- Hiring is a critical step in growing a business, freeing up owners to focus on strategy.
- Founders say it's important to hire someone with the right experience.
- Early employees can affect how the rest of the team grows, one founder said.
- This article is part of "Starting Up Your Small Business," a series exploring steps small-business owners can take when starting out, transitioning, or scaling up.
Like so many small-business owners, Tracy V. Green and Nancey Harris started their business, Vontélle Eyewear, by taking on every task themselves, including designing glasses, packing them up, and doing their own bookkeeping.
This felt manageable when they were shipping a few pairs of glasses a day. But when thousands of new orders started coming in daily, they decided it was time to bring on help. "We realized that we couldn't do it all and we were burning ourselves out," Harris said.
Since scaling down their involvement in day-to-day operations, they've been able to spend more time building brand awareness and securing larger deals, leading to collaborations with brands like Nickelodeon and Harlem Haberdashery. "My goal is to have the company run with or without us — we need to be front-facing to make the deals and get the distribution," Green said.
Stephanie Moseley, who's owned a Marco's Pizza franchise since 2018, said that hiring extra help was instrumental in her business' success. When her store was struggling financially early on, she decided to bring on a general manager with experience in the pizza industry.
The investment paid off. "I noticed an immediate impact in sales going up," Moseley said. "He turned me from being in the red into the black in less than two months." She has since opened five other locations with that early hire overseeing all her stores.
Harris, Green, and Moseley shared their best advice for hiring to scale a small business.
Favor experience over affordability
Moseley said she quickly realized the general manager she'd initially hired didn't have the management experience her store needed.
Moseley decided to expand her budget — dipping into her personal savings — to hire someone more skilled. "If I wanted to get somebody with a wealth of pizza experience to take me to the next level, it was going to cost me," she said.
Harris and Green have relied on using contractors to access skilled talent on a budget. Instead of focusing on price when vetting potential hires, they focus on understanding the value the contractors could provide. The best way they've found to identify contractors who'll meet their needs is by asking for referrals from other business owners and getting references from each candidate.
"Whether they're charging a lot of money or they're charging bare minimum, we want to make sure that they are a match to our business," Harris said.
Find people who care about your mission
Small-business owners should look for employees who understand their company's mission.
Moseley said her winning general manager stood out because he was passionate about the store's success. She said she knew this was the case when he volunteered to take a lower salary than what she'd offered him — she said he'd asked about the store's finances and concluded its earnings wouldn't be able to support that salary. He offered to work his way up to a higher salary as the store's revenue improved. "That just spoke oodles to the fact that he had a lot of integrity — that he wasn't just going to take my money but he was going to perform the job," she said.
Harris and Green said they struggled to find candidates who they felt understood their company and what made it stand out — for instance, the founders wanted their marketing to highlight their desire to make eyewear designed specifically for people of color. They said that now they ask a candidate to explain what value they'd add to the company to get a peek into how they think and filter for candidates who've researched and understand their brand.
Don't be afraid to part ways when hires aren't a fit
No matter how much vetting you do, you'll likely make the wrong hire at some point. "Don't be afraid tolet somebody go if it's not working out, because it's your money and it's your time," Green said. She added that she and Harris typically decide in three to six months whether to keep working with a new contractor.
Moseley said she wished she'd parted ways sooner with her first general manager. "I held on to that GM for nine months and it really almost cost me my business," she said.
She added that a bad hire can affect the strength of the team. "Before you know it, you've got a whole store full of people who don't care about your business, who don't care about you, and now you've got a mess on your hands," she said.
"It's important to make sure you hire right that first time, and all that goodness just rolls downhill."