Where do you see your small business in a year? Five years? You almost certainly want to grow. But if you want to grow, you can’t do it alone. The theme of my special Small Business Week series is “Make this Your Year to Grow.” Today we’re going to focus on a fundamental growth strategy: building your team.
When I started my first business, I didn’t want to be a boss. But as my business grew, I was the one spending hours going to the post office, inputting data, paying bills. Those day-to-day tasks had to get done, but they didn’t bring in more money or clients. I wasn’t growing my business – and I wasn’t all that happy. Hiring my first employee was a great decision – it helped me grow my company and grow as a person.
For many businesses – especially the smallest – building a team doesn’t necessarily mean you have to hire employees. Even “sole proprietors” need support. Before I hired my first payroll employee, I began with advisors and consultants, then used contract workers from time-to-time. Occasionally, I teamed up with other consultants to offer our services to clients as a package.
Your team can consist of:
- Full-time or part-time employees
- Permanent or temporary employees
- Contractors, consultants, professional service providers
- Advisors, advisory boards
- Strategic partners
For most small businesses, however, building a team means hiring employees. Marcia St. Hilaire-Finn had no choice but to hire if she wanted to grow her daycare business in Washington DC.
“When I started, I had one employee,” said St. Hilaire-Finn, owner of Bright Start Childcare. (http://brightstartcaresdc.com/) “I had five kids…In child care, you can only have so many children for so many employees. To expand, I needed more people.”
When it came time to hire, St. Hilaire-Finn took a different approach from most day care centers and many small businesses. Typically, they hire the least expensive help they can find, figuring that’s the way to keep prices down and profit margins up.
“My premise was to create an ‘academy’ – getting kids ready for school,” St. Hilaire-Finn explained. “So I looked for people who had training in pre-school education…I usually go to universities that train people in early childhood education to find employees.”
To attract them, she had to pay higher salaries than most day care centers. That meant setting her prices higher. For many small business owners, that’s a scary prospect.
“Customers are going to pay for what they get – if they get an exceptional service, they don’t mind paying. You have to set your prices so you can pay your people what they deserve, give them benefits, sick leave, to encourage them to come to your business and stay there.”
Others cautioned that she was overpricing for the neighborhood where her child care center is located.
“I priced for the people I was trying to attract. If my neighbor was charging $5, I wasn’t going to charge $4.50. Instead, I charged based on what I was going to provide. If you want employees to come today and stay tomorrow, you have to pay them a living wage.”
St. Hilaire-Finn’s attitude toward her staff helped differentiate her business from the many other child care options and contributed to her faster growth.
She also followed the advice I give all employers: “Hire for Attitude, train for skills.” “When I do interviews, I hire people who are going to best fit our culture,” said St. Hilaire-Finn. “I look for people who are as excited about early childhood education as I am.”
Of course, hiring and managing people can be overwhelming, especially for first-time employers. “Ask for help,” St. Hilaire-Finn advised. “Take advantage of services offered by SBDCs (Small Business Development Centers). They’ve been instrumental to me.”
When do you know it’s time to hire in your small business? If you:
- Need employees on day one
- Turn away work because you’re overbooked
- Can’t find time to send invoices
- Are buried by paperwork
- Lack time to pursue new product ideas and/or new clients
- Need someone with specialized skills
- Want to grow a business you can sell
If you’re thinking about hiring, consider the following:
Figure out your needs. What, exactly, do you need an employee to do? Clearly define the work, and you’ll be more likely to find a candidate who fits your needs. (Use the free downloadable worksheet to outline your business tasks.)
How much you can afford? You need to pay your employee, but you need to make enough to pay yourself too. When budgeting, include how much money the new employee will help you generate.
Start Slowly. Small businesses hire a quarter of their employees as part-timers. You may even want to get your feet wet with independent contractors – if you can legally categorize workers as such.
Make the mental leap. Before you place a help-wanted ad, begin to see yourself in a new way. Start to think of yourself as a “lead-er” not just a “do-er.”
Think about why you went into business. It probably wasn’t to be buried by administrative tasks or to make another sales call. It certainly wasn’t to sit alone in your office, all day, wondering if you’ll make enough money to stay in business. By building a team, you’ll spend more time on what you’re good at, develop new skills, and make more money. In other words, you’ll grow.
SMALL BUSINESS WEEK DO-IT-NOW ACTION ITEMS:
- Use the worksheet “Business tasks” to determine which jobs you need help with (www.planningshop.com/solution-center)
- Make a personal commitment to build your team this year
- Identify the skills you need, but don’t personally have, to enable you to grow your business
- Make a list of people who can help you grow, such as advisors or strategic partners
- Figure out how much you can afford for paid help – even contractors or part-timers
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2015
This article originally ran in USA Today on May 7, 2015