- Building a network of like-minded professionals helps with startup navigation.
- Establishing strategic recruitment practices ensures high-quality hires.
- Actively engaging your customer base safeguards service quality.
- Hiring for values protects your company culture and mission.
When you run a small business, every decision you make has its consequences. Even the most benign decision can impact your reputation for years to come, so it stands to reason that many small business owners feel a lot of pressure when hiring their very first employee, then their second, their third, and so on.
I can certainly attest to the pressure of hiring each new employee for Luxury Presence. In the beginning of my business, it was just me, my partner and a freelance developer. After six months, we brought on our first part-time salesperson. That pretty much set the pace for our internal growth for the next two years, as we racked up a total of nine employees. Then, the business took off, and we grew to 37 team members over the course of 12 months.
Growing the right way
That's a lot of growth and a lot of decisions. It's also a lot of room to make mistakes. Not that I wasn't happy with the expansion, but growing at an accelerated rate exhausts your resources, placing even greater importance on your hiring practices. Every new hire has the potential of upsetting the applecart.
Recently, I had to figure out how to scale a sales team. We were shifting focus from product to sales, so I explored commission structures and staffing. With that came the need to hire a VP of sales, something we didn't have. I taught myself how to build a sales team to be successful.
In the past, I'd be more on the defensive, reacting to whatever the marketplace threw my way. I'd ignore the feast-and-famine nature of startup growth, seeing feast as reason enough to hire additional employees. But experiencing bouts of famine makes you realize "being busy" isn't the most strategic approach to building a team. There needs to be a reason to expand your numbers.
Surviving the next mile
I was lucky enough to have a couple of great mentors who put our periods of accelerated growth into perspective. They reminded me that upturns in business weren't necessarily trends. They were more boons than anything else, providing me with the monetary resources to explore new ideas and invest in my business, not to expand just for the sake of expansion.
Because they'd already been through it, they were able to give me advice, challenge my preconceived notions about business, and point me in the direction for where to look for additional sources of information. An extra resource library beyond your current network can offer answers to questions specific to your business.
In other words, surround yourself with like-minded peers to brainstorm ideas and push you to achieve your fullest potential. You can't build a sustainable business on your own – at least in the long run.
Overcoming the obstacles
Even with a solid network, I ran into more than a few snags during those periods of accelerated growth. The following were some of the highest obstacles I faced and the tactics I took to overcome them.
1. Hiring quickly without lowering the bar
Hands down, the most difficult aspect of fast-paced growth was hiring high-quality talent at the same rate. Reframing recruitment as a process similar to sales certainly helped. Instead of simply reacting to our talent needs, I built a scalable talent pipeline – proactively engaging with passive yet prequalified job seekers for future career opportunities.
We also created clear procedures for hiring, such as more structured screening and interview processes, detailed job descriptions, FAQ documents and candidate take-home projects. The ultimate goal is to hire only people who fit the company, not take just anyone because you are hard-pressed to fill an open role.
2. Onboarding new hires
Employee onboarding often doesn't get the attention it deserves, which is the likely reason nearly 30% of new hires leave a job within 90 days of starting. More than 40% of those quick turnarounds said their day-to-day roles were not clear. Unfortunately, our company was no exception. Some of our new hires were asked to figure things out on their own.
We now have a formal onboarding process, including a buddy system, a detailed first-week schedule, 45-day reviews and 90-day reviews. Beyond that, it's also wise to hold one-on-one meetings with new hires to discuss expectations and learn about any surprises they've encountered since taking the job. Be proactive with your retention efforts.
3. Focusing on existing clients
When sales start rolling in, it's easy to ignore the existing customer base or sacrifice the quality of service. Building a customer-centric organization requires leadership to be on the front lines, taking an active role in customer engagement. Walk the walk, as they say.
We realized early on that we had to work actively to ensure our quality of work didn't suffer during periods of growth. In fact, we set a goal to get better while we scaled. This meant nurturing a customer-obsessed culture within our ranks. Set the tone for staff by engaging in your customer service efforts, not taking a top-down approach.
Once hypergrowth kicked in, it felt as if everything were on fire – even more so when we made a habit of saying yes to too many things. We quickly learned our lesson that "no" could be just as beneficial as "yes" to our growth efforts.
Ensure everyone is pushing toward the same goal by providing the team with extreme clarity on the company's direction. Empower staff to review requests and say no when the business isn't the right fit. We only take on clients if we know our product is suited to their needs. It's all about setting your business up to succeed.
5. Providing enough leadership
Once we hit the 15-employee threshold, it became blatantly clear that I couldn't manage staff on my own. We started creating teams and pods and brought in middle and senior management to ensure all employees had the guidance and help necessary to succeed.
As a business owner, you need to get a feel for when to delegate and when to step in, as would be the case for big-picture strategic planning.
6. Staying true to core values
When scaling quickly, it's only natural to bring on new people who don't know the values or culture of the organization. Reinforcing those values and culture takes a lot of effort, but it's the only way to ensure the company will survive in the long run. It's also the only way to ensure potential hires share the same passions as the business.
Clearly communicate your company vision, mission and values throughout the hiring and onboarding processes, as well as on other occasions within the business. One study found that having a collective passion improves the chances of innovation in everything from products and services to customer satisfaction and even cost control.
As you grow, problems change and it feels like the day-to-day is always different, and this can be uncomfortable. But the real beauty in that is that there's always something new to learn, something new to overcome and something new to build for your customers. It's all about putting each new day into perspective and using it to fuel your next stage of growth.