Today’s Biz Ladies post comes to us from Lauren Bacon, the co-founder of Raised Eyebrow Web Studio Inc.and c0-author of The Boss of You. Lauren has previously contributed to the Biz Ladies series with her posts on how to delegate roles, HR for the self-employed, and when to hire your first employee, and today we have asked her to expand upon the topic by discussing how to go about finding the right employees at the right time. Lauren offers some very helpful advice on how to hire at the perfect time and the types of employees that are the best fit for your business. Thanks Lauren for this wonderful post! –Stephanie
Why hello, lovely design*sponge-ers! It’s been a longish while since I last posted here, but it’s a delight to be back. I’ve been asked to pick up where my last few posts left off – I’ve posted a series of articles on HR for the self-employed, where I shared a few tips on hiring, delegating and providing yourself with decent employment benefits. As my own business continues to grow, though, I’ve been learning more and more about the dos and don’ts of hiring help, so I thought I’d come back & share a few more thoughts.
Timing is Every. Thing.
(Why it’s crucial to expand at the right time.)
When it came time for Emira & I to hire our first employee, we had so much work we couldn’t handle it all. As naturally cautious business owners, though, we knew the upswing in demand might not last, so we waited a while to see if the phone would keep ringing. The trouble was, we waited way too long. In our zeal to mitigate risk, we overworked ourselves for two full years – and as anyone who’s read The E-Myth will tell you, two years of working in your business costs you the precious opportunity to work on your business. Not hiring help sooner is one business decision we both regret, and if we could do it all over again, we’d bring on staff at an earlier stage.
What we didn’t realize at the time was that hiring wasn’t just the solution to our too-long work hours – it also benefited our company’s bottom line. Cashflow picked up as soon as we increased our work capacity, because we could turn projects around more quickly. And customer satisfaction increased, because our timelines became shorter and more predictable. So that first employee paid for himself several times over.
I hope you’ll learn from my mistakes, and watch for the warning signs that it’s the right time to hire:
You’re working too much. If you can’t remember the last time you spent your weekend relaxing and having fun – or that you worked an eight-hour day – it’s probably about time you got serious about making a hire.
You’re spending your precious time on the wrong stuff. None of us, no matter how multi-talented, can be equally great at everything. And as a business owner, your priority has to be steering the ship, not swabbing the decks. If you’re getting bogged down in work that could be delegated, but isn’t, ask yourself what you might accomplish if you handed it off to someone else.
You’re turning down sales because you’re too busy to take on more work. There’s nothing wrong with saying no to the wrong customers, but if you find yourself saying no regretfully, because demand is simply outpacing your ability to keep up your supply, that’s a clear sign you could use some production help.
You’re stuck in a perfectionism loop. If your biggest resistance point to hiring help is that you fear no one else will do as good a job as you can, go read my “Control Enthusiast’s Guide to Delegating.” Then come back here & make a hiring plan.
You’re already convinced you need to hire someone – you just think you can’t afford it. Maybe you already know, deep down in your bones, it’s the right time, but your bank balance isn’t showing as healthy a surplus as you’d like. Taking responsibility for another person’s livelihood is nothing to take lightly – but there are ways to mitigate your financial risk. See below for more.
Who to Hire
Once you’ve decided to hire someone, the next big question is: Who? Do you need an intern, a freelancer, a full- (or part-) time employee, or a virtual assistant? What’s their job description going to be? There are as many answers to these two big questions as there are entrepreneurs, but here’s how I break the options down, in brief:
Interns, co-op students, and the like tend to be low-cost hires and quite keen. They’re looking to “grow up to be you,” someday, so they’re appreciative of the on-the-job experience they’ll gain and you can feel free to throw them all the “grunt work” you want without too much guilt. On the other hand, it’s hard to keep a good one for a very long time – a few months, maybe a year, and they’ll be looking to move on up. So if you find a gem, consider offering them a sweeter deal in the long run so you can hold onto their expertise.
