The only thing scarier than making the decision to quit your job to start your full-time business is the decision and the reality behind hiring your first employees. Which is why this week on The Gutsy Podcast, we are talking all about the hiring process.
I can remember those first few years like they were literally yesterday. I remember the very first day that I was a full-time business owner out on my own doing my own thing. And it was just a glorious moment. And while there was plenty to do, I often found myself having to try and figure out how to fill my time. Because when you go from, you know, a regular job that you are responsible for being at during certain hours to being a solopreneur on your own, all of a sudden time becomes a very mystical thing. So while in the beginning there is more than enough to do, I often found myself having to try and fill the time as well. And also to figure out how to productively fill the time.
I mean, I ran Worx out of my house for nine years. So those first few years were definitely a learning curve of understanding the work-life balance between um, answering emails and doing some projects vs. throwing in a load of laundry and washing the dishes and getting ready for dinner.
And then over time, that started to shift a little bit. I was out in the public, more often than not, attending networking events and going to different types of business events and just really trying to get my name out there. Because I quickly learned that just because “If you build it, they will come” – um, not exactly. Because if they don’t know that you’re there, they don’t know where to go. And as the business started to slowly grow and people understood who I was and the services that I was offering, I found myself doing a lot of promising and networking throughout the day and a lot of fulfilling and meeting those promises during the evening.
And for the first two years or so, that was really exciting for me because I felt like the fruits of my labor were being noticed. People were interested in what I had to offer them. It was just a really heightened time because it felt like validation that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing and people wanted it. Therefore, I really didn’t mind working around the clock, I was doing exactly what I had set out to do. But even when you’re doing exactly what you want to be doing, that amount of intense time and effort can only go on for so long.
I started not really eating well. I wasn’t sleeping very good because I was constantly thinking about it. My time in the world doing things other than working was very limited, and not to mention the fact that I had a little guy with me at that time.
Around year two I really started to experience some intense burnout, which we’re going to talk a lot more about burnout next week. It went from being really fun and exciting to being very overwhelming and a bit daunting. And it was about that time that I started to think to myself, “What do I really want long term? Do I want to stay a single solopreneur business forever or do I want to grow and expand?”
And that, my friends, is your very, very first question to ask yourself. Because just because you can doesn’t mean you should. If you’re finding that you’re in a position right now where you are just completely spent and you couldn’t possibly pack in one more thing because all of your time and your efforts are diluted across a thousand different platforms and promises that need capped – I want you to first ask yourself, “What do I want for the growth of my company?”
Because growing and expanding and hiring and building a mecca is not always for everyone, and that’s completely okay. There are hundreds of thousands of very, very successful small businesses that run as a one or two person shop, so I want you to get really real with yourself and envision your future. Do you envision growing and expanding a team and expanding your office space or are you saying, nope, not all of that – I just want to stay a one or two person shop. I am completely content being a micro business. I’m just really overwhelmed and I need to scale some things back.
If you choose to not hire (which again is completely okay if that fits within your goals and your life) it’s then up to you to decide what you take on. You can start to be a little bit more selective with the types of projects or commitments that you sign up for. Balancing and understanding your time and your schedule is going to be really, really key.
The other option is to outsource. Hiring is certainly a commitment, but outsourcing gives you a little bit more flexibility and leeway to make decisions and only bring in help as needed. Sometimes these are things like virtual assistance or social media managers – people that help you do some of the tasks and things that you know are important, but you really just need a helping hand to get them accomplished.
But if you find yourself in this situation where you want to grow more – you want to go beyond where you currently are, you want to be able to expand your services or your territory or your offerings, or if you want to get back into something that you really enjoy and wear a few less hats – then the rest of this episode is really, really for you.
Like I mentioned around year two, I really had to have this realization moment with myself. What do I want? And when I got really quiet with myself, I knew that I wanted to grow a team. I wanted to expand into a building and I wanted to be able to touch more people’s lives. I also really, really thrive on community, so being a single person business kind of drove me crazy. Like I would purposely go and work at coffee shops or restaurants just so I could simply be around other people’s energies. And not to mention as a creative, I also thrive on collaboration and communication. Some of the best ideas come from building on top of the feedback and ideas from those around you.
