hire good employees for your small business, or do you want to create the best recruitment strategy for this tough hiring environment? (We know it’s not easy out there right now.)

Fear not! We asked six Kansas City entrepreneurs about their best tips, tricks and advice for how to attract the best job candidates, retain employees and avoid hiring mistakes. Get ready to hear from Cecilia Doering of The Facial Bar, Rickey Leathers of Savvy Salon, Tameisha Martin of Love Is Key, Aaron Thomas of GearBrokers, Reda Ibrahim of RK Contractors and Michael Stuckey of Lifted Spirits.

These local KC business owners run businesses that are small, mid-sized and large and have a variety of employees, including full-time, part-time, 1099, remote workers and PRN (aka as needed) employees. They know how to hire and retain top talent.

Before we dive in:

Now, let’s explore how to hire the best employees like a pro from these six Kansas City small business owners.

What does your staff look like, and what’s unique about your hiring process?

Cecilia Doering, The Facial Bar: We have mostly full-time service providers with some part-timers mixed in. Our receptionists are all completely remote, so we have perfected communication among clients, remote team members and in-person team members.

After finding team members who were exactly what we were looking for in terms of behavior and skill set, we do “team interviews.” We have candidates meet with each of our rockstar team members for just a few minutes each; then, we all get together to review our notes on each candidate. This has been a huge success in finding the right “fit” for our company because each team member notices different little things that others might not catch.

Rickey Leathers, Savvy Salon: We currently have nine full-time employees and one part-time employee. All of them work in person in the salon in some capacity.

Most of the hairstylists we hire as W-2 employees set out with the goal of renting a booth at a local salon and working as an independent stylist. So our hiring process must communicate our vision for the salon industry, like your process must align with the industry you work in.

We spend time communicating our “why” and our vision because the opportunity is counter-cultural. They have to see the heart and soul of our business and really gain an understanding of how we are different. Our hiring process has several steps and gets several different people involved in the decision. There’s an application, two phone interviews and an in-person interview with a hands-on component.

Tameisha Martin, Love Is Key: As a new business, I hire part time and PRN (as needed workers). They work typically 20-30 hours a week with the opportunity to sign up for catering events.

I’m a social worker by trade and have a heart to hire people that have some barriers and challenges but who are ready to re-enter the workforce and improve their life. We have hired from Truman Employment Services, which helps people with disabilities obtain employment. We have hired from Amethyst Place, which helps reunite mothers with children in foster care and works with those who have had challenges with substance abuse.

Aaron Thomas, GearBrokers: We have eight full-time employees and two part-time employees who supplement team efforts as needed.

While I have had success hiring through online platforms, I have much higher success hiring locally through word of mouth than taking time in interviews to build a rapport with potential team members. I think most employers who care about their businesses know that a person who cares is more valuable to the team than a person who has supreme expertise in the role you’re looking to fill but cares nothing of the people and place they operate within. Team members who care, learn, focus on team outputs and hold a northern-facing moral compass are difficult to find through keyword algorithms. I personally lean on my social circles, current and past team members, family members, neighbors, business associates and anyone I trust to help us attract future team members. I don’t feel this is innovative. I actually feel like this is a more old-school approach when most people are turning to technology to fill voids on their teams.

Reda Ibrahim, RK Contractors: We have full-time employees that do construction. We are trying to merge the social aspect of it by hiring refugees and minorities to close the gap in the construction worker shortage.

We hire many people who cannot speak English or do not have skill so we can help them gain a skill. I think this is unusual in the American market. We also hire a blend of skilled laborers, too.

Michael Stuckey, Lifted Spirits: We have mostly full-time team members with a few part-time employees in service and production.

We tend to hire very slowly whenever possible to do our due diligence so that we make sure we’re hiring the right person for the job. High turnover is a killer for small businesses, especially when you’re trying to grow.

Read on for more hiring tips and tricks …

Hire the best candidate for the job.

Looking to expand your growing team, or just want to hire your first employee? Check out the seven questions you can ask interviewees that’ll help you hire the best candidate.

What programs, processes or mentorships have helped you hire the best employees?

Cecilia: I have taken Kauffman Fasttrac, Growth Venture from the Missouri Small Business Development Center at UMKC, and ScaleUP! KC programs as well as coaching through a salon and spa specific coaching program called Strategies.

Rickey: Most of what we do has been learned through trial and error and past experience. Engaging in education for the hairstylist community has really helped us attract quality candidates. Out of all of the things we do to recruit, the most successful by far is classes for experienced stylists and visits to cosmetology schools. We are intentional about visiting local schools several times throughout the year. Usually during these visits, co-owner Lenora Leathers will teach a styling technique and share information about Savvy Salon. This builds rapport, positions us as industry experts and gives the stylists valuable insight that will help them on their journey. 

Aaron: I listen to the people who interview and the people on my team. I listen to the team with the intent to understand, rather than with the intent to respond. This lesson has changed my life for the better. ScaleUP! KC and mentorship from a Missouri Small Business Development Center at UMKC coach were invaluable. I also credit learning from my previous mentors.

Reda: Me being who I am helped us advocate and love the people we meet and to help them figure out and navigate the first steps of their career.

Michael: ScaleUP! Kansas City, working with a business coach, consulting from other mentors and a ton of research all helped with our hiring.

How do you retain employees?

