Growing pains: How to hire your first employee

hire-your-first-employee_emma-clark_creative-womens-circle530 By Emma Clark

So, you’ve built your business up from scratch and poured your own blood, sweat, tears and cash into it. You have more work than you can handle and are in need of help. If you’re a one-lady operation, bringing someone else into your business can be daunting, especially if you are used to doing everything yourself.

The first step is realising that you can’t do it all, which can be both a revelation and a frustration. The second step? Relinquishing control and realising that hiring the right person will save you time, money and stress!

My husband and I run furniture studio Gratton Design and employ an apprentice furniture maker and a permanent full-time cabinetmaker, plus we use a range of contractors and specialist makers for different projects. Having staff isn’t always smooth sailing, but it has also allowed us to take on bigger and better projects, have more flexibility so we can spend more time with our kids, and do less of the boring tasks that we don’t want to do.

Having said that, hiring your first employee is best delayed for as long as possible. Make sure that your business is viable and profitable enough to regularly pay another wage. More staff means higher overheads, so staying solo until you cannot handle it any longer makes good business sense. And consider that employees cost more than just the salary: you might need new equipment like computers or software, fuel or travel expenses, plus Work Cover, superannuation and taxes.

When you have more work than you can handle and are ready for some help, it’s time to recruit some backup. Hiring your first employee sounds a lot more daunting than it really is. The most important part is finding the right person!

Write it down The first step is to decide exactly what the job is, and get it all down on paper. You might need someone for several hours a week to pack boxes, or you might need a full time manager to oversee operations. Writing out a list of all the tasks and areas of responsibility helps to clarify the role in your mind, and makes it easier when assessing potential candidates. Depending on the role, they might be able to work flexibly, from home or irregular hours, so it’s important to consider all these options when writing a job description.

You also need to decide how much to pay them. There may be an award covering minimum wages and conditions, which you can find more information about at the Fair Work Ombudsman site. The site also have plenty of helpful info about record-keeping requirements, calculating leave and fair work practices, as well as superannuation, Work Cover and tax requirements.

Contracts, lest it need be said, are also very important so that both you and your new hire are aware of each parties' responsibilities and rights. A professional contract lawyer should be able to help you with this, and getting the right advice in this area will probably be the most important investment in the step towards business growth with your new employee.

Who to hire Depending on the type of work you do, you might want to look at hiring a contractor, intern, student or apprentice, rather than a salaried employee. This can avoid a lot of the administrative burden and many workers are used to being employed this way. It also means you can hire people for specific projects and don’t need to worry about having enough ongoing work to sustain two wages. If you are looking for a student or intern, try calling a few schools or universities that specialise in your area of expertise. Design students are often happy to get a foot in the door and may be able to work flexibly (and cheaply!) in return for the mentoring and experience you will be offering. You can find contractors by asking around, or through online resources (such as the Circle Database!).

Finding your person Look at your immediate network for any candidates first. Often, if you like someone and get on well with them, that can be more important than their skill set or past experience. Many skills can be learnt on the job, and depending on the role, you might be spending a lot of time with this person; so choosing someone who is fun to work with can bring fresh energy and new ideas into your business. And try not to settle for the best of a bad bunch. It’s worth waiting for the right person than settling for the most available person.

If you’ve exhausted your friends and friends-of-friends for potential staffers, then use more traditional means. Putting a ‘We’re hiring!’ post on your social media platforms gets the word out to would-be employees who already know and like your product or service. An advertisement on Seek costs $255 and can lead to loads of offers, as can job ads on industry-specific sites such as The Loop, Artshub and We’ve even successfully hired people from the Work Wanted section of Gumtree.

Making it official Once you’ve had a few interviews and have found The One, you better make it official. Get all their information, including tax and superannuation details, and file it away somewhere safe. The ATO requires you to keep all wages and timesheet information for seven years, so keep all your employee information together and readily accessible. It is also worth setting up your payroll system ahead of time - we use Xero for all our bookkeeping and payroll and LOVE it (well, as much as one can love bookkeeping software). Once your tax requirements are complete, you can get used to life with a wingman or winglady.

The hiring part is just the tip of the iceberg. Managing people – even if it’s just an intern for a few hours a week – is a whole other topic that probably fills several shelves of your local bookshop. But after an initial settling-in period, you will soon find out how you work together and the best ways to manage your productivity and get the most out of your employee.

As business owners, we have found delegation one of the hardest things to learn. When you are used to doing everything yourself, letting go and trusting someone else is hard work! It’s important to remember that just because someone doesn’t do it the same way as you, doesn’t mean their way is worse (it may actually be better)!

{Image via Pexels}

Emma Clark is an interior designer, writer and podcaster who, alongside her husband Lee, runs Gratton Design, a timber furniture and architectural joinery company. She blogs occasionally at Worst House Best Street and posts endless photos of her sons on Instagram at @emmamakesthings.