Your first hire will feel like a huge and important decision.
You want to get the role exactly right, hire at the perfect time and have “things” in place before you pull the trigger.
The thing is - there will never be a perfect time and you will never be completely ready. At some stage, you need to just jump in and only you know when that’s right for you.
When not to hire
Put simply, when you have very little work, and when you don’t have the experience delivering quality projects on time.
Having too little work means there isn’t even enough for you to do (or make a good wage from), let alone someone else. As a guideline, if half of your week is empty - then you don't need to worry about hiring just yet.
Delivering quality projects on time means that you have firsthand experience delivering the quality and standard of work you expect. And you have the personal project management skills to see it through to delivery.
This is what your agency is about, and you can’t just “buy” that via an employee - it needs to come from the top down. I recommend gaining this experience first, as it will help when you bring other people into the mix.
When to hire
Paying others to help you deliver projects is a core part of building and running an agency. And for this reason, I recommend not leaving it to when you desperately need to hire.
You don’t want to leave it until you are super busy (60-hour weeks), as onboarding and managing someone at that point will add a lot of additional stress.
Instead, when you find that 75% of your week (most weeks) is spent delivering projects - that can be a good time to experiment with your first hire.
I say "experimenting", because that's often what your first hire is. There are lots of factors involved in growing your team and finding the right people, and you're not always in control of all of them. They may not be suitable or they may not enjoy the work. Working with people is never 100% set in stone.
Contractors or full-time
This depends on a lot of factors. If you are experienced managing people, have large ongoing projects, a very full pipeline, and a highly tuned sales funnel - then full-time staff could be a good fit.
However, if this will be your first foray into management and are not certain about future work past a few months - then contracting is probably a better direction.
For most new businesses hiring contractors can be best suited, especially at the start.
This can be on a per-project engagement (e.g. full-time for the next 7 weeks), or it can be ongoing part-time (e.g. 2 days per for 12 months etc), either way, it’s more flexible than a full-time employee, and new agencies often need that flexibility.
As your business grows you may want the reliability of a full-time employee, especially as valuable knowledge and experience can be lost if contractors move on. But this isn’t a huge concern with your first hire.
Ease your first hire in
Bringing someone on a few months before you desperately need to, allows a soft landing pad for all parties involved.
During this time you can teach the hire about how you work, your standards, processes, and expectations. Taking them through previous projects will be helpful for them to get a visual understanding.
I’d recommend you take the opportunity to document some of these onboarding procedures, as there is a fair chance you will use them again.
Leaving hiring for when you are at 100% capacity often creates problems. The onboarding can be missed, and important time for expectation setting and questions are lost.
You should get them involved in a task of their own quite fast.
Give them a clear, atomic piece of work to deliver. Not something too complex, and something they can deliver from start to finish. This will give you a clear indication of how they work, and the quality of their work.
Some examples may be.
- A specific page of a website
- The mobile/responsive view of a website
- A certain UI component
- A simple feature
Don’t time-box them, instead use this as a way to understand how long they take. Make time for them, and let them know you are always there for any question - no matter how silly. Let them know you would prefer they ask a silly question, rather than have a misunderstanding or waste time because they're blocked.
Once they have completed this first task, make time to discuss it with them. Let them explain the decisions they made, and any issues they had along the way.
This initial phase is important for both parties and will allow you to get to know them.
What if it doesn't work out?
Don’t stress, this happens.
With both contractors and full-time employees, build a “2-week trial” into their engagement. This means that if after that time it’s not working out, then you simply do not need to continue past this point.
Just make sure you’ve done all you can to set expectations and onboard them. If the problem is on your side, it will just happen again with the next hire.
You’ll learn a lot from hiring
You may not make a lot of money off your first hire (at least initially), but that isn’t always the goal.
By hiring, you’ll gain the following skills.
- Finding and assessing potential workers
- Creating a “brief of work” for someone to clearly understand (in contracting)
- Onboarding hires and teaching your standards and processes
- Communicating with them during development to ensure it's on track
- Helping them out when needed
- Confirming and testing the work they produce
- Dealing with payments (and perhaps payment negotiation)
Where do I find my first hire
Many options - at any one time there are millions of people looking for work. Especially if you’re in the technology industry, and double especially if you hire remote workers.
To find your first hire you can try the following.
- Reach out to your existing real-life network
- Use your networks on LinkedIn, Twitter etc
- Job boards (Indeed, RemoteOK etc.)
- Job board search engine (Job Board Search)
- Freelancing sites (Freelancer, UpWork, TopTal etc.)
In terms of onshore development vs offshore development - I don’t have any strong opinions.
Originally all my staff were based in my city, although for the last few years before I sold my agency we did hire a developer in the UK, and that worked well.
I never hired employees in other countries to save money, but I know many agencies do.
Most importantly is ensuring high quality - so wherever you hire your team, no matter if they are full-time or contractors, what you want is reliable and efficient work, at a high quality.
Your agency's first hire is a great milestone - even if it's just helping out for a few weeks. Hiring and management are integral skills that you will grow over time.
Hiring and growing my team was one of the favourite parts of my agency. We produced amazing products for our clients, and I forged relationships I will have forever.