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Step by step guide to hiring your first member of staff

There's nothing like the first time. When you stop flying solo and bring on permanent help, it's like having an earthquake hit your business.

Quote�Business must be booming or you wouldn't need the help.�End Quote

For starters, you take on responsibility for someone else's income and future. No small thing. Next, you have to keep tabs on this new someone, judging how he or she gets the job done. And it works both ways; you're being measured as a boss.

Let's not overlook the positive. Business must be booming or you wouldn't need the help. Certainly, enjoy your moment. Go celebrate. Then, when you're ready, here are five tips to help take the worry out of hiring your first employee.

Grow up with your business

Start the hiring process by analysing the level of help you need, the changes you must make to allow someone to enter the business and the kind of manager you are. "When you're on the doorstep of growth, a lot of anxiety goes with the thankfulness," says Smooch Reynolds, an executive recruiter. "The anxiety is tied to trust. Aside from issues of money and affordability, there's a psychological component about giving away a piece of the business to someone who didn't manage it in the past."

Quote�Bring in a consultant to take a look at the business and suggest what comes next.�End Quote

Choosing the first employee is not just about offloading chores. It's a decision about the path of company growth. To gain insights, Reynolds recommends tapping the knowledge of other small-business owners who have been through the process. Or, "bring in a consultant to take a look at the business over the next five years and suggest what comes next."

It helps to put thoughts and a job description in writing. List the company's critical tasks and responsibilities. Identify what only you can do, what you prefer to do and what you can delegate. Decide on the title of this job you're creating. How much authority does it have? What is its scope and potential? You'll need to articulate that for candidates.

Expand cautiously

Don't rush to hire when sales turn strong and cash is flush. All businesses fluctuate. The cost of adding an employee takes a sharp bite.

While every business has its own rhythm, it's usually wise to go through the first year without hiring. Get a feel for the sales cycle and the downturns. Measure the "just right" temperature of income and expenditure. Experts suggest squirreling away at least a year's worth of expenses and overhead before hiring in order to see you through any rough patches.

Hire attitude, not skills

You'll be working hard and spending lots of stressful time with your employee. Choose a like-minded go-getter rather than a collection of skills. Usually, if an applicant is smart, eager and open-minded, skills and training will come easily, especially in a multi-tasking small business.

Quote�If an applicant is smart, eager and open-minded, skills and training will come easily.�End Quote

Barbara Corcoran founded New York City residential real-estate firm, The Corcoran Group, in 1973 with only $1,000. She now manages more than a thousand employees in a company that racks up a mind-boggling $5 billion a year. Her formula for hiring?

"Find an expander and a container and put them together. Hire opposites and lock them at the hip."

That pairing works because they complement each other and they don't threaten the other's territory, says Corcoran, who recently published a business handbook-cum-memoir called If You Don't Have Big Breasts, Put Ribbons on Your Pigtails. "There's mutual respect for each other because they realise they can't do what the other does. It's a mistake to put a container in the lead without an expander and it's a mistake to put an expander in the lead without a container."

Plan for fair-market pay

Business owners tend to work harder and longer than anyone else — and for less money. That's the price of investing in your own destiny. Plus, of course, entrepreneurs believe in payoffs down the line. But you can't expect every staffer to act like an owner; nor, in fact, do you want that.

Test the waters

Before making a full-time offer, let the applicant work for a while so you can see how he or she pans out. This will probably be a learning period for you, too. You'll figure out what you like or don't like about managing and what qualities you want in an employee.

Quote�Let the applicant work for a while so you can see how he or she pans out.�End Quote

There are several trial options. You can find someone at a local university. If it works out, hire him or her for summers and part-time work. Hire an independent contractor or consultant to work on a project or for a few days a week. You can ease someone into the business as a part-time worker. Or, go ahead and hire a full-time applicant, but set up a probationary period.

Keep in mind that your first-time hire won't necessarily be the perfect solution. It's hard to find the right fit with a two-person team.

Many entrepreneurs learn from an initial mismatch and use that knowledge to inform the next round of hiring. That's why the trial period is important. If your first-time choice turns memorable in all the wrong ways, chalk it up to experience and try again.

What next?

Check out our free newsletters for more advice about hiring, retaining and motivating staff.

Having trouble choosing? Here are six interview questions to help you sort the wheat from the chaff.

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