So when I realized that, yeah, I do indeed want to build a team, of course 1,001 questions ran through my mind within a millisecond. I knew that I was tired and I was burnt out and I had a whole lot of things that I had to get done and I didn’t know how they were all going to get finished. But I also wasn’t willing to sacrifice the momentum that I had built over the last two years either. And then came the decisive moment to hire my first employee, and many of you are probably feeling a very similar feeling that I had.
I had zero clue as to what went into hiring an employee. Like, I don’t know where to start. I don’t know what that entails. I’m pretty sure that involves the IRS at some point. Like do I have to hire with paperwork? I had zero clue – seriously zero – and like every other phase of my business, I learned by just kind of figuring it out.
So funny story behind hiring my first employee. Amber was my first hire. She’s my longest standing employee. She’s my right arm. She’s been there since the beginning (literally, before the beginning because we started our relationship working at the yellow pages together as graphic designers dating back to about 2005). Every year, there was a period of about two months where there was literally nothing for us to do because the phone book was being in circulation and we had to come to work and we had to do something, but there was nothing, quote-unquote, workwise to do.
So, we’d fill our time taking stupid photos together, redecorating the office, or that very last downtime that we had together, I started to develop the business plan for Worx. I went out on my own and started Worx on July 1st, 2007 and she continued to work at the yellow pages. And I remember one of the very last things that I said to her as I was walking out the door was, “Give me a little bit of time and I’ll bring you with me.”
Well, that time came in a really odd situation. She found herself in a place where it was time to transition her career. And I was in a position where I couldn’t keep up with everything and I was freaking out all the time. And I’ll never forget the day she called me crying and I was like, “This is it. We’ve got to, we’ve got to figure this out. You can’t go back there. I can’t continue doing this. Why don’t you and your husband Matt come over and we’re going to figure this shit out?”
We decided that I was going to hire her. I was going to make my first leap and have my first employee. She started out part-time, I think it was like 20 or 25 hours a week, but before she started her husband, Matt, and I had a really intense conversation in my garage. I mean, he grilled me (and rightfully so). You know when you’re taking on an employee now, not only is there the realization that I’m in charge of my own income, but then the realization of I’m also in charge of another person’s income, which impacts their family. Yeah. That’s kind of a big step.
So we talked about it. He asked me things like, “Can you do this? Can you sustain her income? What are your plans moving forward?” And I remember just kind of crying and being like, “Man, I don’t really know what I’m doing but if you just trust me, I promise you I’ll make this work.” They both put a lot of trust in me that day and I will be forever grateful for that.
And then my reality set in, oh my freaking gosh, what have I just done? I literally have to figure this out right now. So I called in an accountant. Step number one – call an accountant because there is indeed some paperwork. And yes, turns out the IRS does in fact like to be involved. I don’t recommend going to the school of Google for this because there are some very important steps that you have to take to ensure that you fill out paperwork properly and that everything is filed to the way that you, your employee, and the government can all be happy.
An accountant can also help you look at your numbers and financials to help you figure out the pay rate. How many hours that you can offer someone, what you need to do in business to be able to compensate for their salary, and all the other wonderfully technical things that come along with it.
Knowing all those things are really important and valuable, but hiring the right fit is the difference between creating a strong and growing company and culture and finding yourself in an atmosphere that you can’t stand being around. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you are not creating a business so that you can ultimately hate being at it. You want to create a strong and thriving business that has people that are really amazing at what they do, and not only contributes to the tasks that they’re really good at, but also contribute from an emotional and positive standpoint as well.
Which brings me to one of my favorite subjects: creating an amazing company culture. Company culture is not all about trust falls and cool water bottles. It’s about creating synergy within an atmosphere where everyone is doing what they are best at while being locked arm and marching to the beat of the same drum, towards the same goals. And even though I have most certainly made a handful of mistakes and learned some pretty hard lessons through the hiring process, building a great culture is something that I not only love and I’m very, very passionate about, but I have taken a great interest in the process of hiring and how to build a great company culture. So today, I’m going to spill all the beans and give you quite literally all the tools and the tricks that I use to build an incredible company culture.
