By Steve Brown

Starting a business is a daunting task. There are hundreds of details to manage and then, of course, there is a need to secure clients. If you are like most, clients don’t beat down your doors, instead they grow in number based on positive experiences dealing with you, The Sole Proprietor. I know what a personally gratifying experience it is when your client base begins to grow. And I know how personally attached you can become to your loyal and enthusiastic clients. But then comes the inevitable problem / opportunity when you start to ponder hiring staff to take some of the load off, or to generate more revenue.

This of course generates a lot of questions, and the answers to those are based on the context of your situation. Here are just a few.

What will your employee do?

Will you expect this person to be a simple receptionist-type where minimal skills are needed, or do you expect them to do what you do (e.g. florist, baker, tile layer, whatever)? You may want to start with a part-time person, or even find someone through a staffing agency on a “try before you buy” basis. This is about 50% more costly, but hiring and firing is very easy to do (pick up the phone and call the staffing agency).

Will part-time work?

If you expect this person to be providing complex services, and you can start with part-time staff, look for someone who has experience doing what you need, but isn’t full in their current job. I did that a number of times when I had my photo studio and I needed another photographer or two for a big job.

Will you do the payroll yourself or outsource it?

Products like QuickBooks makes it pretty easy to handle a small payroll, but there are a ton of people you can also outsource to. Payroll laws are complicated and it would probably be best to examine your skills carefully before deciding to take it on yourself.

Do you have a list of things you don’t like doing?

That brings up another use for temporary staff: doing things you don’t like to do, or are not good at. Think about it, no one is good at everything. For example, I hate making “cold calls” as part of a sales process. When I’ve needed to do that, I hire someone through a staffing agency. My usual arrangement has been pay them minimum wage, but give them a fat bonus for every lead they generate.

Are you prepared for the interviewing and hiring process?

Here is a lists of things you can start doing right now to make sure you’re ready to interview and hire an employee:

  • Start by sitting down and writing out a brief job description. What will be the duties of this person? What are your expectations of them? What is the working environment like? Are there any physical requirements?
  • If this person will interact with your precious clients, then follow the motto of Southwest Airlines: “Hire for nice, because you can’t teach nice.”
  • Use the past to predict the future. Don’t ask, “How would you do…” instead ask, “How have you done…“ The reason is that the past is the best predictor of the future.
  • Know what competencies you are looking for. If they are technical competencies (e.g. arranging a dozen roses, plumbing a sink, replacing a tire, etc.) have them demonstrate if at all possible.
  • Always interview for “soft skill” competencies. These are things like written or verbal communication skills, the ability to manage conflict, providing customer service, etc.
  • Certainly check prior employment history and check references. Depending on what position you are filling you may want to do a criminal background check. All this can be outsourced, by the way.
  • Set up a probationary period expectation, usually 90 days, where the understanding is you can let them go for reasons of competence or conduct with no notice.
  • Understand what can get you into trouble in an interview. You can’t ask questions that are not relevant to the job. For example, what someone’s hobbies are has no bearing on the job, you can’t ask it. You can’t discriminate based on a wide variety of things like gender and religious beliefs. Consult an HR specialist if you are in doubt.

Okay, so that’s probably an overwhelming list of things to be thinking of, but I hope it gives you at least a starting place for taking that big step! Remember, there are professionals out there who can help you with all this, so don’t let it get in the way of running your business.