Hiring your first member of staff for SMEs

Setting up in business on your own can be an exciting time, and if all goes well, you’re likely to grow quite fast – but it can quickly become overwhelming with so much to do and sole responsibility for doing it.

Whatever your core business activities may be, you can also find yourself responsible for disciplines you’ve never tried before, like marketing, customer support and accounts.

The solution to this if you are feeling swamped is to take on a member of staff to free up some of your time, and again you might decide to hire an admin assistant, an experienced finance professional, or someone to take over your main area of business so you can do the admin yourself.

But what are the options when hiring your first member of staff for an SME – and what kind of person should your small business hire anyway?

Here are some of the options to keep in mind, and how they can help a growing SME to prepare for the future, while giving you an introduction to your first days as an employer, rather than a sole trader.

Part-time vs. full-time

A part-time employee can make sense if your order book ebbs and flows with each passing week or month, and you might even want to hire someone who is happy to work fewer hours when there’s less work in the pipeline.

Working part-time suits some people who want a better work-life balance. Maybe they have time demands elsewhere that mean 40 hours a week doesn’t work for them, or a second income that means they don’t need a full-time salary.

Just remember to honour whatever you agree to when you hire a part-time employee for an SME – it can be tempting to keep adding hours as your order book grows, but if they can’t commit to a 40-hour working week, it’s not appropriate to build them up to that level of work anyway.

Treat your staff well and you’ll get the best out of them – and if you are growing that fast it might be time to consider making your next hire rather than just piling more work on to the one person you’ve already got.

Interns and apprenticeships

Internships and apprenticeships can help you to find passionate individuals with a genuine interest in your area of business, who are hoping to learn from you while they work for you.

Some businesses even offer unpaid internships in return for the work experience people gain on the job – and if you’ve managed to break into an industry that’s normally very competitive, there could be plenty of people willing to give you a month or two of their time so they have some relevant experience for their CV.

But it’s generally fair to say you get the better performance from people if you reward them for their time, and apprenticeships are worth considering if you’re in a suitable sector.

With an apprenticeship, you will typically get someone keen to learn and quite capable at doing the work, but you might for example hire them on reduced hours while they also attend college classes to get a qualification as well.

In many cases businesses go on to hire their apprentices at the end of their training – a sure sign that it’s a good way to find an employee who fits well into your company.

Temps and contractors

There is a difference in what most people mean when they say ‘temp’ as opposed to a temporary worker. In many cases a ‘temp’ is someone you just call in for short-term cover, such as an agency worker, when you need an extra pair of hands.

In contrast, a temporary worker is hired on a fixed-term basis, but it could be several months. In bigger businesses this might be for sickness or maternity cover, or because someone is taking a sabbatical.

Either way, you can bring in external help to top up your available skill set, and this is where contractors and interim executives also come into the mix, although at that stage you’re looking at quite senior-level individuals.

For your first appointment as a growing business, you could look to an agency to provide you with someone they think is suitable, but you might end up paying a higher hourly rate for a temp to be supplied to you that way.

If you’re not confident about recruiting staff just yet though, it’s worth considering whether to pay that premium to get someone on flexible terms and benefit from the agency’s recommendations.