In a business, your team should be the wind that buoys you up. They can help you soar, or rest when you need to, reducing your load. They can also help you reach new levels because having another trusted perspective in the inner circle of your business can be invaluable. Being an entrepreneur can be a long, lonely road. A great team can help fill the gaps, bringing expertise and accelerating growth. However, as a small business owner, building a great team can be a challenge on many levels. How do you know when to invest in a team? And how do you avoid expanding too fast?
My answer to this is simple: allow your team to grow as you grow.
Build on Successes
I recommend starting with what I like to call the staggered team-extension approach. This means building your team, one person at a time, based on a specific project or with limited weekly hours to give you time to validate the project scope and ensure that you’ve chosen the right candidate. For example, instead of hiring one part- or full-time person, maybe you bring on two people to work 2-5 hours per week, with each person starting at least three months apart. Ideally, you want to find freelancers who are willing to work with you as well as other clients so they aren’t looking for your business to fully support them. This will give you the freedom to figure out the type of team you need, and how your business will work with a team.
Five hours per week may sound limited, but I find it works best to start your new team member(s) with a restricted number of hours during the first few weeks and even months. This way, you can assess that person’s skills while balancing your current workload with your new management responsibilities. Without making a large investment, or a long-term commitment, you can grow your team in phases and allow yourself the flexibility you need as you find the right amount of team support. I prefer to have team members work on projects instead of assigned roles/functions because it provides a more objective evaluation. If they succeed and produce the results you were hoping for, you can give them more work. That way you build on successes instead of the promise of a good job.
Beware Business Over-Growth
Expanding your team gradually (but steadily if necessary) is good practice for a number of reasons. First, it’s easier to keep track of financials and whether it makes sense to add more team members. Second, it’s easier on your team, and will be easier for you to absorb the change and get the new person up to speed. Finally, when you hire one person at a time you can more easily assess the impact they are having on your business.
Obviously how, when and how many people you hire will depend on your business situation, but to give you an idea of some guidelines for a gradual approach, here are a few good strategies to consider:
- add more than one person in any 90-day period so you and your team have time to get that person trained before hiring the next person.
- When you are mapping out your hiring plan, create milestones that correspond to optimal hiring times.
- Create a dashboard that allows you to monitor all key metrics owned by current team members so you can determine if you really need more people. Sometimes as your business’s strategies evolve, your current team isn’t able to keep up. In this case you might need to replace a team member, rather than adding one.
- Don’t assume everything can be solved by hiring more people. Sometimes it’s an issue of productivity, so if you optimize a process you can use the same number of people in the long run. You might only need to hire someone for 30-to-60 days to help you implement the new process.
- Link hire dates to new proposals or client start-dates so you can align team expenses with anticipated revenue opportunities. If necessary, build a contingency plan, letting candidates know that their start date is based on the deal being closed.
Finding Great Talent
Your team should help your business grow, not simply remove splinters in your side. Often the annoyances in your business are not where the growth opportunities lie — they are just problems to solve. I’m not saying you should ignore issues that are stopping your business from moving ahead; instead consider flipping the roles. Have your team work on growth and expansion. Things that are going well and need to be scaled up are ideal because you know there’s revenue there, and you may just need an expert to help you take things to the next level.
And here’s another key tip: hire experts, not generalists. In larger organizations, a manager may reside over multiple team members. However, I find that most small-to-medium businesses are more productive with a group of amazing people who can do a few things really well, fuelling the business with awesomeness.
Building a team can be extremely rewarding, but don’t rush into it. Take the time to gradually grow your team, finding the right projects and the right people so those you surround yourself with become the wind in your sails, not an anchor — or worse, a hole in your boat.
Brainstorm a list of ideas you could hire a freelancer to help you with. Choose your favorite and outline the project in more detail, listing the qualities of your ideal candidate.