Before starting Bspoke, my marketing and management consultancy, I implemented programs designed by Korn/Ferry International to help CEOs attract and keep talented employees. It was a great experience thattaught me a lot about the complex human capital issues facing corporations worldwide as well as new approaches to employee development and retention. It did little to prepare me, however, to face the unique frustrations that small business owners contend with when trying to staff their fledgling companies.
With unknown brand names, significant budget constraints and uncertain prospects for long-term success, it is not surprising that startups struggle to attract skilled, reliable and affordable people who are willing to commit to building a company from scratch. Inevitably, the founders of these companies often turn to friends and family for help, and I am no exception.
<p<>s it happens, I was building Bspoke during the dark days of the global financial crisis and thus was able to call upon former colleagues who found themselves unexpectedly unemployed. These professionals cared about me enough to get their hands dirty while taking a pay cut and were grateful for the work. Their contributions enabled me to take on bigger projects, service more clients, and increase revenues while minimizing overhead.
The downside was that the quality of their work was not always what I remembered it to be when we were in a corporate environment. I attribute this to the different standards I had set for my own company as well as the decreasing confidence and increasing stress they were experiencing as a result of being jobless.
Maybe I expected too much. After all, freelancers who are searching for full-time jobs do not necessarily work steady hours or regularly report on their progress, regardless of their loyalty to their clients. For me, this completely negated the value of employing friends based in the U.S. I’d imagined accelerating the pace at which I could complete projects by having people in other time zones working while I slept. Instead, I frequently awoke to no e-mails and even encountered radio silence for days or weeks on end from my “team.” Eventually I would hear back that there was some personal issue demanding their attention that they “forgot to let me know” about
Because of my close relationships with these workers and the fact that they were experiencing financial hardship, I put undue pressure on myself to make things work out in cases where I normally would have parted ways immediately. In the end, I wasted a lot of energy, time and even money. Hopefully the lessons I learned can benefit other small business owners who are thinking about adopting the “Friends and Family” hiring plan:
- Before hiring any freelancer, discuss their motivations and clarify expectations about schedules and availability. Get at least three references and, if appropriate, work samples, even in those cases where you have worked together in the past. Ask the referees what they believe motivates the person to succeed and how they would suggest managing them for optimal performance. Explain your company’s set-up, your personal working style and the specific tasks the person will be asked to do. Ask if they would have any concerns hiring them in this context.
- Interview candidates using questions that probe for evidence that they have a solid track record in key areas in which you need them to deliver. This is known as “behavioral” interviewing, a technique commonly used by top recruiters to determine a person’s suitability for a specific position. You can find hundreds of sample questionsat Jobinterviewquestions.org. Some of my favorites are: What constructive criticism have you received in the past that surprised you the most? How would you describe the cultures of your last few employers? Where did you fit in the best? Give me a couple of stories about you in action.
- Start with a project-specific or 30- to 90-day contract that outlines clear employer-employee responsibilities, rules of the road, and escape clauses. Consider investing the $200 required to purchase BizTree’s Business-in-a-Box, which provides thousands of document templates for HR-related scenarios and many other matters.
- Once they are on board and especially if you feel they might become full-time, consider evaluating their core strengths using Gallup’s StrengthsFinder series. You can buy the appropriate books for as little as $10 on Amazon.com. Each book gives an access code that enables one person to take an online assessment that identifies their top five strengths and explains how to maximize them in a team environment.
This checklist can up the odds that anyone you hire will be worth the investment and help to protect you in case things do not work out. While searching for great people to support the early phases of your growth, do not settle for anything less.
Marta Grutka is a Singapore-based communications, marketing and management expert and founder of Bspoke Consultancy. She is also a founding board member of the Singapore chapter of Junior Achievement, the world’s largest organization dedicated to educating students in workforce readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy.