Thanks to Ringo Starr, we all know we’ll get by with a little help from our friends. People who work for themselves know in order to “get by” (and more!), they need help from certain key, essential friends – also known as employees.
Hiring your first employee is a big deal for lots of reasons. QuickBooks Community member Fobitty puts it this way:
“I'm running a small business by myself. I need to hire some help so I have time to expand. I've talked to a few prospects, but it's clear I have no idea what makes a good employee. In your experience, what should I be looking for in a long-term part-time employee? Personality traits? Experience?
“I don't have time to get this wrong.”
This single quote highlights the complexity of officially expanding your team (thanks, Fobitty!). First, your decision is likely driven by an anticipated or actual uptick in sales. That bump in scale, however, almost always means you’ve now got less time, and more pressure, to make a great hiring decision.
Second, you have to figure out the best way to find prospective employees – and then you need to know how to assess them effectively. Is personality more or less important than proven skills? How much experience should your ideal candidate have? There’s no shortage of things to consider.
Once you do build your team, more questions emerge. How do you create a work culture that helps employees thrive? Are you really prepared to be a great manager, business leader and coworker, all at the same time?
To get answers to these questions and more, we’ve gone straight to our favorite source: our awesome community members. When it comes to hiring, many of you have been there, done that. Best of all, you’ve shared your knowledge and, as a result, you’ve helped others learn from your experience. Thank you!
Now let’s dig in …
Hire today, grow tomorrow
There’s no arguing that people who work for themselves are, by definition, dedicated, driven, hard-working and immensely capable of achieving great things. But all this awesomeness aside, no one can (or should) run a growing business alone. In fact, when we asked our members what they’d do differently if they started over in their entrepreneurial adventure, a consistent theme emerged:
- I would have hired someone to do all the initial setup and then be taught by someone who knows, rather than cut back on my work to learn it all myself.
- I would have a great equal partner.
- I would choose a business partner with skills and talents that compensated for my weaknesses but someone whose goals were the same as mine. A business partnership is closely related to getting married and it should be approached in that manner.
- Don't grow at rapid speeds without having a seasoned, professional team.
Whether you need to find an official business partner or just a warm body to add to Team You, hiring earlier, rather than later, can be a smart strategic move. Which is why it’s no surprise that entrepreneur and business guru Rhonda Abrams has strong opinions about when to build out your team. Rhonda puts it this way:
“In my experience, small businesses are often too slow to hire. That’s actually what prompted me to write my book, Hire Your First Employee. It’s the hardest step in growing your business, and it’s critical.”
Rhonda says that even if you’re not quite ready to officially hire an employee, you can still get support, guidance and even hands-on help when you need it.
“Even before I ever hired someone, I had a business buddy who was also a consultant. We worked on projects together, and she was someone I could talk to about pricing. It’s like having your own advisory board.”
A good way to figure out if you’re ready to bring on an employee is to answer some probing questions. Rhonda suggests you sit down and have a heart-to-heart chat – with yourself. You should:
- Identify the professional skills you don't have.
- Ask yourself, what would my business look like if I had those skills?
- Ask yourself, how much faster would those skills helps me grow my business?
- Ask yourself, what am I willing to spend to do the things I can’t do alone?
Rhonda knows first-hand the power of answering these questions. When she did it more than a decade ago, she realized it was time to hire a head of operations. Today that employee is her “right-hand person” who manages contracts and legal issues, freeing up Rhonda to focus on all the things she does best.
Know what you need (hint: creative thinking helps)
When it’s time to start looking for your future assistant, you might post a “help wanted” ad on a job-search site like Craigslist, Glassdoor or ZipRecruiter (to name just a few). Or you might reach out to your professional network to tap into their pool of potential candidates. Some small business owners swear by referrals from friends and colleagues, while others prefer to go the official “submit resume” route to find a team member.
Once you identify a possible employee, you should have a clear sense of why, exactly, you need this person. Are you looking for a specific skill-set or do you need a “jack of all trades”? Do you need full-time help or just a part-time commitment? Is your ideal candidate experienced or are you open to hiring someone who learns on the job? Rhonda Abrams offers more food for thought:
“You may decide that you want to hire someone, or perhaps it makes sense to explore having a "virtual" team member or assistant. For someone adamantly self-employed and who doesn't want employees, maybe there is a business swap with another self-employed professional here on a specific problem or item on your to-do list.”
A virtual assistant? A business swap to fill a skills-gap? Now that’s creative thinking!
How’s your workplace culture?
