A solid staff is a hallmark of any successful business, large or small. But for small businesses, having fewer employees means less room for error.
Any dead weight on your payroll eats up not only part of your budget, but also time, energy and productivity that's necessary to propel your company forward. No hiring method is perfect; there are always less-than-ideal hires who slip through the cracks. But the more focus you put on hiring and the more time you invest in planning ahead in terms of what you'll need and who can do it, the less likely it is that you'll make a mistake.
At the dawn of a new year, it's important to assess your business’ projected growth, and what additions and adjustments you'll need to make to meet goals. Having a developed, in-depth forecast of your hiring needs not only boosts your chances of nailing benchmarks, but also helps you build a robust, diverse network of talented people within your company.
Otherwise, small-business owners risk hiring too quickly and missing out on better candidates.
David Schnurman heads up Lawline.com, a continuing education resource for legal professions, which has recently won a small-business award for its HR practices. He also is CEO at TrueNYC, a resource center for New York entrepreneurs. He says his hiring projections at Lawline are based on rigorous evaluation of current employees, which helps him avoid hair-trigger hiring.
"That's what happens to some companies. They hire too fast," Schnurman says. "They have a basic idea of what they want, and then before they know it, they have three people doing the job of one. And our goal here is to be really successful and, in a good way…have one person doing the job of three."
But depending on your line of work and track record of growth, it can be important to slightly over-staff in anticipation of bigger projects that require more personnel. John Gardner started Integrative Logic, an award-winning digital marketing firm, out of his Georgia garage nearly a decade ago. At its height, the company swelled to 153 employees.
"I think it's critical that you over-hire to a point so that you don't play catch-up when you get business," he says. "If you're revenue supports 10 people but the next project you get will require 15 to actually deliver it, I am convinced you should always have 12 or 13."
That's because the new client you bring on won't wait around for you to hire and train more people. "As a small business, when you can't deliver, the only thing you destroy is your reputation."
So how can you identify and pluck talented people, ahead of time, to match your projected needs? Laurie Ruettimann, a former HR professional who now blogs at The Cynical Girl, says constant networking is key.
"It doesn't hurt anyone to have lunch with great and talented people who may be a good fit for your company down the line," she says, which should even mean "[attending] those awful association 'mixers' with the goal of meeting just one person who might be a good fit for your company down the road."
If you know who's out there and potentially available to you, it'll make forecasting easier, too. If you haven't thought too much about prospective 2012 hires yet, it isn't too late to start. (See our infographic on hiring trends.)
Kurt Wilkin, managing partner at HireBetter, an Austin-based HR consulting firm, says small-business owners should expect to make room for new employees in a few distinct areas this year.
This includes a COO or other operations leader, who will help fine-tune the company and handle "blocking and tackling" within the industry, Wilkin says. It's an important area to invest in talented people, because they help take the heat off the founding entrepreneur.
A CFO or strong controller is key, because they help ensure financial stability. Without a skilled person or team in place to manage money, you risk wasting it or having an incomplete understanding of your company’s fiscal outlook—which dictates almost everything.
As the country pulls itself out of a recession, successful small businesses will shift their attention this year away from simply maintaining and toward growth.
"Now everybody's seeing the writing on the wall, 'We need to grow or we're in trouble,'" Wilkin says.
SEO marketing and Internet sales
This emerging field generally draws tech-savvy folks from Generation Y who know how to expand (and cash in on) an online presence. To guarantee sustained success, it's necessary to stay ahead of competitors in this fast-growing area.
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