Hiring Your First Employee

Creating a Happy Workplace

To offer benefits or not? That is the million-dollar question, especially when you're not a millionaire. Barbara Bruno of HR Search Inc. has been in the hiring business for 26 years. She says you don't have to offer that first batch of employees a health plan or a 401(k), but if you want to be one of the good guys and find good people to work for you, you should find other, cost-effective perks to offer those working at your company.

Two weeks of paid vacation is just a given. There is no national law requiring it (though some states do have such laws in place), but regardless, "You have to do that," says Bruno.

You can also offer flex hours, says Bruno, where employees can come and go as they please as long as they're working a set amount of hours per day or week. "You can also offer a casual dress code," she says. "People love to dress down and be relaxed." If you offer to pay $50 to $100 per month of an employee's day-care costs, that's a big perk because he or she will get it in pre-tax form, and you can write it off as a business expense.

And what's the biggest benefit that benefits offer your business? A happy, presumably productive, employee.

Working Together

You're hiring more than your first employee; you're bringing aboard somebody who will help your company grow, who will help create your business culture and who will have to understand that in the seven-course meal of the corporate world, you're still small potatoes. Which is why it's better to think of your employee as a partner, rather than yourself as the captain of the ship.

Medley had little choice but to remain humble. As he recalls of that first year working with Bankert, "I have two kids, and my 3-year-old would come busting down the stairs and run through the hall naked and pop through the [office] doors and yell, 'Look, Daddy, I'm naykee!'"

Fortunately, Bankert "thought it was hilarious," says Medley. The clients on the other end of the phone, however, were not as amused. So Medley had to bungee-cord the doors shut. (Later, his third and fourth employees worked out of his basement.) But even now, with the Netfor staff working out of real office space, Medley says he continues to maintain a partnership atmosphere with his employees: "I've never been a real power-trip person."

Creating a Handbook

So when should you write an employee handbook? You should probably wait until the third or fourth employee, suggests Storfer, who had one of his first hires write his handbook. Medley did the same thing, giving the task of writing it to his first employee. "When it's not coming from the employer's perspective, I think it turns into a more applicable tool. It's not a hierarchical dictatorship tool."

But what about writing it yourself? What about throwing caution to the wind and taking it upon yourself to explain your company's mission and rules without seeming like a dictator? Medley laughs. "If there's an entrepreneur out there who starts a business and has the time to write an employee handbook for [his] very first person, I tip my hat to [him]," he says. "That was always my Catch-22. I didn't have time to write an employee handbook, because I didn't have an employee."

Hiring Resources

If you're still craving more information, reach for that mouse or visit the nearest library and check out these resources:

  • To read up on interviewing techniques, Impact Hiring: The Secrets of Hiring a Superstar, offers approximately 300 pages of solid and sage advice from authors Frederick and Barbara Ball.
  • For help with producing an employee handbook, purchase a software program. A quick Web search will list various options, including www.youremployeehandbook.com, which offers personnel policy and procedure manuals for small businesses.
  • HR.com is a free Web site for those interested in human resources. Here, you'll get advice, free human resource forms and free articles about human resource issues. Get out your credit card and you'll be able to purchase various products and services, such as a human resource agent to do some of the work for you.
  • To strengthen your knowledge and understanding of the numerous legal elements and government regulations that apply to hiring, click over to the U.S. Department of Labor, where you can get answers to all your questions.

Freelance writer Geoff Williams is hiring: "If you know anybody willing to work for 1914 wages, give me a call."

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Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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