Employing Staff for the First Time? Ten Top Tips for Getting It Right

How to recruit your first employees

When you’re running your own business nothing will get you leaping like the proverbial gazelle out of bed in the morning more than the knowledge that the buck stops with you. But whatever your daily reality as an entrepreneur, there can be no greater satisfaction than looking back over your first year or two in business and knowing that you made it happen. You and no one else.

So now that you’re well-established and the orders are coming in thick and fast, could you benefit from an extra pair of skilled hands? Perhaps you’ve had to turn down a good piece of work and wish you hadn’t. You may sense (or you may have been told!) your customer service isn’t what it was in the early days and you know the reason why. Or maybe you need the extra energy and resources to grasp a new opportunity, safe in the knowledge that while you focus on developing strategy and increasing profits, someone else is looking after the bottom line and maintaining the good reputation you’ve secured.

Fortunately, there is a wealth of free information out there designed to help make the process of taking on staff a whole lot easier for small businesses. You also have great sites like this, the rest of the internet, government agencies and private business mentors who can all help you through this.

But once you’ve done all the research and decided that taking on staff is in the best interests of your business, don’t underestimate the strategic importance of recruiting the right person or team. He, she or they will inevitably be a major influence on the future growth and direction of your company.

Here are Perspex Consulting’s ten top tips on how to stay ahead of the game in the early stages of employing people for the first time:

1) Be clear about the job description. Know the daily roles and responsibilities, and their limitations. The latter is important as it indicates the degree of control or autonomy you are prepared to give over the day-to-day running of your business. Whether your new member of staff is employed in an administrative, customer-facing or managerial capacity, be clear what the job is, and what it isn’t.

2) Be honest about your own strengths and weaknesses. If you’ve been in business for any length of time you’re probably more aware of them than ever before. Will you be working closely with this new employee? If so consider taking on someone with complementary skills, and give them responsibility for the areas you are weaker on. As you do this, your time will be freed to play to your strengths.

3) Prepare yourself for your new role. If you’ve been doing everything yourself - sales, accounting, servicing, dealing with complaints, networking, marketing etc – having a new person on the scene will change that entirely. Be prepared to have someone challenge your ways of doing things, and be open to it – a fresh perspective can do wonders for a business. Also, decide where you want to focus your efforts, and empower others (with your support) to get on with the rest.

4) Get your own house in order. You might be able to run an extremely successful enterprise using your own inimitable brand of disorganised chaos, but unless your processes can be easily understood and adopted by others you may find your new employees confused and ineffective. Some people are great at bringing order to ensure that a business runs smoothly and consistently. Find one - a family member or a friend perhaps - and enlist their help.

5) Pay well. The age-old adage is generally true. You pay peanuts...you get? Well actually you do sometimes find a gem of a person willing to subsist on very little, but if you’re serious about your business don’t rely on it. Pay fairly and your staff will respect you for it.

6) Invest in your staff with individually tailored support and training. Everyone is different and only when they’ve been in the job for a while will you be able to discern the right level and type of support required. This could be technical expertise, or perhaps something more subtle like improved communication or negotiation, or an attitudinal need. The latter can be tricky if you have a close working relationship and if you aren’t really good at this sort of thing, our advice is to get someone in who is.

7) Have a regular appraisal system. Often dreaded by employees and employers alike this can be a great way of supporting and motivating eachother. Focus on what went well, seek out constructive ways in which you can improve the things that didn’t go well together, and most importantly ask the employee what you can do to make their job easier or better. Many employers forget that this is more than just a duty of care.

8) Don’t give up looking after your business. You built it, you’re the one with the passion for it, and you’re the one whose backside is on the line when things go wrong...so however capable and trustworthy and well-meaning your new general manager is, please keep a close eye on the performance of your business and its people.

9) Watch and learn. I’m always encouraging business owners to listen to their frontline staff, and to involve them directly in any major changes of strategy. They can give you extraordinary insights into changing demand for products, customer needs and preferences, buying styles and barriers. Stop wasting your money on expensive, generic industry reports – your best market knowledge is on your very doorstep.

10) Have a trial period. Because however rigorous your selection processes sometimes things just don’t work out. It may be that the employee has some great skills, but they’re not what you need right now. In this case be the employer who goes the extra mile to see that your soon-to-be-ex-employee finds a better fit in their next role. Offer your assistance, and if appropriate your business contacts, and your employee is more likely to leave speaking well of you and your company.

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