The first thing you want to do is really define what your company culture means and stands for. These are things like: Who you are?; What you do?; How does that make a difference?; What is important to the culture?; What roles and personality types do you need to create a sound team? Without knowing what type of atmosphere you want to create and exude into the public, it’s really hard to fill those roles within.
Once you have defined your mission and your vision and the types of people that you want to work with every day, you want to develop some sort of hiring process. This is something that you use every time that you go to hire a new employee, and having a process in place will help you to avoid making quick decisions or hiring just simply off of feeling (which is one of the areas that I got myself in trouble with when going off of feeling and not facts).
So, here’s our hiring process. And keep in mind that everyone’s hiring process is going to be different based on the company needs, the specific type of role, the geographical area, the way the sunsets – I don’t care. Every company’s going to hire a little bit differently, but these are the things that I have found to be very, very successful for us at Worx as a creative firm.
Creativity is most certainly one of the top things that we were looking for. But I’ve also found that you can be the most creative person on the planet, but if you can’t communicate well with people or meet deadlines – your creativity is not going to go very far. I will hire someone with an okay portfolio that has stellar communication personality alignment over someone that has an impeccable portfolio but can’t carry on a conversation with me or comes in with a level of arrogance that I just won’t tolerate. You can teach and enhance skills, you cannot change someone’s personality. Which is why my hiring process and finding the right fit is non-negotiable.
The very first thing that we do is create a really strong unique job description. How many times have you been on the Internet looking for a job, or back in the day flipping through the newspaper reading the ads, and the job descriptions are so vague. Must have good customer service skills. Must be able to file paperwork. Must be proficient in Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
Guys, seriously, don’t do this. Especially now in the age that we live in. People are all about creating a career that aligns with experiences and their goals in life. I think that there’s some weird unspoken fear that if you tell everyone what you’re looking for, that you’re going to give away your secret sauce. So what are you more worried about, that someone else is going to steal your job description and hire somebody that fits their company or, even worse yet, if you put it all out there that you might actually find the right person?
When I put out a job description on the internet, and nine and a half times out of 10 it’s a landing page on our website, I put out every possible piece of information that I can in the branded tone that we communicate with every single day. I don’t go to the Internet and find some job description template. I literally write it handcrafted from start to finish and give them all of the details. I want to answer all the questions before they even get to us. I talk about the job description and exactly what I’m looking for. I tell them what I’m not looking for. I outline our expectations and the personality traits, what types of things that are going to be doing in the job, how much we’re paying them, different kinds of perks that they can expect – and we say it all in our language.
It’s not uncommon for our job descriptions to say things like shit balls and hell yeah – because why use some canned, dry version of a job description and set that expectation from the beginning? And then when they come in they have an entirely different brand experience with us. No, no, no, no. I want people that want to be part of our culture because of the way we represent ourselves.
People honestly should be interviewing you as much as you’re interviewing other people, so don’t make them work and guess and wonder. Give them all the information up front because when you have a really solid job description, it works as a filtration tool for you. It will eliminate a lot of those, “Hey, I’m going to work here because I needed a job…” and it’ll help you get a lot closer to the meaningful relationships – the types of people that you want to work with – and it’s going to help your company excel a whole lot faster and with a lot less resumes to sift through.
Also, by having a really great job description, that tells me that you have identified exactly what you’re looking for. One of the biggest mistakes that employers make is hiring to fill a role that isn’t truly defined yet, so when you’re able to put together a really fluid, strong job description, you know that you know exactly what you’re looking for in your company.
We also set deadlines. Send in your resumes (or take whatever action next step is) by a certain amount of dates and once that date has come, I go through all the applications myself and really evaluate who I feel is going to be a good fit. I pay attention to things like people using terminology we have used in the description within their cover letters or people that have identified different things that we do. You can very quickly tell when someone is familiar with your company and has done their homework, and when they’re just trying to get a resume in the door.
From there we conduct our first set of interviews. Anyone that I feel like could be a good fit, we bring in. We ask them lots of different questions and these are custom questions based on the, again, role that we’ve created, the type of culture that we have created, what their expectations are, what our expectations are. I want to know what is important to them in life besides working because we spend a lot of time working, but we also spend a lot of time living. So I’m just as interested in them as a person as I am as them as an employee.
After we’ve had a chance to meet with our top candidates, we often have a very clear picture of who we would like to have a further conversation with vs. the ones that are not going to be a good fit for the company.
