By Chip Nickolett
If you've reached the point with your consulting that you need help on a regular basis, you may be considering hiring one or more employees. Your first few hires essentially create a foundation for your consultancy, so know what you expect and will require before you begin looking and interviewing. It's a given that you want to find an employee candidate that has exemplary skills and a strong work ethic, but that's not enough. You want someone who has a vision similar to yours, someone you can discuss things with, and someone who is willing to do what needs to be done even if they don't completely agree with you on the plan.
That doesn't mean that you find your clone. What you don't want is someone who argues every point with you or doesn't see what you are trying to do. Compatibility is important to a good working relationship, especially in a small company where the demands and stress are often high. It's critical to do a great deal of talking and exploring during the interviewing process and the reference-checking process.
Sell your business
It may be challenging for you to find someone who meets your qualifications and is willing to take the risk of working for a small, start-up venture. Be prepared to sell yourself and your business. Your goal is to convince the candidate that he or she wants to work for you. You must instill confidence and credibility from the first contact.
During the interview process, show potential hires your business plan and discuss current business and potential opportunities. You want to provide them with a clear picture of what they'll be doing once they're in the job. Also, let them know how much downtime you realistically expect and can weather. Even if they don't ask, they'll be wondering. Be up-front and honest.
Consider creating an employee handbook that you can give to interviewees to help promote and explain your business and what you expect their role to be. As you discuss that role, find out more about candidates by asking about the challenges they see in the role and what they would like to get out of it.
Dealing with the mundane
If you're going to become an employer, you must first create a set of policies and documents, including employment agreements and non-disclosure statements (if necessary), benefit policies, payroll, taxes, workers comp insurance, and unemployment insurance. This package will be one of the selling points for your company.
Many consultants often try to handle all these administrative tasks on their own, which I don't recommend because it takes away valuable consulting hours. There are lots of ways to handle the payroll/HR: you can use an automated service from an accounting software package, use an accountant, or contract with a payroll service.
When I launched my consulting firm, I tried doing all that work in-house but realized it wasn't the best use of my time or skills. I moved to a payroll service that does almost everything. The cost is higher but the comfort of knowing that everything is done automatically and correctly is worth it to me. More importantly, my hours are spent with clients and finding new business. Another reason for subcontracting out the administrative work is that you may end up having associates and staffers in different regions of the country—meaning different taxes and payroll and regulations. Let the professionals take care of it while you concentrate on growing your business.
The ultimate goal
The bottom line when you're ready to post jobs and start hiring is to be prepared to correctly answer this question: "Would I work for this company if it was not mine?" If you can honestly say yes, you're off to a good start.
Don't despair if the first hires don't work out perfectly. The secret to building and growing a successful consulting firm is to learn from your mistakes and move ahead.