Whether you know it or not, you do have a workplace culture. Of course, when you work for yourself (and, more precisely, by yourself), you set the tone of what does – and doesn’t – happen at work. You decide what music to listen to, when to stop for lunch, how late you work each day, what time the day starts. When someone else sharese your workspace, inevitably, the dynamic shifts. QB Community member Steve Chase weighs in on how to make sure the shift is positive.
“The key to success of any organization is the leadership and the people. If you get the leadership part right (you) then the people part should be naturally attracted to you. People bring talents that make you better. People you hire should bring joy to you, passion for the business, accountability and problems, too. But the problems can be good to help you really focus on what you want.”
Adam Fenner has this to say about finding an employee who’s a great fit for your business culture:
“One of the standard questions I try to find out organically, through conversation, is what [an employee’s] goals are. I want to know what obstacles are holding them back from accomplishing those goals. Sometimes all it takes is talking through it an issue and then following up to see if any action was taken.
“I'm helping one of my clients develop an internal training program to develop their people in-house. It stems from the business owner’s need for specific skills and certifications but also to help him retain the right people and give them a path toward more responsibility and higher pay.”
If a conversation is all it takes to keep a current or prospective employee happy and motivated in the short-term and in the long run, we say, let the conversation begin!
Friends and family, apply within
We know many of our QB Community members run their business with their spouse, a relative or even a best friend. This “all in the family” approach can be a winning strategy – or it can lead to grim silence around the Thanksgiving table. To help you avoid the latter (which always leads to indigestion!), some of our members share some valuable advice.
Wendy Shelton runs her niche business making and selling planner stickers with two of her daughters and one son-in-law. This potential recipe for disaster is actually a formula for success. Wendy explains.
“To have a successful business, your employees need to be happy. This especially holds true for me because I employ my children. I want them to tell me what they need to be productive instead of feeling like they shouldn’t bother their mom. I don’t want them to feel like we have a mother-child relationship at work.
"Once a month, we have a staff meeting where I buy everyone breakfast. I bring notes and explain the challenges I foresee and ask for input. I also ask if there’s anything they need in order to do their jobs better. I know them well, so I gave them responsibilities based on their individual strengths.
"There have been a couple of disagreements. When these came up, everyone involved explained how they felt, and I compromised by meeting them halfway. But ultimately, this is *my* business.”
“My sister and I are very compatible, and we balance each other out. I focus on marketing and our digital strategy. She’s super organized and looks at all our numbers. If Nikki says the numbers won’t work, we won’t accept a client. I’m making it sound easy, but the most important thing is to be mature, take your ego out of the equation – and have fun working together!”
“At first, it was rough. Neither of us wanted to say things that needed to be said – it was tricky. I’m very hands-on, which isn’t a great quality in a manager or a wife! Russ is the COO, so I’ve learned to say no, it’s not my business to increase production or monitor him doing his job. Now we have clear responsibilities, and we know how to communicate and respect each other’s opinion. We’ve figured out a balance, and for us, it works.”
One more example, this one about best friends who are also business partners. Laura Gluhanich and Fiona Tang had been friends for years before deciding to launch Signal Camp, a company offering workshops for startup founders. How do they grow the business and preserve their friendship? Laura explains.
“Before we officially jumped into our Signal Camp career together, Fiona and I spoke quite a bit about having a company with a friend. We talked to TONS of past coworkers and local people we knew who had done it before us. We just wanted to keep our friendship intact, but we'd heard horror stories.
“Everyone consistently recommended that we put together a Hopes & Dreams document. And we did! We wrote down our priorities, goals and what we agreed on regarding expenses and business strategy.
"As long as we agreed on our high-level goals and plans, we knew we could make the day-to-day much easier. When we disagree, we always refer to the Hopes & Dreams document to clear things up. It's the best strategy we've found for making big business decisions as a team. We run our business as two side-by-side managers.
“If one of us is overloaded with work, then we both need to slow down. Sometimes we even turn down a client. It's important that we're both okay with our workloads, even if we have different opinions.”
Ready … set … hire!
At the end of the day, the only person who can decide if now is the right time to hire an employee is you. As you mull this milestone decision, we’ll leave you with some words of wisdom from our very own Community Host, Audrey Pratt. Not long ago, Audrey faced her first hiring dilemma. Here’s what happened:
“I was so scared to let go of control and pass on my excess work to someone else. I didn't want to give up clients or turn away work, but I also needed to make sure my clients were getting their projects completed in a timely manner. I just hired my first independent contractor, and I am SO grateful I did. Not only is my business running more smoothly, but I also have more time to unplug and enjoy my personal life.”
Congratulations, Audrey! We are thrilled to hear about your success.
Before you go
QB Community members, what’s your biggest challenge around hiring your first employee? Share your concerns (and your wins!) when it comes to finding the very best person for the job!