Is It Time to Hire Your First Employee?

Hire the best people, and trust what you hired them to do.

D B Sweeney
is it time to hire your first employee hr advice by YBKBS small business magazine
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By Jess Dixon

Did you know that over 70% of registered companies in the UK don’t employ anyone other than the owner? Therefore, if you’re a one-person band, you’re far from alone.

Earlier this week, I found myself so slammed with work that I was becoming quite overwhelmed. “Oh my god, I need to hire an assistant,” I texted to a fellow freelancing friend. Now, I’m not actually quite at the point of acting on that yet, but I’m starting to seriously think about taking someone on for just a few hours a week to take some of the boring admin tasks off my hands so I can focus on the writing (which is, after all, the bit I’m actually good at.)

That got me thinking… how do small business owners know when it’s time to add someone to their team? Read on to learn how to determine if you need to bring an extra person on board.

How much work is there to do?

This is the first and most obvious question to ask yourself. Is there actually enough work to justify bringing an an additional person? If you’re constantly finding yourself overwhelmed, turning down work due to lack of capacity, or spending far too much time on tasks that aren’t earning you money, it might be time to start hiring.

How consistent is the work?

If you’re madly busy for a few weeks of the year but coping fairly well the rest of the time, hiring a permanent employee is probably not right for you. Instead, you might want to consider taking on a freelancer on an ad hoc basis (more on that in a minute.)

If, on the other hand, you’ve got a fairly consistent flow of work that could be handed off to someone else, you might want to start accepting CVs.

Will it be cost-effective?

Employing people is expensive. There’s the salary cost, of course, but it doesn’t end there. The hiring process can cost hundreds to thousands of pounds (depending on whether you do it yourself or use an agency.) Then there’s National Insurance Contributions, training and development costs, bonuses and benefits, any office equipment or software they need, and cover for sick days and holiday time.

But rather than just looking at the raw numbers, you need to consider if hiring someone will be cost-effective. Taking on a full-time employee might cost you close to £50,000 in the first year, but if they free up your time to bring in £200,000 worth of new business, they’re a great investment.

How do you feel about managing someone (and will it eat up more time than it’s worth?)

Managing people is hard, and not everyone is naturally good at it. Of course, it’s a skill you can learn, but if you’ve never managed before there will be an adjustment period. If, on the other hand, you’ve managed people before and you’re good at it, you might not need to worry about this at all.

Managing takes up time. When your new employee first comes on board, it will probably take up a lot of time because you’ll need to train them, show them how things are done, and make sure they’re up to speed on the role. This should lessen as time goes on but you’ll still need to provide instruction, give feedback on their work, and handle the paperwork and other essential requirements that come as part of employing people.

Are you crystal clear about what they would do?

Before you start seriously considering bringing a new team member on board, you need to have absolute clarity on what the job role is. It’s not fair to hire someone as a general administrative assistant and then expect them to handle complex financial record-keeping that they’re not trained for. Likewise, if you hire a content creator but they end up spending most of the time making you coffee and running to the photocopier, they won’t stick around very long.

You need to create a job description and make sure it accurately reflects the work you need doing, the kind of person who would be good at it, and the skill-set and experience of someone at the salary level you can offer.

How good are you at delegating?

Ask yourself this very honestly. I know I’m bad at delegating. I fully admit I’m a control-freak and too often fall into the “if you want something doing right, do it yourself” trap.

If you’re going to hire someone to take some of the time-consuming tasks of managing your business off your hands, you need to be willing to actually let go of those tasks and trust your employee. Obviously you’ll give oversight on their work, but trying to micromanage will stress you both out… and take up more time in the long run!

So before you hire someone, check in with yourself and make sure you’re really willing to put aspects of your precious business into someone else’s hands.

What can you bring to the table?

The employer-employee relationship isn’t a one-way street. What can you offer to a prospective employee? Why should they want to work for you?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this. Maybe you can offer them a fully remote working arrangement, bottomless free snacks, or Friday afternoons off. Maybe the work is really interesting or it’s a great opportunity for a new person to get their foot in the door in your industry.

Just as you figured out the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) for your business when you first got started, you need to figure out your Employer USP before you start hiring.

Employee or Freelancer?

Making the decision to bring on a full-time or part-time employee is a significant step in your business journey. It carries real financial and legal implications. Perhaps you’ll decide it’s the right thing for you.

If, on the other hand, the work you need doing is more infrequent, more specialised, or you simply want to see how you get on with outsourcing, consider hiring a freelancer. This arrangement tends to come with a higher per-hour price-tag, but they only bill for the hours they actually work and assignments can be agreed on an ad-hoc basis depending on business needs. You also don’t have to pay NICs, benefits, holiday or sick pay, or navigate all the legal complications of hiring someone as an official employee.

Ask yourself all these questions before you start the process of hiring someone, and take your time to make the decision. And when you’re ready to go? Check out Kathryn’s brilliant piece on how to hire your first employee.

Whatever you decide, good luck!

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