Recruiting new employees during a labor shortage is never an easy task, especially for small business owners who are up against bigger corporations that can offer higher salaries and a wider range of benefits. Fortunately, between flexible scheduling and remote work options, there are still many ways that you as a small business owner can gain a competitive edge over your larger counterparts. In this episode, Gene Marks and Rieva Lesonsky, CEO, president and founder of GrowBiz Media as well as, discuss several strategies that can help small business owners attract new job candidates.

Podcast Key Highlights

  • How Can Small Business Owners Attract More Job Applicants?
    • As a small business owner, you need to understand that many of your job applicants aren’t looking for a long-term position so you shouldn’t make that a condition for employment.
    • While you can’t compete with the salary or benefits that your larger corporations are offering, you can still offer the hybrid and remote options that many of them are moving away from.
    • Using time-tracking software to monitor employee productivity is also a big turnoff for most potential job candidates.
  • Which Are The Most Effective Work-From-Home Strategies for Small Businesses?
    • Depending on what type of business you own, a hybrid workforce could be very effective since it allows for both remote work and in-office collaboration; you might even consider holding monthly brainstorming meetings.
    • Business owners also need to make sure everyone has all the necessary equipment to do their work.
  • Can Four-Day Workweeks Be An Advantage for Small Businesses?
    • Four-day workweeks might not be the most suitable option for service-based businesses because of client demand.
    • Keep in mind that even if you’re open four days a week, your staff will still want flexibility within that given timeframe.
  • Should Small Businesses Offer PTO (Paid Time Off)?
    • Unlimited PTO tends to be problematic for smaller businesses due to scheduling conflicts and their limited staff.
    • You really need effective scheduling software or practices to implement unlimited PTO without any operational disruptions.
  • How Important Are Benefits When Trying to Attract Potential Employees?
    • Most small businesses do not offer enough benefits to stay competitive.
    • Health benefits, especially those that extend to family members, are incredibly important to applicants with spouses and children.
    • If you are offering health benefits, make sure you have the tools to help your employees navigate both the policies as well as the platforms that they’re hosted on.
  • What Do I Need to Keep in Mind When Selecting Health Insurance Plans?
    • While many business owners tend to opt for high deductible insurance plans because they’re cheaper, these plans aren’t always the most beneficial for your employees.
    • Whichever plan you purchase, make sure it has a big network of doctors to choose from; the plan should also offer vision and dental benefits too.
    • Since your main reason for offering health insurance is to retain employees, it’s important to select a plan that actually fits their needs.
    • Don’t be afraid to ask your current employees what they need while you’re choosing a health insurance plan.
  • What Do Small Business Owners Need to Know About Retirement Plans?
    • Like health insurance plans, retirement plans should be tailored your staff members’ individual goals.
    • It all comes down to being an open and communicative company; you need to be able to explain all of your employees’ benefits and options in full detail.
  • What Additional Benefits Should My Business Offer?
    • Student Loan Reimbursements
    • Flex Spending Accounts (FSA) for Dependent Care
    • Same-Day Pay
    • Use of Equipment



The views and opinions expressed on this podcast are for informational purposes only, and solely those of the podcast participants, contributors, and guests, and do not constitute an endorsement by or necessarily represent the views of The Hartford or its affiliates.

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Gene: Welcome to the Small Biz Ahead podcast. We interview great experts, but offer advice and tips to help you run your business better.

Gene: Hey everybody, it’s Gene Marks. Thanks again for joining us at The Hartford Small Biz Ahead podcast. Happy to have you here watching or listening. I am here with an old friend of mine, Rieva Lesonsky. Rieva is the CEO, president and founder of GrowBiz Media and Rieva, it is great to see you and talk with you. Thanks for joining.

Rieva: Oh, it’s my pleasure, Gene. It’s been such a long time. I’m happy to see you.

Gene: I am pleased and so happy to see you as well. You’re still based in California, correct?

Rieva: Oh, yeah. I’m never leaving.

Gene: Whereabouts?

Rieva: In Orange County, in Irvine.

Gene: Got it, got it. We were getting all your smokey wilderness fires in Philadelphia from Canada. So we were thinking about all the Californians have to deal with that stuff all the time.

Rieva: All the time.

Gene: Yeah. But it was a big deal just a few weeks ago.

Rieva: Oh, I got daily reports from my mom.