Freelancers are specialists who can help by taking on a specific task in your business, whether it’s stitching up your custom-designed handbags or designing web banners for your affiliate sales. They’ll tend to charge by the job, which makes them a good bet for anything where you need to be able to predict your costs consistently. Two caveats, though: 1) Unless you’re their only client, be prepared to get slotted in wherever they can schedule your work (if they’re busy, you’ll need to wait in line); and 2) we’ve occasionally experienced an “out of sight, out of mind” level of service with freelancers, where things seemed to be going well until they stopped returning phone calls or emails. So be sure to check their references, just like you would with an employee.
Virtual assistants can help manage your inbox and appointment calendar, respond to customer service requests, and all manner of other things you might only get otherwise if you had an admin person on your staff – but like other freelancers, they juggle multiple clients, thereby affording you the benefits of an assistant at a fraction of the cost. Most of the coaches I know have virtual assistants who handle everything from scheduling their clients, to getting them set up with web conferencing software (for teleclasses and such), managing e-book deliveries, arranging their travel schedules, keeping their websites up to date, and so on. VAs are great for any business that requires a certain amount of admin work; however, you want to make sure they are freeing you up for billable work, since they are unlikely to be producing anything you can actually sell.
Employees provide you with the most control. With great power, though – as Spider-Man taught us – comes great responsibility. Those on your payroll will report directly to you, and you’ll have free rein to dictate the terms of their schedules, responsibilities, and success criteria (within legal limits). This option tends to provide the greatest stability (assuming you treat your staff fairly) and predictability, but of course if your revenues aren’t predictable or stable, taking on someone full- or part-time may feel stressful. I do encourage you to consider part-time staff if you’re nervous about paying for (or finding work for) a full-time position – there are plenty of great people out there looking for part-time work and we’ve had great experiences hiring people on a variety of different part-time terms (4 days a week vs 5 half-days a week, to give two examples).
These options aren’t mutually exclusive, either. Our first hires were freelancers, but they didn’t offer us the stability & predictability we craved. When we hired our first employee, it was on a 3-month, 20 hour a week contract, and when that 3 months was up, we hired him on as a permanent, 4 days a week employee. (He’s now with us full-time.) There’s no rule saying you can’t try people out first, then move to a more long-term arrangement as you adjust to your increased capacity and new management role.
When it comes to figuring out what position to fill first, you may have a tough time nailing down exactly what tasks to delegate. (After all, you’re probably doing a decent impression of a one-woman band, cymbals, harmonica and all.) Here’s a quick-and-dirty guide to determining what stuff to hand off:
Write down every type of work you do in your business. EVERYTHING. That might include sales work, answering the phone, fulfilling orders, designing new products, meeting with distributors, etc. etc. etc. Put each item on a sticky note.
Once you’re sure you have everything down, start grouping like items together, thematically – try asking yourself, could a single person realistically do this and that? Line up matching items in columns and label them with a role. Eventually, you’ll get an idea of the various roles you play: e.g. salesperson, designer, business owner, customer service rep, etc.
Ask yourself the following questions:
Which of these roles is highest-priority for you to perform, and which could potentially be passed off to someone else?
Where do you see the greatest opportunity for increasing your capacity & revenues?
Could more than one role be combined into a single job description, at least short-term?
In my experience, the answers will likely come to you quickly as soon as you see all of the sticky notes spread out in front of you.
How to Pay Your New Helper
When it comes to paying for your extra pair of hands, you have two basic options: either they pay for themselves, or they free you up to earn more than you do currently.
In the first scenario, your helpers perform tasks that net you direct revenues: hourly services you can bill out at a premium (i.e. more than you pay them), sales work, order fulfillment, and so on. In the latter, they are coming in to do the things that get in the way of you doing your most profitable work.
Either way, new staff should pay for themselves pretty darned quick. This was a lesson we had to see to believe – we were pleasantly shocked when mere weeks after our first hire, cheques started arriving in the mail at a more frequent pace. You may have a slightly longer wait – it can take a few months to ramp up a new employee – but so long as you’ve done your homework to determine the most strategic hire, you should find yourself on solid financial ground.
You’ve made the toughest decisions by now: Whether to hire, who to hire, and how to pay them. All that remains is putting together a job posting and vetting applicants. My next installment will cover the nitty-gritty of how to craft a great ad for your position, and where to go about finding the right people.
Meanwhile, if you’ve got questions about any of the above – or if you have your own experiences to share – leave them in the comments! I look forward to hearing your thoughts.