This sponsored post is produced in association with Justworks.

There’s no two ways about it, employees want a good salary and even better benefits. Actually scratch that. They don’t want them — they expect them. Sometimes companies competing for top talent are tempted to pour money into expensive packages, further depleting already small budgets — a risky move when you’re in start-up mode. But there’s plenty of evidence that the war to attract the best talent can be won by looking at benefits in a broader way – and doesn’t have to cost an exorbitant amount. In fact, going beyond comp packages alone can often be what makes or breaks your ability to attract the best and brightest. Here’s how it can be done…

Tell your story first

If you haven’t done so already, take a look at this guide to building a great employer brand. Long before a prospective employee ever finds out about the specifics of your compensation and benefits offerings, they get a sense of who you are through your employer brand. Job seekers who feel a strong connection to your brand will be more forgiving when it comes to pure dollars and cents and are less likely to prioritize pay and benefits over other factors. “Believe it or not, someone will take half the salary if they value the work environment,” claims Ryan Farley who co-founded LawnStarter, a start-up that makes it easier for lawn care pros to manage their business from a mobile device.

Finding the balance

One of the biggest advantages a small company has going for it is being adaptable and responsive. Large businesses often struggle to implement new policies such as workplace flexibility, which has proven to be a major pain point for their employees. A recent survey by WorkplaceTrends discovered that 45 percent of employees don’t think they get sufficient work-life balance.

Attacking this concern directly is how Administrate, a very small company with fewer than 25 employees has been able to compete in the white-hot market of Edinburgh, Scotland. “One benefit we just started which has proved to be a game changer is we went to a 4-day, 32-hour workweek,” says CEO, John Peebles, “But we still pay everyone a 5-day wage.” This might seem drastic — even expensive both in terms of productivity and pay — but Peebles says the opposite is true. “This has been a big differentiator, doesn’t cost the company anything, improves overall productivity and focus, and helps develop a better quality of life overall for our team.”

The same type of approach is being practiced in the U.S. as well. Portland-based tech company Treehouse is closed every Friday, and at Chicago-based Basecamp, employees work four days a week May through October, and five days a week the rest of the year.

Focus on your culture

Even a startup that is known for offering top-tier salaries and benefits, such as NYC-based Trello, makes sure that prospective employees understand how it’s different from employer war competitors like Google. With benefits such as high levels of autonomy, no micro-management and a flexible workplace that is designed to remove distractions, Trello works hard to ensure it attracts the right kind of developer — ones who will be a good fit. “You have to be very self-directed to be successful at Trello,” says marketing VP, Stella Garber.

Garber notes that even though Trello pays well and offers excellent benefits, it’s actually the little (read: not costly) benefits/perks that have the biggest impact, such as free, catered lunches, letting employees work remotely from home, subsidized transportation for workers who live in NYC, and the allowance (and encouragement) for taking on side projects. It’s a strategy that seems to be working. Not even one year old yet, Trello has already grown to be a 50-person team. “We get hundreds of resumes every day,” Garber notes, “even when we’re not recruiting.”

Garber also points to Trello’s use of as one of the ways they foster an environment that developers love. “We try to pick tools that will make life easier,” she explains, noting that removing paperwork from the benefits and payroll process while increasing automation, helps everyone at Trello stay focused on what matters — their web-based set of productivity tools used by millions of users globally.

Keith Chapman, a PR associate for Taulia, a San Francisco-based startup, also thinks that what makes small companies unique can be a huge draw for adventurous employees. He contends that when companies are small but growing rapidly, it gives employees a vital role in that growth. “They also have the opportunity to quickly climb the ladder,” Chapman says. “At established companies, you have less influence and often times less excitement.”

Stay flexible

It really can’t be stressed enough: Employees are looking for companies that offer flexibility, especially when it comes to working remotely., the number one job site in the world, thinks this trend is so influential, it cited the need to redefine when and where work takes place as one of three factors that will prepare employers to deal with future talent demands in a recent report. “Evaluating the part-time, remote, or flexible jobs that your organization can offer widens the pool of people you can recruit from,” the report points out.

Entire businesses can be built around a fully flexible model. That’s the case with, a 30-person company that makes ordering custom products like photo books easy for people. “We’ve been able to attract great talent by eschewing a traditional physical office,” says spokesperson Graham Davis. “Eliminating the office allows us to recruit across the country, instead of limiting our search to people who live in a limited geographic area.”

Focus on the short list

Michael A. Morell, a founding partner of technology search and recruiting services firm Riviera Partners, advises many young tech startups he works with to understand a candidate’s needs and wants. He identifies six motivating factors behind every job hunt:

  1. The company – what do they do
  2. The commute – how far is it from my home
  3. The culture – what is the vision and purpose of the organization
  4. The chore – what will they be doing
  5. The career Advancement – what is the professional growth path
  6. The compensation – how much will they make

Assuming that #1 – what your company does – is attractive to a prospective employee, don’t place the focus on #6. Instead, leverage the in-between items of #s 2-5. These are where small companies can compete and win – especially if they practice the “stay flexible” mantra mentioned earlier.

Get creative

Of course, side-stepping the compensation competition doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. You’re still going to need a little extra “oomph” when it comes to showing employees that you value them. Consider these ideas from Justworks, as you adjust your perks to match your Employee Value Proposition (and again, they don’t have to cost a lot).

  • Give team awards. It may sound childish and not the sort of thing that true professionals value, but don’t kid yourself — everyone likes to be recognized for their hard work. And, tempting as it may be to call out your top performers, try to focus instead on the work of your teams. This builds cohesiveness instead of undermining it.
  • Use time off as a motivator. More and more companies are experimenting with the idea of “unlimited” paid time off. It sounds frightening from the company’s perspective, but what many are finding is that employees seldom abuse this privilege and genuinely enjoy the perk.
  • Employee loyalty program. Why should your direct manager be the only one to dole out a bonus? With employee loyalty programs (some of which only cost $5 per employee), team members can reward one another with points. Those points then become dollars that can be spent on merchandise or given to charities and non-profits.
  • Education subsidies. Nothing says your employer values you as much as when they invest in your future. It can be a great motivator, too. It says “We think so highly of you, we’re willing to pay to help you become even better at what you want to do.” The last people who said that were your parents.
  • A functional and well-stocked kitchen. Don’t underestimate the power of food. Employees value not having to fork out cash for a quick caffeine hit or a piece of fresh fruit and keeping them from long trips down elevators or down the street keeps productivity from grinding to a halt.
  • Non-profit opportunities. This is especially important for Millennials, who have a proven desire to work on social causes. Give them the time to work on a pet project, or better yet, demonstrate that the company cares, too, by participating in a company-match program that donates $1 to charity for every $1 an employee raises on their own. It’s nice knowing your company shares your values.

Small businesses might not have the deep pockets of their larger competitors, but that doesn’t mean they can’t use their many other advantages to attract top-notch talent.

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