Gene: Got it. Got it. Okay. Yeah, it was definitely a thing. Anyway, glad that you are here. Rieva, you have been such a voice for small business over so a long period of time. You’re running GrowBiz Media and Tell us about both of those places and what you’ve been up to.

Rieva: So GrowBiz Media is just sort of the parent company, it’s our corporate site. But Small Business Currents is our website. It’s where we talk to small business owners and entrepreneurs every day. We post articles every day. It’s about everything that you talk about, how to do it better, startup, we’re talking about startups since there’s been that surge in startups in the last few years. From everything from the hottest trends to how to find employees, how to raise money, everything you can think of that a small business owner needs to know, it’s on Small Business Currents.

Gene: All right. That’s great. So yeah, let’s talk about your audience. We cover the same thing. So we’re in 2023 right now. It is a relatively slower economy depending on the industry that you’re in and sticky inflation, higher interest rates, labor shortages. Are these the issues that your readers and your community are seeing? Tell me what are on some of their minds.

Rieva: Yeah, I think the one that we hear about the most, and the one that I see out there as one of the biggest challenges is still finding employees. The job market is still really tight and you’re competing with big companies. People have more choices these days. So it’s really harder for a small business owner to find someone who’s going to stick with them. Sometimes you’ll find somebody, but it’s their launching pad, right?

Gene: Sure.

Rieva: Somebody fresh out of college. So it’s their launching pad to a career somewhere else. So I think that one of the things is you have to reconcile your brain to that. You can’t think, “I’m hiring people who are going to stick around forever.” That’s one issue you’ve got to sort of eliminate from your brain altogether. And then you have to go about it and what can you do? You can’t compete on salary. You’re not going to be able to compete on benefits. So I think the one thing in small businesses’ favor right now is a lot of bigger companies that went hybrid and went remote are try to roll that back. So if you can still offer those options to people, because every survey of American employees says, “Well, we want flexibility. We want to have flex time and virtual time at home.” That’s a big advantage for a small business owner.

Gene: Yeah, that really. Do you feel a lot of small business owners push back on that? I have clients that run manufacturing places or they’re distributors, I’ve clients that are older, that they come from a different sort of background, they feel that face-to-face thing in the office is really important. Are you seeing small business owners really adapt to the whole work from home trend, or do you feel there’s a lot of resistance?

Rieva: I think you’re right. I think it’s generational. I think some of the older entrepreneurs, they don’t believe it. They don’t think people at home are really working. I once wrote an article, this is going back several years before the pandemic, about time tracking software where they were tracking someone’s every moment, you’re not going to get anybody to work for you that way. It’s intrusive and basically you have to adapt the mindset is I’m giving someone a job to do, and if they get that job done in the time that they’re supposed to, let it go. Don’t care that maybe they’re taking a 10-minute walk at 2:00 in the afternoon. You can’t worry about it.

Gene: Yeah, I agree. I agree. So based on all of that, what advice do you have for our audience that are grappling with work from home policies? What have you seen that’s worked well for a small business versus stuff that hasn’t worked as well?

Rieva: I think the thing that works the best really is a hybrid workforce. If you can do that, if you can still maintain an office and maybe your office space doesn’t have to be as big because maybe everybody’s not in there on the same day or you don’t need as much space for equipment or that kind of thing. But I think a hybrid works the best where people like to be around each other, they like to exchange ideas, they like to just say, “Hey, how you doing? How was this?” So if you can do it where you have people in the office maybe even once every two weeks, a lot of business are doing it once a week, but even once every two weeks, depending on the kind of business you have and how many employees you have, that might work and just bring everybody together in that time.

Rieva: And make it not a regular day at work. Because what are people missing who are remote? They’re missing that chance to brainstorm and share ideas. So maybe that’s what you do. You once a month have a brainstorming day where at least you’re going to devote half the day to something like that. I think that that really works. And then otherwise, just let people get their jobs done. And the important thing you need to do is make sure everybody has the right equipment, right? You can’t have people working on ancient laptops or with software that isn’t working. It’s collaboration and enabling everybody to talk to one another instantly no matter where they are.

Gene: Yeah, I think that’s great advice. Security as well. I mean I’ve come across a lot of our clients, they have people working from home and they’re working off of older computers or older technology and that can get back to our offices. So that I guess also has to be taken into consideration. What are your thoughts on four day work weeks, Rieva? A lot of my clients ask about them as well. Is that something that could be more of an advantage for a smaller business to offer?

