Five Things To Remember When Hiring Your Startup's First Few Employees
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Regardless of how innovative and high-quality your startup’s products and services are, the quality of your team will be the most important determinant of whether your business succeeds or fails. A bad R&D team will hamper your progress, a bad marketing team will leave you in obscurity, a bad sales team will kill your revenues, and so on. As Lama Ataya noted in her article for Entrepreneur Middle East: “Without effective and efficient teams, many businesses would fail to deliver the simplest of projects.”
As a large company, it’s easier to handle the hiring process– you’d be able to use specialist head-hunters to find the best hires, and you’d probably have a dedicated HR group to manage them. Even where there’s an error, there’s a limit to what one or two bad eggs can do to a large corporation. As a startup though, you’ll have to wear all the hats and ensure you can hire people who’ll boost your business, instead of damaging it. The upside, however, is that if you get your first few hires right, you’d have set your startup on the path of immense success. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind to help you do just that:
1. Do you really need a full-time staff member? The first decision you’ll need to make is whether you really need a full-time staff for that role. An increasing number of business functions can be performed remotely nowadays, and an increasing number of people are choosing to work as freelancers. “Outsourcing is usually quicker, and it enables businesses to tap from a much wider pool of candidates than if they were limited by commuting considerations," notes Rafal Szymanski, co-founder of GTM Plus. “Outsourcing also makes it possible for startups to access professionals with a level of experience that they’d ordinarily not be able to hire full-time.” If you’re concerned about productivity and accountability, then you can ensure that your contract is specific as to expected results. Where it’s a time-based contract, you can choose from a range of time-tracking software to be sure you’re getting your money’s worth.
2. Leverage your network- but cautiously If you’ve decided you need a full-time staff member, it might be tempting to simply go on a job board and post your vacancy. Instead, you should begin by asking around in your network of friends and colleagues. People who know you and understand what your goals are will be capable of recommending other people whom they know match your needs. It’s basically the first leg of your employee screening done for free. There are two things you need to be mindful of though. First, getting recommendations from your network can put pressure on you to hire someone who’s not the best fit, because you don’t want to disappoint the referee. You need to be objective and firm here– if the person comes in and does subpar work, it’s you who’ll bear the brunt. Politely turn away people who aren’t ideal, regardless of who recommended them. The second thing is diversity. Relying on your network can mean that you continue to get people like yourself and your friends. Studies have shown that diverse teams are likely to be more creative and ultimately successful, so keep that in mind and consciously work toward an inclusive workplace.
3. Reach out actively You have great dreams for your startup, and you know for sure it’s the next big thing, right? Not everyone will have heard about you though. That means many people who would be perfect for your needs won’t come across your posts on social media or job sites. To get the very best, you’ll need to actively search and reach out to viable prospects. Look for brilliant and experienced professionals who have the qualifications you need, and check their social media pages to get a feel for whether they’d fit into the culture you’re trying to build. When you identify someone interesting, send them a message via LinkedIn and talk to them. The worst that could happen is that they’ll be uninterested, in which case you’ll simply move on to the next prospect.
4. Use your culture as a benefit Bigger companies can easily spend a lot of money providing benefits for their employees. As a smaller startup, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to provide an on-site gym, or match the benefit packages of the large companies. What you can do is to make your company culture attractive enough that you’ll still attract top talent. Thankfully, you no longer need a humongous budget for an effective employer branding campaign. “You can use social media to promote your company culture and the passion that drives your existing team," says Lou Laurence, Marketing Director of Yocan. "Do it well enough, and your company’s potential for success will shine through the funding constraints you might currently have.” If people can see that potential, and understand that they’ll be happy working for your company on the way to fulfilling that potential, you’ll be more likely to get positive responses when you reach out to invite someone for an interview.
5. Do a test run Even with all the best precautions, you might end up hiring someone who isn’t really a good fit for your startup. It can be a hassle to disengage them due to contractual terms, and it could even lead to financial loss or even litigation. To minimize that risk, implement a paid trial/observation period during which you’ll closely monitor your new hire’s productivity, work ethic and other characteristics. Instead of presenting it as a probationary period, sell it as an opportunity for both sides to see if the working relationship would be a right fit. You’ll be better able to see the person in action on a personal and professional level. The deductions you draw from that can often be the difference between a great hire, and one you’ll come to regret down the line.