The next step for me is to see them in action a little bit. Particularly with our creative roles. Our design roles in particular. I want to see how they handle pressure. So at this point, we are sending them what we call a skills test. It’s based on the role. Let’s say we’re looking for a branding designer, we’ll send them a skills test to complete based around branding within a certain timeframe that I give them. And it’s usually a 48-hour window or less because the reality is sometimes those things happen in our day to day operation.
So I’m looking for how they handle the pressure, how do they deliver, what are the details like when they present it back to us. So I encourage you to find some sort of skills, tests, what is something that they can do or perform that helps you see them outside of just question and answer scenario and actually in the depths of something that there’ll be doing on a day to day basis.
Once we’ve received those back, we go through another filtration system to find who is rising to the top. And at that point, I want to know even more about them. Knowing the skill strengths and the personality needs for the roles are just as important as knowing what they’re going to be doing on a day to day basis.
For instance, I may need someone that’s really heavy in the executing type of role, but I’m interviewing someone and really kind of gaining the insights that this person is a really strong visionary. And while they have a great personality and their work is stellar and they’re crossing all the t’s and dotting all the i’s, ultimately the role is less of a visionary role and more of an executing role. If I put that person in that position, it’s only gonna take about six to eight months for them and me to realize that they’re not doing the right thing. They’re going to be bored, they’re going to be frustrated, I’m going to be frustrated, and ultimately – it doesn’t usually end up well.
So to spend a lot of time investing in their knowledge and bringing them up to speed and training them on your culture, to then ultimately find out that they’re bored and need to move on to something else – that’s a really unfortunate place to be for both of you. So to make sure that we are doing our due diligence on our part, we use something called the Gallup Strength Finder tests. You can find it online and I think each quiz is $15 or $20 per person and because we have now narrowed it down to probably the top two or three candidates, this is a really valuable investment for me to make in these people. Because it very black and white tells me where their strengths are and if that’s aligning with what they are putting out currently.
The results of these quizzes are really fascinating because it breaks it down into four main categories: executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategic thinking. And then within each one of those categories are about 8 to 10 different micro categories that tell me exactly where this person’s strengths fall and the results of the quiz. We always pay for the top five, so we’re finding their top five skills.
These are the areas that they very naturally shine in. It’s here that I can tell, hey, if I need someone that’s really strong in the strategic thinking category, so one that has a lot of ideation and intellection and strategic thinking. But their results are coming heavier in the executing, so they are a little bit more disciplined and focused and restorative, even if I love that person a thousand times over and I feel like they would be an amazing match in our company – if the roles and responsibilities don’t match, again, ultimately you’re doing both of you a disservice by this point.
I have definitely narrowed it down to either the top one or two people. It’s not uncommon for two people to fit the bill across the board, which is a really great place to be but can also be a little bit challenging. Which way to go? Which is the right thing to do?
So at this point, I like to get my team involved.
We are currently a team of five, so I get them involved and let them ask questions because, ultimately, they’re going to be the ones that are rubbing elbows closely and working very, very closely on a day to day basis. It’s my job to find the right fit to infuse into our culture, but ultimately they’re the ones that are working with this person very closely every single day. So they put together their own set of questions based on how they’re going to work together, what’s important to them, making sure that we’re checking off the boxes, that mission, vision, and values are very aligned. And this is something that you can do department wise or if you have a small team, like ours, getting your team involved as well.
I’m not eating up all of their time by going through the entire hiring process together. I am bringing them the best of the best. These are the folks that I can see and would be okay with any of these folks working in our company, but I find tremendous value and their insight and input in that final decision. Ultimately, at the end of the day, I make the final decision. But their input is incredibly valuable because when we can create synergy from day one and they have had a hand in helping to craft the future of where we’re all going together, it creates a very tight-knit and positive team from the beginning.
And last but not least, we get out of our element. So we’ve narrowed it down, again. We’re either at our top candidate or top two candidates. We’re making that final final decision. We get out of the office as a crew.