Rieva: I think it depends again on your type of business and what your needs are. Sometimes the problem with a four day work week, if you are a service-based business and your clients are not working a four day work week and they want to reach out to you and you’re closed every four days and they’re there, you at least need to have a designated person who can serve that person, who can talk to that person and explain. Because there’s nothing worse than somebody thinking, “Well, it’s Thursday and everybody’s supposed to be at work, and why can’t I get an answer?” So I think there’s that issue. And I think the thing about the four day work week is people still want flexibility in that time. So in New York, maybe some other big cities, but New York’s the one I’m most familiar with, you have Summer Fridays in a lot of cases. And so if everybody is enjoying Summer Friday, it’s okay, everybody gets it. But if some people are and some people aren’t, I think it causes more communication problems and maybe even trust issues with your client. “Well, they’re not there when I need them. I’m going to find somebody who is.”

Gene: Makes sense. It makes sense. The other thing you were talking about just attracting employees and also retaining employees, you had mentioned earlier that it’s tough for a small business to meet the compensation salary levels at a larger company or even the government can pay. So we have to be sort of nimble. So flexibility is a big part of that. Part of that flexibility is paid time off as well. And I’m curious what you’re seeing about any trends in paid time off that you’re seeing among your readers and your community. For example, do you see more small businesses offering unlimited paid time off plans?

Rieva: I haven’t actually seen a lot of small businesses offering unlimited paid time off unless the founder is pretty young. If the founder is pretty young, they get it. Their workforce maybe consists of people like them. They’re hiring other people of that generation. They tend to be more trusting. They tend to understand you can really do work anywhere. I think that for a small business, unlimited paid time off can be, I hate to say this, but I think it can be problematic because you have a smaller workforce to begin with. So whatever you do, you need to have the right scheduling software or whatever you use to make sure that everybody doesn’t decide, “Well, I’m going to take the first two weeks in August. Pretend I’m in Europe and I’m going to take August off.” And you have nobody, right?

Gene: Right.

Rieva: So it’s a matter of balancing and making sure everybody’s covered. And again, if you’re a service-based business, you have to understand what your client’s time is. For one instance, one of our clients serves the school market. So where you might think August is a really sleepy month, nobody’s paying attention, for him, it’s his busiest month because people are gearing up to get back to school. And so I need all hands on then to help him.

Gene: Yeah, that makes complete sense. So it really does depend on the company, I agree, and the way that you formulate those plans. So sticking on employees, because you said at the beginning this is the biggest issue that you’re seeing your community of business owners and readers face is finding people. Let’s talk about benefits a little bit. What are you seeing out there? What type of benefits do you see a lot of small businesses offering to their employees to keep them competitive?

Rieva: Not enough. And I think that’s really an issue. Salary is one thing because sometimes you’re only talking maybe a couple of hundred dollars over the year, and that’s not worth it for somebody if their life is a whole lot easier. And so I think it is about the benefits and about what you can offer in terms of particularly health, particularly health for the family. Because a lot of your employer employees today, they’re mainly millennials and millennials are the parents of America. More millennials have kids under 18 than any other generation, and they need coverage for those kids. And you can’t set them out and saying, “Well, here’s a website, figure it out yourself.” They need handholding and they need help, and they need to make sure that everybody in the family is covered. So if you can concentrate on things like that, on insurance and making sure people feel safe and sweet. My niece, she’s 35, just changed jobs and she had two really great offers and she chose the one with better work flex time at home and better benefits. So that makes a huge difference, I think, to people.

Gene: Yeah, I’m wondering… You’re absolutely right, health insurance is such a prime benefit, it’s so important, and that’s what a lot of people are looking for. Obviously it’s super expensive, particularly for a small company to provide. So I’m curious if you’ve got any advice for small businesses when they’re offering health insurance. I’m seeing a lot of my clients offering HSAs, HRAs. I’m seeing more popularity and captive insurance programs as well, high deductible plans. So I’m curious if you’re seeing the same thing and maybe you can comment on some of those options.

Rieva: Yeah, I think that the high deductible plan makes a lot of sense from the business owner’s point of view because it’s cheaper. But when you’re talking to an employee who has kids, and that’s a lot of money out of there, because the one trend we know is there’s more and more shared costs. I’m old enough that when I first started in the workplace, I had no employee contribution. My health insurance, it was just covered, that’s what it was. And the thing that we’ve seen is more and more companies are asking the employee to put up more and more of the money, and yet not giving them any option as to what the insurance is.

Gene: Sure.

