Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the workload in your growing business but paralyzed by the thought of hiring someone to help? I sure have. I think it’s one of the most common paradigms small businesses face – when and how to grow when you reach your capacity. Expanding your team can be scary, but when you recognize you can’t (and shouldn’t) do it all, finding the right person to step into your weaknesses and free you up to work on your strengths is the best business strategy you can employ for growth.
My first hire as a solopreneur was an admin support person. My gifts are definitely not administrative, and I was drowning in details that were taking me way too long and that were not being done well. Instead of working where my passions and talents were, I was knee-deep in invoicing, following up with clients, and trying to keep track of projects. It was taking up so much time that I ran out of capacity to do the work that was actually paying the bills. Things were regularly falling through the cracks, which made me look less than competent to my clients.
I knew I needed help, but the thought of bringing someone on was terrifying. What if I hired someone and then didn’t actually have enough work for them? What if I hired the wrong person and it made things worse? What would happen if I let go of the details and control of every aspect of my business?
It took me a while to find my stride. My first two hires didn’t turn out well because I didn’t know what and who (not only the skills but the personality) I needed to make my life better. For the third time in a year, I found myself hiring again. This time, I got very clear about my real needs and honed in on the skills I needed, the hours I had to offer, the specific tasks that needed doing and the type of person I needed who would complement my personality. I finally hired the perfect person to pick up those admin pieces. Since then, I’ve added three more people to my team, but with much greater clarity, and it took me less time to do it.
My business mentor once told me that hiring too late is the biggest mistake he sees businesses make. His philosophy was to hire before you feel you really need it because by the time you do, it’s often too late.
- When your business or clients suffer because your weaknesses are overtaking your strengths. If you’re spending more time trying to manage the things you’re not good at and not doing the things that add value to your clients, you won’t be able to sustain that very long.
- When your workload no longer becomes manageable. You’re burning the midnight oil, running in the hamster wheel and still feeling like you’re not getting it all done. How can you spend time growing your business when you’re in the administrative weeds? It may take you twice as long as a savvy admin person to do those tasks. What if you could spend that time networking, selling and bringing clients in instead of data entry and invoicing? Maybe you enjoy the work in the weeds. Even then, you need to recognize and focus on the business-building work that needs to be done and delegate the work that someone else can do.
- When you’re feeling stagnant and in a holding pattern in your business. You’re not growing because you’re not taking the time necessary to market and sell because you’re stuck in the day-to-day. The status quo can be good for a moment, but in business, you either grow or die.
When you’re thinking about expanding your team, you’ll need to consider whether you want to work with contractors or hire employees.
When I started, I could only offer 5-7 hours a week, but there were plenty of people who just wanted a side job and this worked well for them. Hiring a contractor was the best choice for me. I only had to pay for the hours they worked, I didn’t have to pay source deductions (which are sizeable for a small business), and I had the freedom to end the relationship based on the contract if things didn’t work out. There was literally no risk. Eight years into my business, I’m still working with contractors and I love collaborating with other professionals at a really high level.
That works in a consulting business, but it might not if you have a storefront, retail, restaurant, or other business that requires “boots on the ground.” According to Revenue Canada, you can’t hire contractors if they are required to work on your premises, use all your equipment and supplies, and work according to a schedule you set. If that’s you, employee status is necessary.
Even with employee hires, offer what you can afford to bridge the capacity gap and give yourself room to grow. As long as you’re clear on your offer, there are plenty of people who will work for the right company if they can start small and grow with you. If you do hire employees, make sure you enlist the support of an accountant or bookkeeper who can ensure you’re complying with employment standards.
Expanding your team can be the most exciting thing you do – it means you’re rocking it in your business, that you’re healthy and growing, and that you’re continually moving towards working in your peak zone – that place where you’re at your best and offering your clients the best value. When everyone on the team is also in their zone, you have an unstoppable force that will propel you and your business forward.