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Hiring Alternatives: The 5 Employees You Don't Need Anymore


Technology saves money and makes your business more efficient by automating tasks. Here are the five office positions you don’t need.

A copywriter goes to a job interview at a new ad agency startup. The owner is just getting back in the business, having sold his previous agency but having to sit out for a year as part of the sale’s non-compete agreement.

After the formal interview, the owner takes the copywriter on a tour of the offices. He points to a single MacPro workstation: “That’s my graphics department right there. When I founded my first advertising firm, that used to be five employees.”

True story. 

Technology saves money and makes your business more efficient by automating tasks that you used to hire people to do. Now, there may be a good reason to have a living, breathing employee, particularly if you need to give a family member a job.

But the following five office positions don’t necessarily need to be filled. Unless, of course, you feel there is a need for a person that a piece of software really can’t fill.

1. Receptionist

Why you don’t need one

Like, someone to get you coffee? C’mon. Who do you think you are, Don Draper? By getting things like this done yourself you can save enough money to buy everyone in your office coffee.

A receptionist answers phones and takes messages, but if you’ve got voicemail, why do you need a receptionist? Well, maybe sometimes you need to have certain employees tracked down.

But a virtual receptionist, Internet-based software, can more efficiently and automatically route calls and messages from a general office number to personal smartphones. And, as John Dodge of ZDNet points out, it would do it “for peanuts and doesn’t demand benefits.”

A voicemail management service eVoice, for example, offers a plan for as little as $12.99 per month. Another one, Grasshopper, lets your run your business from a network of mobile phones for as little as $12 per month. The added benefit here is that not only do you not need a receptionist, you don’t even really need an office for your employees.

Still like the idea of a human touch? There are virtual receptionists who are real people, but they take calls on your behalf from an offsite telecenter, with the the added advantage of 24/7 availability to take messages and schedule appointments. My Receptionist, for example, charges anywhere from $100 for 70 minutes, and up to $250 for 235 minutes of calling service.

True, as The New York Times article points out, “Your receptionist is often the first contact customers and partners have with your business, be it over the phone or in person.” But that was written back in 2008, when customers and partners still expected an office to have a receptionist.

Scott Kirsner notes in his article for how, increasingly, the receptionist’s desk area sits empty, especially during the times of economic downturn, or when startups are trying to prove that they are being frugal with their investors' money, and that no one expects a real person to meet and greet at the front door anymore.

The double threat of increasingly sophisticated technology combined with lower expections explains why more than 1.1 million jobs related to answering phones and making schedules were eliminated between 2000 and 2010.

Why you might need one

Still, some business owners feel an actual receptionist makes the business seem “more human.” In that case, your “receptionist” could also be doing other work tasks that don’t require constant attention and that could be interrupted when someone comes in through the door. (Like some of the job functions below.)

2. Office Manager

Why you don’t need one

An office manager typically performs various bookkeeping, clerical, and some project-management tasks. But as David Rotman in the MIT Technology Review points out, computers have been taking over these tasks since the 1980s.

Services such as 24/7 Virtual Assistants promise to “take care of nearly anything, from paying bills, booking travel or even take care of some online shopping. As a 24/7 client, you'll work with a smart, capable, college educated and dedicated Virtual Assistant who works remotely.”

The office manager in a small business is also the human resources person, making sure employee forms are updated, timesheets are filed, and labor laws are fully complied with. But even big companies these days rely on self-service software for employees to perform such tasks on their own.

Why you might need one

“Time is one of the most valuable assets a business owner has. It is important [to] spend it wisely,” notes Faizah Imani of Demand Media. “One way to do this is to hire an office manager. The office manager's job is to ensure the office runs smoothly on a day-to-day basis.”

If you want to avoid the mundane hassles of daily operations, or if you think you need a task master to make sure everyone in the office is “on the same page,” then you might need to employ an office manager. Who, by the way, could also double as your office receptionist.

3. Bookkeeper

Why you don’t need one

Ever heard of QuickBooks? There’s a range of user-friendly accounting software, many of them with online access, so you don’t even have to worry about storing your records or the possibility of a server malfunction.

Why you might need one

“If your company’s staff is not proficient in accounting theory, accounting software, organizational skills or does not invest enough time to make sure the accounting information is correct, then it may cost you more to fix the issues in additional labor, tax accounting fees, taxes, extensions, penalties, interest, or more,” cautions an article published on the website of the certified public accountant firm Rosillo & Associates.

4. Graphic Artist

Why you don’t need one.

For many small businesses, you don’t even need a high-end graphics machine like the MacPro, the cheapest consumer laptops have some kind of graphics software these days, not to mention a vast catalog of free clip art that's available off the Internet.

Why you might need one

As one design firm points out, “Small business owners have a lot on their plates. That means you may put off doing a new marketing piece, even if it is something you really need. Hiring a designer to help means you can get that project done and begin using it to make you more money.”

Plus, one problem with everyone having access to the same graphic tools is that everyone’s stuff starts to look alike. A professional designer can give your marketing materials a unique look, to make your business stand out, that clip art can’t match.

5. Tech Support

Why you don’t need one

Once again, there is a variety of online tech support services that can replace an on-site employee. For example, iYogi offers support for PC, Mac and mobile devices, claiming to solve more than 20,000 problems daily. Companies like the Tech Support Guy even offer free tech support.

Why you might need one

Nobody knows your business and your systems like a dedicated employee. Moreover, particularly if your business and/or products depend on 24/7 uninterrupted operation and/or are especially complex, you may need someone on-site, who can quickly resolve and correct any issues.

Image Credit: Prostock-Studio / Getty Images
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