Most freelance operations are one-man shops. You are your own boss, sure, but you are also your own customer support, sales team, logistics and IT department and quite a lot more. And you can pull it all off, too, when you are starting out or when business is sporadic. When success comes through, and you find that you have more work than you can handle, there are only two options: miss out on project offers because you’re overbooked, or hire some people to help you.
In this post, we’ll give you some advice about what to watch out for when you are hiring your first employees for your small business.
You might be afraid that adding an employee to your own-man shop will induce further headaches and responsibilities. And in one sense, it will. You will have to provide for their salary and other expenses, and you will have to spend some time coordinating with them. And you probably won’t be able to sit at your desk in your bathrobe again.
Those things are true. But unless you’re hiring too early, all those things are more than compensated by what your new hire brings to the table.
Their salary, for example, should be covered by the extra projects that you’ll be able to accept, now that you’re a two-person operation. And coordinating with them would take some of your time, but having to do the tasks they’ll perform for you would have taken even more. You might be true about that bathrobe thing though. To stay relaxed, create a full checklist of the cost, wages, and everything you want to know about the process of hiring a new employee.
2. Be picky (but don’t overdo it)
Don’t just hire the first person that comes in for the job. There are not many answers to how to hire the right person and there is a sense of risk, but we are all people after all and one of the best things in small business or startups, is the flexibility it offers in hiring and educating good employees. First, get their CV and do a small interview to gauge their knowledge and style. Then, repeat for several more candidates. Consider the pros and cons of each, and only hire when you are certain that the new person will be a good fit.
Remember you’ll be spending your working time with them now — so make sure they have both the skills and the personality.
That said, don’t overdo it. You need someone that is good for the job, not the utmost expert. After all, you are not Google (or the Google of your industry), and you don’t offer the same benefits and salary — so don’t expect PhDs to line up to take the job. A fresh, out of university, the type might be just what you need — they’ll know all the latest techniques, and you’ll be able to teach them the particulars of your own operation better than you could some seasoned industry veteran. (And, they’ll usually expect less pay too, since they’re just starting out).
3. Avoid relatives, friends, and friends of friends
Hiring is difficult. You might mess up your first one. But to really mess up, hire a relative, friend, or friend of a friend. It’s not that they’ll be bad for the job (although if your personal connection is what influenced your hiring the decision, they might be that too).
It’s more than the lines between your personal and professional relationship with them will be blurry.
They might slack off more, because they’re friends, and are used to slack off with you. They might expect special treatment because they’re your relatives. And if they prove to be unfit, and you need to fire them, you’ll also lose a friend, or make an enemy out of a relative.
4. Spell things out (and then write them down)
Your new employee should know their roles and responsibilities. They should know what salary they’ll get, and what benefits you offer. They should know their working hours — and whether overtime is expected or even frequent. Gather all documents needed to hire an employee and for payroll, before the starting date and fill them in clearly.
Don’t keep those things a mystery, or make only vague references to them. Spell them out clearly, and have your new hire sign that they agree to them.
It will save you a lot of potential complaints and/or legal trouble if they don’t like their working conditions later.
5. Don’t hire unless you need to
Thus far we’ve taken for granted that you need to hire, but do you really? If you just have “grand plans” but not the customer demand to show for them, then you probably don’t. But how do you know when to hire new employees?
It’s better to expand when it’s actually necessary than lose a lot of money in a venture that might or might not pan out.
If you are overworked, you could always reject a few project offers. Unless the offers are so many that hiring an employee makes sense, this might be your best course of action. An employee is a responsibility. Do the math to ensure that you can pay their salary for at least a year with your current level of work.
And that’s mostly it.
Hiring your first employee might be frightening, but it shouldn’t be. Unless you do it prematurely (see #5), it’s a sign that your business is growing, and that you are on the right path. And that’s a good thing. Though it’s a shame about the bathrobe thing.