Making your first hire is an important milestone in the life of a start-up. It's a clear signal to the world that your company has stopped being a venture - something that may or may not take off - and started being a viable business.
It's a crucial juncture; the right first hire will help accelerate growth, while the wrong hire will do just the opposite. Luckily, there are several things you can do to ensure you avoid the latter...
Develop a narrative
You love your business, but there's no reason why other people in your market will be quite so enamoured yet. You need to compete with established agencies and big employers who can offer perks like childcare vouchers, generous pensions and company health schemes. You're asking your potential employees to join a business that - statistically at least - has much less chance of being operational in a couple of years' time and probably isn't yet in a position to offer these monetary sweeteners.
To beat the competition, you need to build a narrative around your business. Who are you, where are you going, what makes you stand out and why getting on board with you could be the best move your dream candidate has ever made.
Spread the word
Realising your USPs and shouting about them will help you find people whose values are in sync with your own. Whether it's doing some PR, advertising, or speaking to potential partners or recruiters in the relevant sector, you need to get your story out. If you've developed a strong narrative, then the bongo drums will start beating and the right people will take notice.
Find the right personalities
There's definitely such a thing as a 'start-up' personality and you need to be careful to choose someone who is able to swim, not sink, in this environment. Some people naturally prefer to build a ship rather than steer it - these are the people you need to find. Attitude is just as important as skills and you should design the interview process to tease out more than what people can do, but who they are, what they love and how they're likely to react to the peaks and troughs of start-up life.
Thinking about value alignment is also essential. It's easy to be blinded by attractive promises, but if they aren't aligned with the values of your business, then cracks in the newly formed relationship may start to form and you will be left with a big mess to mop up!
But remember: it's not all about personality
I've seen far too many start-ups flounder because the team has hired in its own image, or worse, narrowed their talent pool to a couple of their friends. A successful business needs different, but complementary personalities and skills on the management team. When you find someone who shares your mind-set and agrees with everything you say, invite them down to the pub, not onto the board of your business.
Do it right
It is of paramount importance that you do everything right when you take on your first employee. The cost of unravelling a bad hire can range between £25-50k - not a sum any growing business can afford to lose. Start-ups understandably prize flexibility and many pride themselves on their flexible culture, but this shouldn't come at the expense of watertight contracts and proper financial arrangements.
Getting talent on a small budget can be tough, but skimping is never advisable. You get what you pay for in almost all cases... so it's worth thinking about how much you can afford and stretching yourself to the top of your budget.
You should think creatively about the package you can offer; extra holidays rather than higher salary, company shares, flexible working. If cost is a real issue, consider hiring freelancers or contract workers. This will give you access to the talent you require, without the need to make a long-term commitment. And, by structuring the work on a project rather than a time basis, you will likely get a higher quality candidate who's able to work more efficiently.