Hiring your first employee can be nerve-wracking. Logistical headaches, legal requirements, and fear of the unknown make the process daunting, but it’s well worth the time and investment. Most often, it’s not a question of if you should hire an employee—it’s when. And when the time is right, bringing on an additional teammate can be a game-changer for your business’s growth and trajectory.
Fortunately, you don’t have to figure out all the nitty-gritty nuances on your own. You have us on your side. Below, we’ll cover the key tips you need to know before hiring your first employee. There’s no one-right-way to hire your first employee, but hopefully, these tips will set you up for success.
Timing is everything when it comes to hiring your first employee. You’ll have plenty to do from the get-go when starting your business, but you can usually get by on your own during the initial stages. However, you’ll soon reach a point where your bandwidth limits growth, and adding teammates helps your startup avoid plateaus and stagnated development.
Here are a few signs to look for that indicate the time is right to hire your first employee:
Development is taking too long: When it comes to capitalizing on trends and user interest, long development periods can kill your business entirely.
You keep descoping: Don’t sell your product short because of your bandwidth limitations. While you’ll want to target an MVP, bring in extra help to bring your vision to life.
You’re turning down work: If you find yourself turning away clients and new projects, bring on extra help to carry the load.
You’ve identified new opportunities: Want to capitalize on a new prospect but can’t find extra time? Hire someone to explore the potential.
You need a specific skillset: You might be the founder, but that doesn’t mean you need to know how to do everything. Focus on what you do best and hire someone with a specific skillset to complement your own.
First, determine if hiring a full-time employee is necessary. Hiring a freelancer or contract worker requires much less legal paperwork and gives you the freedom to scale up and down with greater flexibility. You can pivot quickly and bring on new members based on the skills you need without onboarding, ensuring culture fit, and worrying about long-term commitments.
However, freelance workers rarely contribute to your company’s long-term culture and mission—they’re more for accomplishing items on your to-do list.
Need a web page built? Hire a freelancer. Need someone to write a few blog posts? Hire a freelancer. Need someone to drive your marketing strategy and ensure a consistent omnichannel presence? Hire a full-time employee.
Your first full-time employee likely won’t be the last. Plan ahead for what the structure of your startup team will look like. Who will be responsible for what, and who do you think should be your second or third hire?
Get your planning right, and you can hire fewer people to accomplish more. Get it wrong, and you’ll likely need additional headcount to fill in the gaps.
Also, think long-term when it comes to planning compensation and equity. Do you want employees to come and go, or would you like a core group of individuals to stick with you for the long haul? How you structure your organization, culture, and compensation will determine the longevity and retention of your team.
While finding a local employee might eliminate communication and timezone annoyances, don’t nix the idea of a remote hire. Hiring a remote employee gives you more flexibility and options.
You’ll have access to a larger talent pool, and you might be able to pay lower salaries if they live in a less competitive market or a place with lower costs of living. Plus, building a remote-first company helps you eliminate the overhead associated with rent and transportation.
Remote isn’t the only way forward when building your team, but it is a trending movement—and many employees appreciate it for contributing to work-life balance and quality of life.
You might have already started thinking about culture as you’ve built your startup. Culture shapes everything from the products you make to the customer experiences you deliver to how you work. However, it becomes more important to establish your culture (or desired culture) as you add members to your team.
Don’t try to shape employees to fit your culture—hire for culture fit from the get-go. While this will limit your candidate pool, it ensures you find the right first hire to help promote the culture you want at your business.
Do you want a hustle-and-grind entrepreneur startup culture, or do you prefer a family-first [work-life balance approach}(https://www.digitalocean.com/blog/avoiding-burnout)? Do you want to create a unique industry-shaking solution, or are you hoping to sell out as fast as possible?
Determine the answers to these questions (and more) before you start looking for your first employee.
Instead of hiring employees, focus on building a team. Staff and team members aren’t the same things, and that begins with the mindset you adopt and the terminology you use.
You don’t want employees—you want teammates. Employees do what they’re told, take the check, and go home. Teammates are invested in the mission and vision of the company. Money matters (it is a job, after all), but team members also care about the trajectory of the business and its ultimate success.
Your first employee (and every employee) should have a clear role and expectations. Don’t just bring someone on to “help out” or “manage the load.” Let them know exactly what they’ll be doing and adding to the team.
Your startup might be your baby, but being willing to share responsibility on bigger ticket items, too. You’ll be tempted to hold on to certain things when hiring your first employee, and that’s OK—but make sure you give them enough power and autonomy to feel like a meaningful contributor and not a cog in the machine.
Are you looking for a co-founder or a manager to build out a team? Do you need a virtual assistant, or do you need an experienced developer?
These factors come with a price tag, and you’ll want to know upfront how much you can afford. Remember, your employees are an investment, not necessarily an expense.
Resist the urge to set your budget too low. Low-paid employees won’t stick around for the long haul, and you need committed partners (especially from your first hire) when building a startup meant to last.
Spend a fair amount of time creating your job posting and incentives package. Make the position exciting and promising, and back it all up with compensation and benefits that’ll attract the best-of-the-best talent.
You’ll likely be filtering all of these job applicants yourself, so refine your requirements to ensure only the right candidates apply. This will save your valuable time and your potential applicant’s time, too.
The interview process is your opportunity to have conversations with the applicants and get to know them more personally. This is your chance to learn who they are, what they care about, and if they’re the right fit for your first hire.
Come into the interviews with intention. Don’t treat this as a checklist item in the hiring process—know the questions you’re going to ask and start considering the answers you’d like to hear. Keep the interviews short and sweet to respect your candidate’s time. Focus on the questions you really need answers to, which probably aren’t “What do you consider your greatest strength and weakness?”
Your employee signing the dotted line isn’t the end of the hiring process. Now, it’s time to focus on onboarding. Getting this stage right promotes long-term retention and early impact. A messy start could put an end to the relationship before it has time to blossom.
Prepare all the materials your new hire needs to get started on day one. Consider packaging up resources, logins, and documentation to get them up and running as soon as possible. Make yourself available to answer questions promptly, so they don’t waste any time floundering.
Keep your communication lines clear and open. Make it easy to start up a conversation, whether that’s in person, through email, or over Slack. Try to communicate and collaborate daily to keep each other on track and accountable.
The frequency of your communication will change as you grow and onboard new employees, but it’s important you stay aligned and in the know during the early stages.
Hiring your first employee is a big step for your startup, just like choosing the right cloud infrastructure. Find the right cloud solution from the get-go, and you’ll pave a smooth path forward for all the developers and engineers who join you later.
Don’t just take our word for it—see for yourself when you try DigitalOcean today. Are you a startup in a tech accelerator? You may be eligible for credits through Hatch, DigitalOcean’s startup program.
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