Cecilia: In the salon and spa industry, service providers stay at one job place for an average of one to two years, and only 13% make it in these careers more than three to four years in total. This is astounding to me, so since opening my company, I have been trying to change those statistics. We have four-day work weeks, we let all employees have a true impact on shaping the company through meetings I’ve named “Seat at the Table,” we offer benefits (which is not common in our industry) and we are paving training and career paths as we grow.

Rickey: We put a lot of effort and thought into how we can make Savvy Salon a better place to work. One of the biggest things we’ve seen that contributes to employee retention in a small business setting is laying out clear expectations for employees. People want a road map, and they want to be challenged to push to the next level in their work life. As a small business, it can be challenging to have a road map laid out for a new employee because quite honestly, we are still figuring it out as we go. But getting an understanding with our team on where they are, where they are going short term and where they are going long term within our company has certainly helped us improve engagement and retention.

Tameisha: Keeping a positive work environment, following servant leadership, having clear expectations, using the social work code of ethics as a guide/manual instead of the traditional type of manual have all helped us retain employees.

Aaron: My general manager and I strive to set expectations that our team is designed to be profitable and function under the values of compassion, respect, stewardship and leadership over management. We set these expectations by practicing these characteristics throughout our work and personal life. We try to find teachable moments in all interactions whether negative or positive, but I usually find we learn and grow by trying to find the teachable moment in any given situation.

Reda: What has helped with retention was building good relationships with employees and being present with working in the business.

Michael: Creating and nurturing a positive work environment is No. 1. Having compassion and treating people with respect is absolutely the best way to retain great team members.

What are hiring mistakes to avoid? What did you learn?

Cecilia: The worst hiring mistakes have come from hiring too fast, as in hiring people who were OK instead of waiting for the right fit to apply. This can be hard to wait out when you need replacements ASAP, but I can assure you: It’s better to wait!

Rickey: The biggest missteps were hiring from a place of desperation and hiring solely on skill set. When hiring, we always want to be in a place of power. We do not want to be in a position where we feel like we have to hire someone because of what we perceive they can bring to the table. When hiring out of desperation, the decision is made with short-term implications rather than long-term strategy.

The other misstep would be hiring based on skill set alone. Culture and mission alignment are the most important things we consider when hiring a new person. If they are not a culture fit, the conversation ends. If they are not on board and seem genuinely excited about our mission, the conversation ends. We can train a lot of skills, but if a candidate lacks culture fit and mission alignment, it will be an uphill battle.

Tameisha: I regret underestimating the amount of part-time and temporary workers I needed and not hiring enough. If you’re hiring part-time workers, in some cases, it might be a good idea to hire more employees than you need. For example, if you think three people is enough, hire six so you have backups, on-call workers, etc., so you can have options when people call in to request off work or if they don’t work out.

Aaron: Vetting. No matter how perfect the resume seems, no matter how perfect the match to the team seems, no matter who recommends that person, no matter how hard they seem to work, no matter how accomplished they are, don’t only trust your gut and the data on the resume. Seek your own data. One of my first lessons in business was that I am responsible for due diligence for team member backgrounds and how those stories might impact my life, my team’s life and my family’s life.

Reda: I was very passionate about hiring Middle Eastern refugees and not skilled folks, and I did not balance between skilled and unskilled workforce, which cost more time and money. I now balance unskilled and skilled workers.

Michael: Keeping team members on board when it was clear they weren’t working out was more than a misstep. I learned it’s always better to compassionately make a change.

What advice would you share with other entrepreneurs who are ready to hire their first employee?

Cecilia: Take the time to curate what that right fit would be, what personality traits are important to your company and what kind of skills are most important. FIgure out which skills can be taught and which do you feel they need to start with and what kind of behaviors are you looking for in a team member. Really narrowing down the details will help you make smarter hiring decisions that will ultimately make or break your working environment.

Rickey: Be clear on why you do what you do early on in the conversations, and ask situational questions that will really pull out what they have done in the past so you can get a glimpse of who they are; it’s important to really dig into the art of asking good questions.

Don’t hire out of desperation: It is better to run your entire company solo than it is to run it with the wrong people. Build a road map for your employees and review it with them regularly. As the leader, you have to show them an exciting version of their future that is only possible with your company. 

Lastly, don’t expect your hires to be you. No one will ever work as hard in your company as you. Set clear expectations, motivate, inspire and create accountability but understand the unpredictable nature of people and roll with the punches. 

Tameisha: If you’re not fully educated on payroll, hiring, training or HR, use a system that’s plug-and-play, or partner with people or companies that can handle it for you.

Aaron: Be yourself. Be creative. Be competitive. Be transparent. Do not rely on one or two hiring methods. Create an atmosphere in the interview process where both the interviewer and the interviewee are comfortable and that everyone has some autonomy to be themselves. Rapport matters, especially if you are hiring for a specific project. If you are hiring for your general team, be open to any and all possibilities in the power that anyone one person can bring to your team; then, do your due diligence to be sure the person you are bringing onto your team fits the vacant piece of the puzzle.

It has been my experience that when people feel supported and respected, they’ve surprised me in a positive way more than they’ve surprised me in negative ways. And they’ll only feel supported and respected if you actually support and respect people.

Reda: Make sure you work in the business daily and interact with your people. For every two skilled workers you hire, hire one skilled person so you will have a balanced crew.

Michael: Make sure your HR practices are pristine and hire slow for the right fit instead of hiring quickly just to get someone in the position.

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