- Keep all hires on a professional footing – even if they’re friends
- Don’t be afraid to step in if a team member is not performing
- Make the job description clear before the hiring process and get the right person for that role
- You’ll learn from your experiences and become a better manager
When starting a business, it’s often just you, maybe a business partner, a computer and a great idea. That changes, however, when new work starts to come in and you need to hire a new face or two. Suddenly, you’re not just responsible for yourself, but one or more employees’ livelihoods.
Friends Karen Gill and Maxine Benson founded Everywoman, the UK’s largest network for women in business, in 1999. As soon as their first piece of business came in, they knew they had to start hiring, starting with a full-time editor for the company’s website.
“It’s certainly an intense feeling knowing that you’re responsible for someone’s livelihood, rather than being a manager in a company,” Karen says. “It’s even more intense for the employee because, essentially, their salary is coming out of your pocket.”
Avoid grey areas
Some small business owners’ first hires might be friends or people they know. This brings with it a danger of over-familiarity and getting drawn into a casual working relationship with employees.
“It’s really important to stay on a professional footing and be clear about expectations from the start,” Karen says. “With people you know, grey areas can develop. You must have everything done properly in writing from the very beginning.”
In a small business with few team members, one employee can make a huge difference. If someone new joins a team of four, for example, you’re increasing the size of the team by 25%. Karen has learnt over the years how to spot when someone’s doing well or not meeting the needs of the role.
“I’ve learnt to deal with unsuccessful staff quickly,” she says. “Now I can assess someone after a couple of months. In small organisations, you don’t have the resources for someone to take a long time to become productive.”
A good way of being as sure as you can about new staff is to make the job description clear before advertising and conducting a rigorous interview process. “During interview, we really delve into candidates’ personality profiles to make sure they are going to fit with our team and culture,” Karen says. “But again, it’s about experience – I’m much better at this than I was when we started out.”
Of course, problems do arise and it can be a headache getting your head around the red tape, particularly complex issues such as holiday and paternity leave. “In those situations, I’d recommend calling on HR professionals for advice,” Karen says. “But we are quite generous with our holiday allowance and flexitime policy. If SMEs don’t have the cash, they can reward staff in many other ways.”
Annual reviews enable you to get the most out of your staff and enable them to get the most out of the job. “It provides a great opportunity to listen to staff feedback, which is always invaluable,” Karen comments. “It also allows you to be clear about what your expectations are of them, and to set goals and priorities.”