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Finding good employees can be tough for small biz owners

Employment issues are among the myriad details that owners of small businesses must handle. Finding and keeping the right employees isn’t always the easiest thing to do.

To help, the Small Business Development Center at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Long Beach Campus provides a series of seminars titled “Hire Right the First Time.” Interim director Teresa Speir says the first question posed to business owners is “What does it take for a person to be successful in your company?”

“We talk about recruiting but the heart of it is for business owners to determine the requirements and skills they are looking for. If you need someone to do payroll and accounting, then you look for the skills for that job,” she said. “Many don’t take the time to write it down, but it’s very helpful if they do.”

She says by hiring the right people, business owners don’t have to spend all their time supervising and can take time off. Building employee loyalty is a challenge and takes time.

“With a small business you’re struggling to do everything, and it’s hard to accept that someone else does not feel the same way you do about your business,” she said.

The series also covers résumé writing, health insurance and performance reviews.

Speir is a former small business owner herself. She had several part-time employees for her bookstore. “Because they only worked part time, it wasn’t a priority for them, and they might not want to come in when I needed them,” she said. “That was a problem.”

Jason Hamilton, co-owner of Two Crackers Grocery Company in Kiln, says it can be difficult to get good employees. “You pay for what you get and we take time in hiring,” he said. “When you need help bad, you get bad help. We believe in taking time to find the good ones.”

He feels lucky that he worked with his dad, Howard Hamilton, in the Choice Supermarkets along the Coast before starting his own business. The elder Hamilton sold his stores, and some of those employees have joined Jason Hamilton in his business. “It’s a lot closer for them to drive to my store,” he said. “They reduced their drive from 15 or 16 miles one way to two or three miles.”

Although it’s hard for a small business to offer health insurance and 401(k) plans, Hamilton says he’s trying to put a deal together to provide these benefits for employees.

At Jones County Junior College’s (JCJC’s) Small Business Development Center, Director Greg Butler gives this advice to clients, “Hire the best employees you can find and train them the way you want them to do the job. Well-trained employees are more dependable and self-confident about their work.”

The center doesn’t offer workshops on employee issues but helps clients individually. Butler is currently working with a client to help her develop her employees to the degree that the business owner can take some time for herself.

“Having no time off is a real issue for small business owners,” he said. “They can take off when employees have the proper training and the proper systems are in place.”

The center also teaches a class in customer service and encourages business owners and employees to come. “We have a good mix,” Butler said. “We had 30 people attend the last class. Customer service is where small businesses can outdo the big boys.”

He also advises business owners to check out the Internal Revenue Service’s Web site and publications for information on employee taxes.

Ferrell Alman, owner of S.F. Alman, Ltd. in Gulfport, says his business is fortunate to have employee stability. The full-time employee with the least amount of time there is 10 years.

“The secret is hiring quality people and then treating them fairly,” he said. “We create a good work atmosphere and have had no real problems.”

While the clothing retailer doesn’t have an employee manual, he communicates through internal memos and meetings. Alman credits his wife, Rose, with being good with that part of the business.

The Excell Companies of Jackson averages 25 employees and just happens to be looking for some additional managers and filtration technicians at this time. The business provides bottled water and coffee services to offices and water filtration systems for commercial, industrial and residential locations.

“I shocks me that people will go to work for a large organization at a small rate of pay instead of working for a small organization at a higher rate,” owner Cris Dockrie said. “Maybe it’s a status deal. I wish more people would give small businesses a look when they need jobs.”

He feels small businesses such as his can give employees more flexibility and less monitoring. “With a small, family-owned business there’s a family atmosphere,” he said. “We really know our employees and their families.”

Dockrie says his company has good employees who don’t want to be in corporate America. “We have wonderful benefits — health insurance that is 90% paid and a matching retirement plan,” he said.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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