How and When to Make Your First Real Hire

Many start-ups launch as a one-person show with the founder running every aspect of the business or fitting it in as a side hustle. Once you start gaining traction, you have to figure out when to bring on your first employee. If you wait too long, you will miss out on opportunities to expand. If you move too early, you can be saddled with expenses you can’t afford.

Sonia Storer, BBVA USA Now A Part of PNC“A critical element in every hiring decision is assessing potential,” explains SVP and Head of Talent Solutions for BBVA USA Now A Part of PNC, Sonia Storer. That includes an individual’s potential to excel in a specific role and to contribute to your overall success. “High-potential hires demonstrate strong performance in their current role as well as a desire to grow, a high capacity for learning and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances,” Storer adds.

Storer will join a roster of outstanding speakers, including senior executives from Microsoft, GSK Consumer Healthcare, the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Atlanta Hawks, successful entrepreneurs and many others at the Global Supplier Diversity Conference (GSDC) September 23, 2021 streaming live to your location. This full-day program is offered with complimentary registration to help women and underrepresented founders protect and build their businesses.

Am I ready?

Although feeling at your wit’s end trying to do everything yourself may make the need to hire more obvious, you need a more strategic decision-making approach. The right first hire will not only help carry the workload, but can improve your business and enable you to grow, or meet other goals, such as improving customer service. Some key parameters to consider include:

Will it help me reduce costs? If you’re using a lot of ad hoc help for activities and skillsets you need repeatedly, it may be more cost-effective to get someone on the team who can provide that expertise on a daily basis. Hiring a programmer, writer, accountant or delivery person might fit into this category. You may be able to get year-round help at a similar price to what you pay an ad agency or accounting firm for spot assistance.

Will it help me grow? If you’re turning down business because you can’t meet demand, hiring a team member may more than pay for itself. In addition to providing direct services that enable you to say yes to new business, a good hire will bring a fresh perspective, strengths that complement your areas of weakness and the synergy that comes from teamwork.

Will it save my sanity? A new hire can help you avoid burnout. If having someone else on the job makes it possible to get home for dinner, pick your kids up from school, get to the gym or even get enough space to problem-solve more creatively, the investment can be well worth it and enable you to persist for the long haul that small-business-building demands.

Who do I need?

Allowing someone into your inner circle can be scary. After all, your business is your baby. Think deeply about exactly what skills you need. It’s okay to go broad at first, but then focus in on those few critical skills or attributes that will make someone invaluable to you.  Do they really need ten years of experience and a college degree? If not, scratch those requirements. Creating a smaller pool of truly appropriate candidates at the outset will save you time and money.

One attribute you might put near the top of your list is an “entrepreneurial spirit.” Someone who is only comfortable working within the support systems of a large organization is probably not the right fit. Be candid throughout the recruitment process about lean budgets, long hours and the need to wear multiple hats, as well as the excitement of getting into a growing business on the ground floor.

Finally, test for the skills you need. Too often, even large organizations fail to test for the actual skills they are hiring. Professor of Management at the Wharton School, Peter Cappelli, Ph.D., writes in Harvard Business Review that only 40% of employers conduct skills testing. Even when they do, they often override those objective criteria with their own judgment which leads to poorer choices. Ask social media pros to create sample posts, programmers to write code, or a salesperson to sell you something.

Where do I find them?

Job candidates are probably not looking for you, so you will have to look for them. Tap your network and spread the word among platforms geared to start-ups. Your focused position description will really pay off here with three or four bullet points that say exactly what you need. Specific avenues to consider include:

  • Networking within the Monica Motivates community and professional groups associated with your industry, as well as your local Chamber of Commerce.
  • Posting your opening on your own website and social media, and on platforms such as AngelList, Glassdoor and Indeed.
  • Connecting with the Career Planning & Placement office at local colleges.
  • Posting your opening on your own LinkedIn page.
  • Asking your customers for referrals.

The transition from being a one-person-show to the leader of a fledgling team will require time for you to grow into your new role, just as your first employees grow into theirs.