Recognizing your top performers with big raises or bonuses may be out of the question in the early stages of your startup. But you still want to praise your A players and reward their hard work (without coming across as cheap). What's a budget-conscious boss to do?

To source some ideas, we asked 10 founders from Young Entrepreneur Council their thoughts on impactful but low-cost ways to recognize their top team members. Their best answers are below:

1. Hold a celebratory party.

If you're working with an in-person team, try to throw some kind of party where every person is acknowledged for the assets they bring to the company. It's kind of like the adult version of a gold star in math class. If that doesn't work, try to give them certain things that you know will help their work in the long run--whether it's an item from their Amazon wish list or another treat.--Rob Fulton, Exponential Black

2. Give a gift card for an experience.

When you are not able to give raises to top performers, one way to recognize their achievements is by giving them the opportunity to treat themselves. A nice way to do that is by giving them a gift card to a restaurant or spa they love. Giving your star team members the opportunity to relax and indulge can be meaningful and positive, showing them that you appreciate their work.--Doreen Bloch, Poshly Inc.

3. Praise them frequently, not more expensively.

Instead of waiting until the end of the year to praise your top performers, do it every quarter. Whether it is a special meeting with cupcakes, a handwritten note, or a thoughtful public post, it is more important to increase the frequency of the praise then the celebration behind it. Top performers work best when they know their hard work is being recognized and appreciated.--Kim Kaupe, ZinePak

4. Give company awards.

Honestly, a $15 plaque is one of the cheapest ways to give recognition without giving a large raise. When we've been broke as a company, this has been how we've given employees recognition. Some of them place it up on their wall and are so proud of it. It's something that now, even when we give raises, people still want.--John Rampton, Host

5. Build their public authority.

Public recognition is so crucial. We do a news release for each person lauding their accomplishments. This recognition and the way we craft the news release with them is one step to building their industry authority and business celebrity. People get a dopamine high seeing themselves in news media publications. It's a satisfaction that money can't buy and it also furthers their career.--Joshua Lee, StandOut Authority

6. Offer unlimited vacation.

Although you may have to be creative when crafting your schedule at certain times of the year, it's a great way to reward your team members without directly affecting the bottom line.--Andrew Schrage, Money Crashers Personal Finance

7. Tailor the incentive to the person.

Having a deep understanding of who your employees are, what makes them tick, what jazzes them, and what they value makes identifying non-monetary incentives pretty easy. The worst thing you can do is develop one type of incentive for everyone. Some people value time off, while others value the chance to attend a training opportunity or a new assignment. Don't assume one incentive will suffice.--Chris Cancialosi, GothamCulture

8. Offer flexibility.

If you can't offer monetary perks, offer them lifestyle improvements. Everyone wants a better work-life balance, so allow these A players greater flexibility in their schedule. This could mean anything from self-serve vacation policies to expanded telecommuting options.--John Tabis, The Bouqs Company

9. Honor them on customer-facing channels.

Periodically create content commending good work done in the office and share it on social channels and email. Not only will this make employees feel good and help their personal SEO footprints, but it'll make your company seem warm and fuzzy, which your clients will like to see.--Adam Stillman, SparkReel

10. Write about them.

This can be incredibly flattering for employees. Publishing a blog post that recognizes your team members' accomplishments (even if it can only be seen privately within the organization) is a way to acknowledge achievements from outstanding team members. Best of all, all it takes is a bit of time to get to know your A players better and to tell the narrative of their impact.--Firas Kittaneh, Amerisleep

Published on: Oct 20, 2014