Startup employees discuss hiring
Almost all small businesses start out as one-man bands.
While one day a founder might be taking care of CFO responsibilities, like figuring out how to allot company funds and obtain outside financing, the next day he or she might be hitting the phones and cold-calling for sales leads.
Up to a point, it behooves small business owners to be resourceful and handle the lion's share of the work. But before it's too late and their companies lose out on its market timing, entrepreneurs need to hire in order to grow, even if that means taking on more costs.
"A small business should start with a core set of hires that are critical to getting the business off the ground," says Josh Tolan, CEO of Spark Hire, a video interviewing platform. "From there, it should have a plan for scaling the company with a new set of hires."
Mashable spoke with HR and career experts to find out the most important hires a small business can make.
1. Product manager
Before small businesses gain serious traction, they need to hire a specialist who understands the company's products or services inside and out. While the company's founder may cherish a certain product, he or she must relinquish some control over in order to give the customer the best option.
"The product is the core of any business and its reason for being," says Mike Pugh, vice president of marketing at j2 Global, a cloud-based management software for businesses. "There has to be someone in your organization who has a pulse on the added value your product brings."
A product expert is able to grasp and demonstrate why the product matters to customers, how it's manufactured, how it's sold and how competitors are producing and marketing it.
"You want someone who is a subject matter expert," says Sumona Banerjee, director of product marketing at Simply Hired. "For a product, that hire could be your product management director, or, if it's software, that person could be your chief engineer."
2. Marketing generalist
Once a business knows what it's offering, its next hire should be an adroit marketer — a person who knows how to target customers and tell them why a particular product or service matters to them.
"You need someone who can take your vision and articulate it through words, images and a message," says Pugh.
While that might be the job of an entire team later on, a small business must first hire a jack-of-all-trades who's versed in a variety of mediums — from TV to Pinterest to print ads and blogging — and comfortable switching strategies if one proves ineffective.
There's a fundamental shift in what marketing means today and you need to have an all-in-one typeThere's a fundamental shift in what marketing means today and you need to have an all-in-one type," says Patrick Clark, co-founder of Hyrell, a recruiting management software.
However, in order for a renaissance person to see true success, the business owner must provide specific directives and a fleshed out marketing plan. Without that, any employee essentially shooting in the dark.
"Your business will most likely fail if you don't give your marketing employee a clear understanding of what you want them to be hunting," says Zaid Zawaideh, co-founder and CTO at Sandglaz, a project and task management software. "Will they be working through TV or print, or will they be building a community?"
"If your marketing person understands their mission, they can create a strategy and implement customer outreach and awareness."
While it's tempting to look for the perfect hire (i.e. the marketing pro with a degree from a prestigious school and years of experience), founders should recognize that those candidates aren't always interested in an upstart that lacks name-brand credibility. Instead, small businesses should search for candidates who have demonstrated flexibility and aptitude in previous roles, according to Mary Ellen Slayter, a career expert at Monster.
"For small businesses, it's important to be open-minded," she says. "For my own company, I needed someone who was orderly, disciplined, quick-thinking and could handle whatever I threw at him."
"I didn't find this in a marketing grad. I found this in a former Marine."
3. Sales representative
Once a company has a finely tuned product to sell and a marketing plan that reveals how it'll bring that product to market, the business is ready to add sales representatives. But a small company needs to hire salespeople judiciously. Instead of picking up five at once, founders should hire one or two salespeople and see if they're able to generate leads at a steady pace. Hiring employees you don't need can cripple a small business in its infancy.
"Sales representatives are expensive, so you don't want to have too many reps with not enough leads," says Clark. "When you start hiring, make sure you have one person on your team who can sell and another who can close. Once you get a lot of leads and opportunities is when you want to expand."
When a company is financially ready to scale and offer more products and services, it should bring on more salespeople to lead that charge. According to Pugh, adding more sales representatives can be one of the best personnel investments a small business can make.
"Salespeople can be a different breed of animal," he says."Salespeople can be a different breed of animal," he says."You want someone who knows it's their mission to hit the phone and make meetings and be on a quota to sell all day long."
"My focus would be on revenue-generating roles first," adds Leslie Barber, small business advocate at Intuit. "Early in a startup's life, getting paid and making revenue is king."
4. Customer support representative
In a pinch, many small businesses skimp on customer relations. Instead of supporting existing clients and keeping their business with the company, founders too often handle customer service issues in their spare time, relegating complaints and queries to the bottom rung of their operation. The result is that clients get ignored, and they take their money elsewhere.
"It's infinitely more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep an existing customer happy," says Clark. "The best way to keep them with you is to pay attention to them."
A small business, once it's ready to roll out its product en masse, needs to hire a customer support representative. This person handles all product questions and ensures that they don't get lost in the fold.
"You need to retain customers and build up the customer care function in your organization," says Banerjee. "These hires will help you field questions from your customer and keep them happy."
5. Business development or financial analyst
When a small business picks up steam, it needs an analytically minded person to complement its sales and marketing teams, Banerjee says. She recommends hiring an employee with a background in data analysis who can pore through data to see how the business can lessen its expenses and target customers more efficiently.
"You want a number cruncher," she says. "You could have an accountant or finance person who looks at the health of your business — the sales, the revenue and the expenses."
"Or, it could be someone like a data analyst or a marketing analyst who is trying to get all of the research and data pieces for you so you can use that information to grow your business."
6. Human resources professional
Most business owners start out doing their own hiring, and for good reason. Founders are particular about who they bring in and spending money on an HR manager for a three-person company doesn't make a lot of sense. As a business grows, however, there becomes a more pressing need for someone who not only takes hiring pressure off of the business owner, but also handles employee benefits and satisfaction issues.
"With a smaller company, it's less likely that you'll have an HR department in place, especially when there's technology out there that can help you out at first," says Clark. "If you have a lot of different roles though, you might want to bring in an HR pro."
"At this point, HR is seen more as a strategic part of the company and not an expense line on the P&L statement.""At this point, HR is seen more as a strategic part of the company and not an expense line on the P&L statement."
Overall, according to Banerjee, it's better for business owners to be focusing on management and product development, not complex health care issues they know little about.
"You need someone to handle your benefits, compensation and payroll so you're able to run the business and manage your internal employees," she says.
Whether the work is done by a contractor or a part-time employee, accounting is another role that owners do not need to burden themselves with once their business reaches a certain size and they're able to make more hires.
Slayter, for example, says she planned from the beginning to outsource her administrative work so she wouldn't become buried underneath it while other areas of her businesses needed maintenance.
"Worrying about accounting is not mission critical to your business," she says. "Get this off of your plate. Hire someone else to do it."
For bootstrapped businesses looking to get more out of an accountant, Banerjee recommends having them — in addition to their normal auditing tasks — prepare data and financial reports that can be used by the sales, marketing and business development teams to help them improve their work.