Rieva: So here you are as an employee paying a lot of money and you have no choice for what you’re paying. So I think the popular thing to that I see is to make sure it’s a big enough network that people have their choice of doctors and that they can maybe stick with the doctor they have, because people have relationships with their doctors. And I know one person several years ago who actually didn’t accept a job, they weren’t in their 20s or anything, they were probably at the time probably in their early 40s, didn’t accept a job because the health benefits did not include their network of doctors and they didn’t want to change. So I think if that’s important is to make sure what you’re offering is a big enough network that people feel comfortable and covering things like vision and dental, it’s not just doctors. Especially today where everybody is working on computers, I think more people have eye issues.

Gene: Yeah, yeah.

Rieva: I started wearing glasses at 10. But more people have eye issues today. And you want to make sure that’s covered because it’s expensive.

Gene: It is. It is. I’ve been seeing, I don’t know if you’ve even seen the same thing, we’re staying on health because it’s so important… But again, we’re talking about recruiting employees and retaining employees. I’ve been seeing a big increase in interest and implementation of HRA plans as well, health reimbursement accounts. And I’m wondering if you’ve been seeing the same thing and if you can give your thoughts on them.

Rieva: I have not been in that specifics that I know about that. People who write to us are more about the bigger, broader issues and don’t get into that.

Gene: I see. No problem at all. Yeah, that’s no problem at all. And I guess captive insurance, again, I have a few dozen clients, smaller companies that have been doing captive insurance entities because it’s a form of self-insurance, and that’s been a real cost driver and a real help for businesses. I’m curious if you’ve seen that at all or have any comments on that?

Rieva: I don’t really… One of the things that I think is important is, and I don’t know much about that program you just mentioned, is that as a business owner, it’s not just about what’s good for you, it’s about what’s good for your employees as well, because they’re the driving factor here. They’re the ones that you’re creating these benefits to get them to stick around. Benefits now is not just, “Here it is.” It’s an enticement, it’s an employee attraction and retention feature. So you have to keep them in mind and not like, “Oh, this is going to save me money.”

Gene: Sure.

Rieva: I think that part of it is it’s about taking employees, not just telling them what, asking them. That’s a big issue too, is ask your employees. We have so many generations in the workforce right now, I don’t think we’ve ever had this many different types of people still working that what you may think is attractive, nobody cares because it’s not something that they need at their age or at their stage in life. So I think you have to make sure you understand what each employee needs and what’s going to make them go, “Oh, wow, that’s a really big benefit. I’m not going to leave.”

Gene: Yeah, you bring up a really good point that I never really thought about before, and it does resonate. I don’t know if there’s data to support it, but the fact that when people are running businesses right now, we do have a lot of generations of people that are working in a business that all have different needs and objectives and whatnot, and it really does create a headache for a business owner trying to come up with benefits that satisfies them all. And I think you have to almost just compromise on the fact that you’re never going to choose benefits that everybody in your business is going to be happy with, you know?

Rieva: Right. Or there are packages where you can pick and choose. It’s about giving employees choices. When you think about it, we now have large numbers of people from four generations in the workplace. Some boomers are, I think the youngest boomers-

Gene: Working away.

Rieva: Yeah, they’re still working. And you have Gen Z now in the workplace. And so you really have to think about who’s working for you. And a attraction is really mostly from younger people. They’re the ones looking for new jobs and retention is across the board.

Gene: Again, you’re talking about employees because it’s such a big issue that you raised. So the big three in benefits is health insurance, got to offer that, flexibility we’ve talked about, retirement plans are also a big thing.

Rieva: Yeah.

Gene: I’ve been writing a lot and talking to a lot of clients about Secure 2.0 which passed back in December because there’s so many things in it that can benefit business owners to provide better retirement benefits for their employees. I’m wondering if you have any comments on that or any thoughts what you’re seeing?

Rieva: One of the issues I think in terms of retirement is, again, you don’t know. In the old days, it was somebody turned 65 and they were out of there and they were happy to be out of there. Now you have people who are working, not even out of economic necessity, but who want to work into their 70s. And then you have the problem, I can remember back in the day when I had a staff of very young people, nobody wanted to contribute to a 401k because they’re like, “I’m 23, why do I care?” They couldn’t even imagine what that meant. So I think that’s really key too.

