Any business is only as strong as its people. Whilst larger companies can survive a bad hire, start-ups simply don’t have that luxury. It’s crucial to get it right.
Careful investment in the hiring process (both time and money) can set you up for growth and success, whilst protecting you against potential issues later down the line. A poorly-performing employee can negatively impact other members of the team, hamstring sales and damage your budding reputation. In contrast, the right employee will propel your business in the right direction.
Think of hiring as a new skill. Like with any skill, you will improve with practice. Hiring will become easier as your team grows and there are others who can bring fresh perspectives and share the load. But at the start, it will be tough. Here are some tips to keep front of mind.
When should you use your network to hire?
“Start-ups tend to grow in the image of their founders – this can be a good and a bad thing, as the ‘bro cultures’ of Silicon Valley have shown”, says Katie Jacobs, Senior Stakeholder Lead at CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development.
“They often tend to hire through their networks. While this can be great for getting people you trust, or who are known quantities, think carefully about the diversity of skills, experience and perspective you ultimately need.”
The first few employees are critical to your future success. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to opt for quality you can be sure about. This is especially true for the sales function. “For your first couple of sales hires, don’t hire outside of a second connection – go for someone known to your advisory board or network”, says Matthew Evans-Young, Investment Manager, Foresight Group.
Then get a proper recruitment process in place as soon as possible. This can typically be broken down into five stages: recruitment planning, strategy development, searching, screening and evaluation/assessment. It’s worth it in the long term. Hiring exclusively through your network can be a recipe for hiring in your own image, impacting negatively on diversity and innovation.
When should you seek help externally?
Jobs boards are a cheaper alternative to recruiters, so make them your first stop. Take the time to research what specialist jobs boards the people you are trying to reach tend to use, and invest in posting here as well as on more generalist platforms. For example, if you’re looking for a developer, advertise on Hired, Snap.HR, or Landing.jobs, and if you’re making a marketing or communications hire, think about the likes of PR Week and Campaign. “Think carefully”, adds Katie, “about the skills mix you need when scoping the roles, writing job descriptions, and creating adverts.”
Whilst recruiters come at a cost, they can help widen your net. They’re especially helpful for more senior or hard to fill roles and in highly-competitive industries. Again, each profession has dedicated recruitment agencies (VMA Group, for example, are PR/communications specialists) so it’s advisable to do thorough research before approaching them.
Product-market fit is a given, but what about product-employee fit?
It’s important to match the characteristics of hires to your product or service. “An early consideration for a start-up is how to approach recruiting sales staff”, says Matthew. “Do you want a model of £100-200k p/a big game hunters to wow customers, or have graduates hitting the phones and passing on leads?”
The answer depends on what you’re selling. If you’re looking to shift complex software systems, for example, you’ll need a suitably-experienced and polished expert who immediately gives the right impression. If you’re dealing in high volumes of FMCGs, then a workforce of enthusiastic graduates will hit the mark. Either way, according to Matthew: “A good rule of thumb is that salespeople should deliver three times their cost.”
You should also think about the type of jobs you’re creating. If you need an experienced creative professional with a certain skill set but can’t commit to a permanent position, then going for a freelancer is a good option. Look at sites such as PeoplePerHour and Freelancer. If the success of your venture is dependent on a complementary, cohesive team, then you need to hire dedicated full-time employees who buy into your vision.
Think about team balance and dynamics
If you’re scaling quickly, make sure you don’t sleepwalk into a major problem. For example, don’t underestimate, or under resource, customer support. “Look at how many tickets your support staff are dealing with”, says Matthew. “You could invest in customer support technology or training materials that may help deflect problems, or you could hire a specialist customer success team.” Salespeople will often pick this up, but if you’re scaling fast you ideally need an account management function as well as a front-line salesforce.
Make sure that your workforce is balanced. In terms of tech start-ups, for instance, because the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) knows the platform and product best, they will often get dragged into day-to-day issues, such as fixing bugs and dealing with customer queries. When it’s possible, consider a secondary management function – such as a Chief Architect or Head of Engineering – who can act as a layer between the CTO and the junior developers.