Startup Employer Branding: Why You Need ItA few weeks ago, I was chatting with the uber-smart co-founder and CMO of Piston Cloud, Gretchen Curtis. Gretchen was fresh off a panel I hosted for HR-types to help them understand why they should care about marketing. It reminded me to turn the tables and ask "why should startups care about HR and talent?" The answer: You're dead if you don't.

In the Fortune 500 world, companies pay big bucks for employer branding. An employer brand is just like a consumer brand, except it's the perception of what it's like to work for your company. And Gretchen classified Silicon Valley's employer brands like this: "it's all about the degree of hotness. (1) You're hot because no one has heard of you -- stealth secret mode. (2) You're hot because you're an up and comer -- you're just starting to get buzz and funding and everyone wants a piece. (3) You're hot because you're known -- well-known."

Startup Employer Branding Takes More than Humor and Buzz

Regardless of your hotness factor, just like you are doing with your product or service, you need to be able to clearly differentiate your company in the talent market. Just like startup company culture isn't about free beer or cool office space, employer brands aren't about funny job descriptions or even hotness.

"One thing for sure, when a startup is on the hot wagon, everyone wants a piece. People will come out of the woodwork to advise, fund, and want to work there," says Gretchen.

But you don't want people to come work for you just because you're hot.

Turnover is expensive. The wrong hires can cost you plenty. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is famous for sharing that his company has wasted $100 million on hiring mistakes.

You want people to work for you because you're hot AND because they've seen the good, bad and ugly about working for you and STILL can't imagine being anywhere else. You don't want someone who's dating you for your looks.

4 Steps for Smart Startup Employer Branding

1) Figure out what makes you different.

What do you offer a candidate or future employee that no other startup or other employer does? What makes you different? That's what candidates need to hear, especially when it comes to startups. They're already taking a risk by bypassing more corporate, stable opportunities. So you have to be clear about why your startup is the place they should come work.

Poll your team -- ask everyone what they think makes your company different. Then look for consistent themes, especially from high-performers.

2) Promote the good.

Take those themes and strengths and sell them. Candidates want to know the good: What are you most proud of?

Be sure to be share examples. If you tout transparency as a core value, show examples of that value living and breathing in your company so candidates can believe it.

3) Be honest about the bad.

We've all made bad choices in late at night in a bar with poor lighting.

Working for a startup shouldn't be like that. Take off the makeup and stop the terrible pick-up lines. Instead, be upfront about the challenges of working in your startup. What's difficult? What's important they candidate understand?

If they still want to work with you after knowing these things that's a great sign.

4) Be clear about who succeeds.

Last but not least, don't just showcase employees and testimonials. Show examples of work they've done and how its impacted the company. What's made them succeed and what have they done to make the company successful.

If you want to promote investors and well-known names who are advising and working with the organization, do so, but make sure you have them define why. And promote that.

Having an actual employer branding strategy to attract the right people will ensure you're not hiring short-term stars who just like you for your hotness. Or you can continue look for "rockstars" and "ninjas" and promote the cool ping pong table in your office.

Yeah, good luck with that.

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exaqueo is a human resources consultancy that helps startups and high-growth companies build their cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you build a workforce that’s aligned with your company culture and develop an employer brand that will allow your business to grow in the right way.

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