Base pay is just not enough to motivate people to come onto your team and stay with you long, so you need to have something more. Benefits are expected, a good benefits package should be covering 80–100% of extended health and the dental piece should be quite competitive as well. It is complete acceptable for the employee to paying for a portion of the benefits plan but the dollar you put in as the organization provides greater value than if you were to just give the employee the cash that you spend on the benefits plan.
There are also lots of other things that you can do from a non-cash perspective if cash is tight and those things can also help with culture building incentives. Some example of those would be; beer fridays, ping pong table for the team, team offsites, professional development, goals training and providing the team with lots of opportunities to enhance their skills. Competitions within a team can also be motivating for your team, as long as you are using the competition to motivate the right things. If you are wanting to motivate teamwork among employees than putting in place a competition where each employee has a goal to meet is not a going to create the atmosphere you want. Instead of working as team the employees are going to compete against each other so that they meet their goal individually. It would be better to set a team goal of a certain amount so that the team has to work together to achieve the goal.
For additional cash or cash equivalents there are some options including; commissions, bonus plans, profit share plans, stock options, tokens, product or product discounts and even signing bonuses for key roles if you are having a hard time hiring for that role. Profit share plans are great because they aren’t a guarantee and you only have pay them out when the company is doing well which motivates the employees to work hard to make the company successful, it is also a good option if you don’t have the cash free to increase everyone’s base pay. You do have to be careful if you are going to use equity such as stock options to incentivize employees because it can be a tricky thing to offer to your employees, if for whatever reason your stock value drops your employees have then lost money which can upset your employees, decrease motivation and could kill your culture.