Small Business Owners & HR


I’ll let you in on a little secret. I speak to small business owners, not-for-profit associations, and student groups ALL OF THE TIME.

I do this for a couple of reasons.

  • The single biggest way to work on your public speaking skill? Speak in public.
  • The single biggest way to test your ideas and thoughts? Share them with people who do real work.

I reduce my fees when speaking to associations and I use every opportunity to practice, practice, practice. I just went on a speaking gig, last week, to prepare for my upcoming presentation at SHRM. It was immeasurably helpful.

And what of this experience of speaking to small groups of business owners, volunteers, and students? Well, it’s totally changed the way I view what I do for a living. Here are some thoughts.

  1. I have learned that HR is a luxury. Most small business can’t afford to employ a team of employment or recruiting professionals. Most workers don’t interact with Human Resources on a regular basis.
  2. Most HR work is still regarded as personnel. Hiring. Performance management. Contracts. Employee complaints. That’s what we do. We plan company picnics and have difficult conversations with employees. The concept of employer branding? Talent management? Succession planning? Those ideas are for companies with more money than common sense.
  3. No one really knows what to make of the great Human Resources allegiance. I am still asked, “Do you work for the company? Do you work for the employee? Why can’t you just pick one?” I often say that I work on behalf of shareholders to ensure that employees — a line item in the budget —  are treated fairly, managed in a legally-compliant way, and regarded as the company’s #1 asset. I get a blank stare on that one. Then I say, “I work for myself.” Then I hear a chorus of I hear that, sistah.
  4. It makes more sense to barter for HR advice than to pay for it. Nearly every single small business owner I’ve met in the past four years has offered free tires, discounted kitchen appliances, or tickets to sporting events in exchange for legal advice related to an employee. Who needs more invoices to process and more taxable income? Small business owners are all about exchanging services for expertise.
  5. Recruiting still sucks and people still hate to do it. It’s a big risk to hire someone. A bad hire can mean the difference between reaching your annual goals or being bankrupted through legal fees. Business owners want to pay recruiters to identify great people, ask the right questions, and make rock-solid hiring recommendations. The ‘risk mitigation’ angle really works when selling to a small business owner.
  6. When it comes to employee recognition, gifting (on the side) is huge. We talk about how important it is to re-recruit our employees. Small business owners get this. While they can’t always pay a higher wage, they tend to recognize and reward employees in more subtle ways. Tickets to AAA baseball games. Giving away a nice bottle of wine that was brought in by a vendor. A night on the town at a local restaurant. Small gestures to some — but big gestures to an employee who works hard and appreciates being recognized.

The one thing that I’ve also learned while speaking to diverse groups around the country? Everyone totally understands why I gave up my job in Human Resources when I had the chance to focus on a career in writing and speaking. If there’s one job worse than the job you’ve got, it’s HR.

Thanks for the sympathy, yo.

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