Rieva: I think a lot of insurance, retirement packages, all these issues, it’s about education and it’s about being an open and communicative company and explaining options and explaining this is what, this is what this does, and maybe this is why this is important. And I think it’s about showing real life examples because, again, if you’re 23, you don’t think you ever need to worry about retirement. It’s so far in the future you don’t need to worry about it. And then if you’re older, you are really worried about it. I saw a stat the other day about how many older Americans are totally unprepared. Social security is not a lot of money. It really isn’t. The best part of social security is Medicare. Honestly, that’s really it.

Gene: All right. That’s great. Any other benefits that you’re seeing out there that your readers or other small business owners might want to consider offering that has caught your eye? When I write or when I talk to my clients, there’s so many, student loan reimbursement, there’s the flex spending accounts for dependent care, there’s same day pay. Do you see anything like that that you can maybe recommend to our audience?

Rieva: Well, I think student loan reimbursement is really increasingly popular because like I said, you are now getting tons of Gen Zs in the workplace, newly graduated, coming in with a lot of student loan debt. So when you can offer something like that, that’s a really good opportunity to attract younger people. And I don’t know what the law is about time where you have to put in certain amount of time before benefits kick in. So I have-

Gene: You’re able to do that right away. As far as reimbursing on a student loan, you can certainly… In fact, you could take a tax deduction for that now up until 2025, that was part of one of the stimulus bills. And then of course there’s the student loans because they’re now tied into the Secure Act I mentioned before from December.

Rieva: Yeah, so I think that that’s really a key to attracting younger employees. But I think the thing that you need to do as a business owner, again, is balance that. Because you don’t want to sit there and pat yourself on the back because you’re offering student loan reimbursements if most of your staff is long past that, right?

Gene: Yeah, yeah.

Rieva: So again, it’s about what you need. I think one of the things that’s really key to a lot of people is the use of equipment, particularly if they’re flex, right? So do you send everybody home with a secure laptop? Do you let them use their work laptop at home? Remember the first days of BYOD and how all the companies were freaking out?

Gene: Yeah, it was a long time ago. Yeah.

Rieva: Yeah. But they were freaking out about, “I don’t want an employee taking a computer or a phone back and forth.” I think that’s not going to work anymore. And you say EO was a long time ago, but I still know companies that give you a work laptop and tell you, “Do not use it for personal use.” And that doesn’t really work with today’s lifestyle. And I think also one of the key things that you can do is encourage people maybe to just take random person, where you said unlimited time off, I think if you give them more personal days and encourage them to take them, not in a row, but say, “Hey, let’s do three day weekends.” Do that. Or even if you’re worried about it, if you say to them, “In an emergency, I’m going to contact you, so just have your phone with you or your tablet or something.” I think that gives people the freedom to have time, take time to themselves, but also doesn’t hurt the small business. Because that I think is the big balance. Whatever you’re offering an employee, you want to make sure, particularly as a small business, that it’s not going to hurt you.

Rieva: So one of the things, to me, it’s like finding the person who’s serving you that you can… It’s like a doctor, right? As a person, you have a doctor and you develop a relationship with that doctor and you want to stick with them. So on anything in terms of insurance benefits or medical benefits or health benefits, if you can find a company that offers you what you need and try to stick with that company so they grow with you and not as you grow, they’re like, “Oh, we can’t help you anymore.” They’re familiar with you, they’re looking out for you and your employees become familiar with them and what the program is. Nothing’s worse, I can remember as an employee, our insurance company programs were changing every year, and it got so one year my doctor was in the network and next year he wasn’t. Then two years later, “Oh yeah, we switched again.” And that’s not anything that makes an employee feel good. So it’s about finding something that’s workable and scalable with you at this stage you’re at and where you plan on going.

Gene: Great advice on providing incentives for your employees in a very tight job market. Rieva, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. I’ve been speaking to Rieva Lesonsky. She’s the CEO, President, and Founder at Grow Biz Media and Again, Rieva, it’s great to see you, and thanks so much for coming on.

Rieva: Thank you, Gene. Have a good summer.

Gene: It has been a pleasure. My name is Gene Marks, and you’ve been watching The Hartford Small Biz Ahead podcast. If you need any advice or tips or help in running your business, please visit us at or Thanks so much, guys, for watching and listening. We will be back again with another episode soon. Take care.

Gene: Thanks so much for joining us on this week’s episode of The Hartford Small Biz Ahead podcast. If you like what you hear, please give us a shout-out on your favorite podcast platform. Your ratings, reviews and your comments really help us formulate our topics and help us grow this podcast. So thank you so much. It’s been great spending time with you. We’ll see you again soon.

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