Here at The $100 MBA, we always preach the philosophy of lean business: keeping expenses low and maintaining profitability. So when the margins are thin, it’s important to know how to keep your employees happy and motivated. It’s not always possible to give bonuses or other financial rewards, but there are other ways to inspire loyalty and get the most from your people.

Money isn’t the only motivator. In fact, it’s the intrinsic rewards that often draw the best effort from employees. Feeling valued, appreciated, and relied upon can do more for a given person’s attitude towards their work than a bump in pay. That’s not true for everyone, but it’s true for the kind of employees worth keeping around. And it’s true for the kind of employees that are worth rewarding financially when their work contributes to a better situation.

In my experience, there are a few key factors that make employees want to give their best. Make sure that these few things are in place, and you’ll have a team that’s eager and willing, even through the lean times.

  1. Honest Praise

To the cynic, praise might seem like poor compensation compared to cash. But heartfelt expressions of appreciation for someone’s competence and effort go much farther than many realize. Psychologically, the affirmation of someone’s professional acumen is the kind of boost that leads to real productivity. Who works harder (or better): the employee who’ll see a few more dollars, or the employee who feels like he’s earning respect?

Especially for online businesses with remote teams, it’s important to stay in regular communication. Reaching out just to let team members know how well they’re doing isn’t time spent idly. It’s time spent keeping your employees in a frame of mind that translates directly to productivity.

Keep employees in touch with each other through services like Slack, and let the whole team know how valuable each member is. The atmosphere that’s created that way is worth the effort.

  1. Fun

When people think of fun places to work, often the first that comes to mind is Google. Google has developed a legendary reputation for making the workplace enjoyable, from the humorous attitude to the luxe employee lounges and recreational facilities. By any measure, it’s a fun place to earn a living.

Because it’s so exceptionally fun to work there, Google draws the best. Their employee-first approach is how they ensure that everyone on the payroll is grateful to be there regardless of their salary. In fact, for many positions Google actually pays less than the competition. Google understands that money isn’t the only thing that gets their team out of bed in the morning.

Create your own fun for your team, whether it’s at a physical business or online. Celebrate successes together, encourage a sense of humor, and get together physically or virtually. You can even host remote get-togethers via webcam, just to have a chance for some social interaction and “break room” banter.

  1. Promotion

While promotions usually come with a raise, they don’t always have to. Sometimes, offering a new level of responsibility and recognition is enough to give an employee a sense of ownership and investment in the business. A promotion is an act of trust that’s as personally validating as more money. If their work in their new role leads to a better bottom line, then they’ll have earned whatever financial rewards come.

  1. Training

Professional development opportunities are valuable, period. Any chance you can offer employees to expand their skill set is a service to them. In essence, training employees in new skills is adding to their personal market value, and it will be appreciated. Use services like lynda.com to make employees better at what they do, and it will come back to you.

Not only does training benefit the employee enough to inspire their motivation, it makes them more valuable to your business. Offer regular training opportunities, even if you don’t have a specific project in mind for them to apply it to just yet.

  1. Leadership

Often, an example is the greatest motivation. People crave leadership, especially in a small business where the stakes are higher and the ups and downs hit closer to home. Showing your own dedication makes employees feel as though their own fate is tied to yours, and inspires a greater level of personal loyalty.

Be hard-working. Be decisive. Be confident. The effect will be that your employees will trust and value your effort enough to match it with their own.

A tight financial situation is challenging, and often frustrating. You need your employees’ best efforts when you’re least able to reward them financially. That’s why it’s crucial to keep them happy in other ways, until the profit margin widens enough to show them some love they can spend.