There are many important decisions SME owners have to take in the early stages of their business, and one of the most important is making that first hire. Depending on the individual company, this could be done immediately, within a few months, or even a year after starting up. There is no singular approach, but it must be the right decision at the right time.
The key question to ask yourself is whether you can justify making a new hire, in terms of cost and workload. I experienced this when I started my first recruitment business - it was four months before I had enough money in the bank to be able to take someone on. I also had enough clients by then to be able to spread the workload, and this was crucial. Employees are the biggest asset of any business but also inevitably bring cost. Most likely, you will soon see that the benefits outweigh the costs.
The recruiting process is always important but especially at this stage of a business's life. You need to find people who not only have the right ability, but also the right mentality. I have outlined in a previous post the difference between working for a large corporate and a small business. There is a great deal of responsibility from the very beginning, as well as the opportunity to customise your personal career path. Whoever you bring on board should actively be looking for an opportunity like this.
Working in a startup can be quite demanding and requires flexibility, so your staff should be willing and able to adapt to this environment. You may be hiring someone to work on admin and customer service, but you may need them to do some of the marketing work as well. Look for people that have the ability to turn their hand to a variety of tasks. They may not be highly skilled in all these areas but the whole point of working for an SME is to develop on a personal level, so you don't necessarily have to look for an absolute superstar. Hiring someone who grows with the business is often a better way to encourage loyalty; they will remember the help you have given them.
You may not be able to offer the same stability and financial benefits as larger businesses, but you can offer something equally valuable, which is the opportunity to be part of a rapidly growing firm. This means your staff will be right in the thick of the decision making process and can make a huge contribution to the growth of the business. This is your unique selling point so make sure you emphasise this in your job advert and in any interviews.
What you also need to do is paint the sky blue - in other words sell your vision for the company. Explain to potential hires the brand values and where you see the business going in the future. When I made hires at Alexander Mann, I spoke at great length about the plans I had and how I wanted to move forward. This showed people that I wasn't prepared to just make up the numbers within my industry. I wanted this business to be a real success and this attitude helped me hire brilliant, motivated people.
Small businesses are unique places to work and therefore require unique employees. Get the right people at the right time, and you will be well on the way to success.
Follow James Caan CBE on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jamescaan