How to Hire the Best People for Your Small Business

By Greg Skloot, writer
Mar 29, 2018
Image Credit: GaudiLab/Shutterstock

When you can't go it alone anymore, you need the right fit to help your company grow.

When you first start a business, you are often doing everything yourself. From building the product to taking out the trash, it all falls on you. As your company grows, you will reach a point where customer demand exceeds what you can do on your own. It is incredibly exciting when your business reaches that point, because it means you're ready to hire your first employees.

While hiring employees can be beneficial because it enables you to delegate some of the tasks weighing on your shoulders, it can also be very stressful. Suddenly, you have a new personality to deal with. You have to teach, motivate, guide and retain a person. You'll be able to do this effectively only if you hire great people. Everyone recruits a bit differently, but consider these steps as you seek your first employee.

1. Start with culture.

The key to identifying great people is looking to your culture. Culture is the behaviors and skills that are valued at your company. It's made up of a clear vision, specific values and customs that make your company unique. If you haven't yet documented your culture, this is a great time to start. Culture happens whether you are intentional about it or not, so the best companies put the time in to clearly define the type of culture they want.

As you look at potential employees, you need to ask yourself, "Does this person share my values?" Your values are the traits and behaviors people at your company live by. In the early days, the values tend to come straight from the founders. These are a few examples of cultural values:

  • Excellence: We're proud to put our name on our product.
  • Reliability: We expect unwavering delivery of commitments.
  • Efficiency: We do more with less.

Each of these words have a unique meaning for your business. Defining the values gives you clarity: You can now look for people who also value efficiency and are always reliable.

2. Define the role clearly.

While the founders may be responsible for literally everything early on, employees need specific guidelines that outline their roles, responsibilities and how their success is measured. To define these, answer the following questions for yourself:

  • What problem am I solving by bringing on a new employee?
  • What will the employee do that's different from what anyone else does?
  • What skills are missing on the team?
  • What skills am I the worst at and need help with?

The goal of answering these questions is to hire the right person for the right role. A great employee in the wrong role will never be successful. Once you've outlined what the role is, you now need to articulate the employee's responsibilities and what they will be held accountable for. You may answer questions such as these:

  • What precisely will this employee do each day?
  • What metrics can I look at to see if the employee is doing a good job?
  • What important tasks can I delegate to the new employee?

The benefit of answering these questions is further clarity in looking for the right person. If you determine that one of the major responsibilities will be responding to customer issues left on your voicemail, you need to find someone who can speak calmly with upset customers. Having the matching skills for the role you need is what makes someone a great employee.

3. Do a test.

You now have a clear role and have defined the necessary skills and cultural values to seek out in a new employee. Suppose you now have a couple of candidates who meet your criteria. To further determine if they are the right fit for your business, consider a test. The nature of the test depends on the type of employee you're hiring. For a programmer, you may ask them to code a very small application to see how they work. For a customer service agent, perhaps you pay them for one hour and watch them respond to upset customers.

There may be a big difference between how someone speaks about themselves in an interview and how they perform in real life. To hire great people, you need to see for yourself how they would function in the role.

4. Meet the family.

If a potential employee has met all of the criteria to be great in a role, it's still important to learn more about their personality. Hiring someone is a big deal, so imagine that prior to the interview process, you may have been complete strangers. Consider inviting the potential employee and their significant other out to dinner. Ask yourself, "Is this someone I enjoy spending time with?" Even if someone produces good work, you'll regret hiring them and struggle to label them a great employee if you don't enjoy working together.

5. Set reasonable expectations.

At this point, perhaps you have made the decision to move forward and hire the employee. To help them be great, set clear and reasonable expectations. They need to understand how you define and measure "great." This will be different for each role, which is why it's so important to write it down. Following the earlier example, if you hire a customer support person, these are some expectations you might set:

  • Respond to every customer inquiry within 12 hours.
  • Maintain an 80 percent satisfactory rating in customer feedback surveys.
  • Be available to answer customer questions from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Be sure to review these expectations prior to officially hiring the employee to ensure everyone is on the same page and they feel confident that they can achieve the expectations.

6. Carefully monitor early progress.

Especially in the early days, even great employees need coaching and guidance. If you decide to hire someone, pay close attention to them as they get started. Have a weekly one-on-one meeting where you review progress and share feedback. Have them submit a weekly written summary and reply to each one with your feedback. An early employee will immediately start building habits – good or bad. To make them a great employee, you need to guide them to build the best habits that align with the role and your company's values.

Greg Skloot is the Founder of Weekly Update, a tool for managers to improve team communication with quick weekly status updates. Previously, Greg was VP Growth at Netpulse (70 employees) where he led sales, customer success, marketing and operations for the leading provider of mobile apps for health clubs. Earlier, he was CEO and Co-founder of (30 employees), which provided software for event planners.
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