Sometimes we go bowling, we have gone putt-putt, golfing. The important thing is to get out of the normal element because I feel like the interview process can be skewed sometimes. And yes, we’ve gone down through an extensive list of different types of things, but the interview setting can be kind of overwhelming or a little intimidating. And by getting them out of the office and seeing how this person interacts as a human can really help you have a better understanding of how they are going to interact with you and your team on a regular basis. It gives everyone a chance to kind of let their hair down and have a casual conversation. Maybe we’re not talking so much about business or the role, but about their life and what they do outside of work. And you know, you just get to know them as a human.
I think sometimes companies forget that their employees are actual human beings with actual human lives, which is why one of the final things that we do once we have made our decision – we’ve found our person, we can’t wait for them to get started, we can already see them in their chair doing what they love to do and contributing to the team – is to find out a little bit more about them as a human.
We use something called the 5 Love Languages quiz. The love languages tells us so much about them as an individual and it helps us to understand how to better communicate with this person. So if you’re not familiar with the love languages, there are five categories: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch. By knowing one another’s love languages, we know how to better communicate to help fulfill that person.
So, for instance, my team knows that words of affirmations are like 110% my love languages. I love feedback, I love words, I love to hear what people think. So when my team wants to compliment me or give me feedback, they know that I’m going to be very receptive when they speak that. To me, whether it’s verbal or written, knowing your teams love languages helps you to understand how they feel appreciated.
And to accompany it, the same source also has an Apology Language quiz because, you know, we spend a lot of time together and sometimes shit happens and it’s nice to know how someone receives an apology the best. The other nice thing about these quizzes is they take a couple of minutes and they’re free. I think they’re on 5lovelanguages.com and they’re just a really great tool for you get to know your employee as a person.
It’s this process, which may sound extensive, but it’s a process that has helped me to build a really, really sound company culture. People that are in the right seats on the bus all driving to the same destination and they’re each doing what they’re really good at. We’re investing the time and money and effort into expanding their skills within that area.
We’ve set up company culture standards so everyone knows kind of what they’re getting into. They know that there’s a crocheted f-bomb that gets thrown around the office and we have random impromptu dance parties and we laugh and carry on and have a lot of fun. But everyone also knows when and how to flip that switch to get down into business to get the things done that we are set out to do.
My hiring process is non-negotiable because I am the front line in protecting our company culture and setting an example for what we will and will not tolerate and bringing in great people so that the people that I do, have feel taken care of – feel seen, feel heard. And the tasks and responsibilities that are no longer serving them can be properly assigned to someone who is going to absolutely thrive on those same things.
One of my mentors taught me to hire slowly and fire quickly. Sometimes when there’s a lot of pressure and you feel really desperate for help or you feel like you’re drowning and you just want to get somebody in there right away. You’ll take the first person that smiles at you the right way. And I know the hiring process is timely, especially if you go through a process like we do, but honestly, it has contributed to our success.
And yes, you may be able to take a quick fix. Someone’s going to get in there and take that stuff off your plate right away. But you’re going to spend 10x more time undoing those things to then ultimately go back and do the process all over again. And if you find yourself in a situation where this person is not working out or something has changed, you have to remove toxicity before it has a chance to spread.
So the next time you find yourself wondering, can I hire, should I hire? I had an opportunity to ask, a very successful business owner wants how does he know when it’s time to hire? And his response will forever stick with me. And he said to me, “When it hurts.“And that resonates with me for so many thousands of reasons, but I know now to gauge is this as a short term sprint where we’re all kind of having to run and we’re busy for a little while and that’s just kind of how it is right now OR is this a marathon and this is kind of the new normal?
When I find that two, three month period of we’re no longer sprinting but we’re marathoning. I know that that’s a pretty telltale sign for me to start the process of hiring someone new. You spent a lot of time, money, effort, passion, and everything that you have, building your company. To take a few extra weeks (or maybe even a month or two) to bring in the right person is going to go 12,000x further than hiring someone just for the sake of hiring them. Do yourself a favor and protect your culture by taking the necessary steps to finding the right fit for the right role because in the end, a rising tide lifts all ships.
On this weeks #powerback, we’re talking about how to take your power back through supporting your tribe. Until then, follow The Gutsy Podcast on Facebook and Instagram or for more business insights, follow me on Instagram @thatlauraaura. See ya next time!
– – –
For more inspiration, follow along with us at: