Hiring and Training for Niche Businesses: Finding Top Talent

If your niche business needs employees with unique skills, hiring and training can be a challenge. Check out these tips for small businesses to find top talent.

Explore this guide to learn how to hire and train top talent for your niche business.

Did you know that 45.6 percent of all U.S. employees work for small businesses? Because they employ nearly half of all workers in the country, the growth of small businesses is integral to the health of the nation’s economy.

However, many small businesses struggle to attract and retain employees, especially those that provide niche products or services. For example, dog groomers need employees with grooming skills and experience. A local bakery, on the other hand, might require employees to have attended culinary school or worked under pastry chefs.

In this guide, we’ll explore tips and strategies that your niche business can use to hire and train employees. These pointers align with what today’s workers think is important, helping you boost engagement, satisfaction, and retention.

Tips for Hiring Excellent Employees

The first step to finding efficient, talented employees is making them aware that you’re hiring. From there, you’ll need to show them why they should work for your businesses.

To accomplish both of these goals, your business should:

  • Create tailored, detailed job descriptions. Job descriptions must provide a clear picture of the role and its responsibilities to attract the right candidates. Astron Solutions’ guide to writing job descriptionssuggests including basic elements like the job title and summary, an organizational overview, and required qualifications. It should also explain the position of the job within your business’s hierarchy, the salary and benefits, and any additional statements (e.g., a note about required background checks).
  • Partner with educational institutions. Work with trade schools, technical colleges, or universities in your area to recruit graduates. For example, a salon might coordinate an internship program with a local cosmetology school. Share that these internships could lead to full-time offers and provide real-world experience. These programs also give your business a chance to see potential employees’ soft skills, leadership abilities, and teamwork dynamics.
  • Expand its reach. Share the job posting in industry-specific spaces to spread the word further. If your vet practice is hiring veterinary technicians, you might list the job in the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America’s career center. Keep an open mind and look for candidates with transferable skills like great customer service and time management. These employees may not check every box when it comes to niche skill sets, but with a little training, they could become your top workers.
  • Dig deep with interview questions. Tailor questions to each role to gain a deep understanding of candidates. While a dog daycare needs a receptionist and attendants to watch the animals, these positions require vastly different skill sets. Ask open-ended questions that focus on role-related knowledge and skills. Frame these as both retrospective and prospective questions such as “What is an example of a conflict you handled at a previous job?” and “If [role-specific scenario] happened, what would you do?”

Remember to list these job postings in places that align with potential employees’ communication preferences. Contacting them through the platforms they are most familiar with and use most often helps you get the word out about your need for employees.

Training Your Employees on Niche Skills

Once you’ve attracted qualified candidates, interviewed them, and extended a job offer, it’s time to start preparing them to take on the role. Efficient, effective training and onboarding are paramount for specialized or niche businesses.

Start by sending your new employees an outline or agenda for onboarding. Save time by asking them to complete certain tasks before onboarding, such as setting up their account in your business management software. Then, use the following strategies to guide their on-the-job training:

Start a mentorship program.

When employees start a new job, they might feel overwhelmed by the need to adapt to the company culture, keep customers happy, and perform all of their new tasks and responsibilities. Giving them a trusted mentor can mitigate stress and provide them with a more experienced worker to lean on.

Here are some tips and strategies for starting a mentorship program:

  • Strategically match mentors and mentees. Create pairs based on their skills, experience, personality compatibility, and broader career goals. If a mentee has expressed interest in holding a leadership position one day, consider pairing them with a seasoned manager.
  • Organize regular one-on-one meetings. Have mentors schedule weekly or monthly meetings with their mentees to discuss skill development, feedback, work-related challenges, and opportunities for career development. Additionally, offer team-wide meetings that focus on specific topics like improving customer service or achieving work-life balance.
  • Encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing. Mentors should share any tips they have for streamlining tasks with mentees—these may be things that aren’t covered in onboarding. For example, if your pet business uses software like Gingr that provides owners with pet report cards, a mentor could give the new employee tips on how to track the animals’ health, behavior, and activity to quickly create the reports.

These programs are great, but what should you do if your business is one of the 26.4 million firms with no current employees? If you have the bandwidth, consider filling the mentor role for your first worker. If not, find interactive online training courses, networking opportunities, or external workshops to help them learn from peers.

Offer standardized, hands-on learning.

Workers of all ages need hands-on learning opportunities. Younger generations in particular are looking for a focus on relationships and want to feel a sense of belonging and purpose in the workplace—all benefits of a hands-on approach.

This training method also gives employees more practice and experience performing niche skills. Follow these steps to standardize the process:

  1. Clearly define objectives. For example, after completing training, employees should be proficient in a certain software program or a new skill.
  2. Develop consistent, easy-to-use training materials that give employees the resources they need to complete the training. This might include manuals, guides, or video tutorials.
  3. Implement interactive training methods like role-playing, simulations, or practical exercises to encourage active participation.
  4. Offer regular feedback and guidance to help employees improve their skills. Address challenges or confusion about the training to ensure everyone is on the same page.
  5. Assess the effectiveness of your training program by measuring employees’ performance against your predefined objectives. Make improvements as needed to enhance future training materials and methods.

Ask employees for feedback once they complete the training. Encourage them to suggest changes that would improve the learning experience or highlight the parts of the program that worked well so that you can improve the process for your next round of new hires.

Leverage automation and AI.

Using AI and software with workflow automation capabilities can save time, increase productivity, and give staff more opportunities to work on creative activities like brainstorming new service offerings or optimizing business processes. Train your employees to use these tools to their advantage.

The business management software you choose should have features that boost productivity and efficiency. Look for a tool with cloud-based storage, simple reporting features, customization options, and automation tools. For example, a salon might set up automated processes for bookings so that when a customer makes an appointment it triggers a confirmation email, a receipt for their deposit, and a reminder message.

Generative AI tools, like ChatGPT, can be used to quickly analyze and sort data, draft marketing materials, brainstorm new ideas, and so much more. Share the specific ways employees can use these tools to streamline and improve their work.

It’s also important to train your employees in the accepted uses of these tools and create an AI policy. Prioritize the ethical use of AI and establish human checkpoints in the process to ensure effective oversight.

The tips above will help you find and train new employees, but it’s just as important to consider the next step: retaining your workers. Show your appreciation for employees often, thank them with letters or small gifts, and go beyond salary when it comes to compensation and benefits (e.g., offer CSR programs like matching gifts and employee giving opportunities).

These small efforts add up and make employees more likely to stay at the business, ensuring your hiring and training efforts aren’t wasted.

Casey Dorman
Hi, I'm Casey! I'm the Sales Manager at Gingr software. Originally from Indianapolis, I now live in Colorado with my wife and dog, Dexter. Our hobbies include hiking, skiing, and visiting local breweries.