This is a guest post by Dom Wells, owner and founder of Human Proof Designs.
Like most people, I hired my first assistant a lot later than I should have done. There seems to be this strange phenomenon that a lot of business owners go through, that I like to call fear of hiring. Might not be the catchiest name out there, but it’s definitely a widespread phenomenon.
Now, I totally understand why people hire too late. There are quite a few reasons, but they can all be boiled down to the fact people are mostly unsure how to do it.
How much should you pay, should you give an incentive, what particular task should you ask them to do?
Then there’s the biggest doubt of all. What if they’re not as good as you are?
This post isn’t here to convince you to build a team, despite what the introduction sounds like. I’m pointing out that I’ve been in the “not yet ready to build a team” position and understand the trepidations that come with it.
As I was saying, I built my team a lot later than I should have done.
In 2015 I had only 2 or 3 people working for me, and they were just freelancers I relied on from time to time.
Fast forward a couple of years, and by the end of 2016, I had over 100 freelancers, 5 managers, and several other people in supervisor positions.
Of course, a large part of that growth came down to my company growing, but you could argue that my company grew because we grew the team.
For the rest of this post, I’m going to detail how we were able to scale so rapidly, and how you too can systematically build a scale your own team, regardless of your needs.
In the beginning, when I was a one-man band, feast and famine was a huge burden on the business. I would a lot of time hustling to get clients, and then I would be busy building sites for those clients. In the meantime, my pipeline would dry up and once those clients were fulfilled, I had to go back to the hustling again.
As such, it became pretty apparent to me that I was going to have to build my own team to handle the fulfilment side of things (and eventually, the marketing side too).
Over the course of two years, we grew a business that looks something like this:
What’s key here is that we split everything into departments. You might be able to do everything in your business yourself, but expecting to find freelancers with those skillsets is foolish. Most people who can do all the things that you can do aren’t looking to be hired.
So this brings us onto our first lesson:
Lesson One: Split Your Tasks Up Into Departments
It would be awesome if you could hire someone who can do everything you can do, but you can’t. You’re probably familiar with the concept of wearing multiple hats in your business. If you’re like me back in 2012-2015, you wore all of them yourself.
You were probably writing all your content, adding all of it and publishing it. Promoting it on social media and tracking the rankings. You were probably doing keyword research, conversion rate optimisation, and link building yourself too.
The list will vary depending on your business, but you get the point I’m sure.
Now, the way to systematically grow and scale your team is to picture all of those tasks as individual hats, and start placing those hats on other people’s heads. At some point, you may need to hire multiple people for the same hats, and this is a whole lot easier if you’ve split your team up this way.
How do you actually create departments like this? It’s actually pretty simple.
1.) Write a list of all the tasks you do in your business. Make a note of which ones you specifically need to do yourself, the ones where only you could add value or get it right. Try to keep that part as short as possible.
2.) Group those tasks with similar ones to create “departments”. On the first pass, you’ll end up with a few really large groups, so you may need to make several passes to keep splitting things up. In a later lesson, you’ll learn why it’s important to make departments as small as possible.
Looking at the organisation chart above, you’ll see how narrow you can make things.
By the way, it’s fine to break departments up later as you scale. In the beginning, you may find you only really need 1 person to do multiple jobs, because the hours per job are small. As you grow/scale, that person might reach capacity and you have to either clone them, or split their task list in two (or both).
3.) Make a note of how many hours each task takes you, and what kind of skillset is required. Try to avoid a “group” with too many skillsets. For example, expecting a web developer to be able to do SEO, or expecting a writer to be able to do keyword research.
Figuring out how many hours a task might take should give you some insight into how many people you need to hire to do it, or how much to pay them.
Once you have an idea of the departments, it’s time to actually set them up!
Lesson Two: Set Up Your Departments One By One
When I scaled HumanProofDesigns, I was fortunate to have hired a very talented project manager. He had a lot of general business and management skills, but he wasn’t actually that versed in our particular business.
This actually worked out great, because it meant we developed the following approach:
1.) I taught him how to do one part of the business.
2.) He took over that task from me and practiced it until he was confident he could teach it.
3.) He tired 1, 2, or even 3 freelancers to be the new team (depending on what our needs were).
4.) He managed that team for a few weeks and then promoted one of them to manager.
5.) We moved onto the next part of the business and did the same thing again.
The result was that step by step, we went from me doing everything, to me doing most things and my operations manager doing a fair amount of things, to me doing hardly anything, separate teams doing most things, and my operations manager overseeing everything.
Note: I do still work on the business every day. When I say “hardly anything”, I’m referring to working IN the business. That’s another perk of building teams. By taking yourself out of the day to day tasks, you’re able to focus on the other aspects that only you can do.
So I definitely recommend a similar approach for you. You don’t necessarily need to hire an operations manager and walk him through the business like I did, but you should definitely build up your teams one by one.
Think of it as spinning plates. Get one plate spinning correctly, and then you can move on to the other. What happens if you try and spin multiple plates at once?
You don’t want to end up with a bunch of broken departments.
There are other benefits to doing it this way as well. First of all, it’s incredibly scalable. Once you’ve developed a process for hiring and training a team member, it’s a lot easier to do it again, and again as necessary. It’s also a lot easier to track and identify bottlenecks.
If your writers are getting content finished much faster than your website people are uploading and publishing it, then you know you need to hire more (or better) website people. This is applicable in so many places.
Lesson Three: Document Things As You Go
I know some people who will create an SOP or checklist for any task they do more than once. I wouldn’t say that you need to be that ruthless with your tasks, but it’s a good lesson in documenting things.
It can be kind of hard to motivate yourself to create proper checklists and SOPs for something that you can do with your eyes closed. You think “Well, I’ll just show them how to do it once and we’re all good”.
In my experience, you can never create SOPs soon enough. Here’s why you should put in the effort:
1.) You’ll always need to teach it to someone more often than you think.
2.) The process of documenting something let’s you analyse it and find efficiencies. You’ll also no doubt remember a few steps you otherwise would have forgotten.
3.) You get a better feel for how long the task should take.
4.) A freelancer or employee will really, really, perform better if they have a visual checklist to work from.
You never know when a freelancer might suddenly go missing, quit, be fired, or otherwise leave. When you have a “Training plan” in place like this, it makes it a lot easier to replace them or grow your team.
Speaking of which.
Lesson Four: Growing, Firing, And Promoting Your Team Members
One of the biggest lessons for me to learn was that people you hire just aren’t going to be as good as you are at everything, but that doesn’t mean you have to replace them. Some people take a while to get the hang of things, but go on to be great team members.
Conversely, others hit the ground running but then suddenly fade away. This is the nature of dealing with freelancers. Be wary of people who’s performance starts to drop. It usually means they are always taking on new jobs and are dedicating themselves to pleasing the latest employer, which means you might go to the bottom of the pile.
If they are a great hire, you can consider giving them more work in exchange for more dedication. Or you can just let them go and find someone who appreciates the work more.
There’s no real rule of thumb for when someone has potential to keep around, or when you should let go of them.
Usually for me the deciding factors are gut feeling, attitude, behaviour, and most importantly of all, communication.
Someone who isn’t amazing at what they do, but has great attitude, gets work done on time, and has good communication is someone you can teach and train.
Without the above, you’ll probably be doing everyone a favour by letting them go.
If all goes well though, you’ll end up with team members who are great, who love the regular work, and who would love the chance at management.
Should your team reach the point where you need to keep growing it, promoting from within is the best way to go. A manager who has already done the job before and who can help you train newcomers is going to be an asset.
One area people get stuck is not knowing when they need to expand. It’s hard to judge a team members capacity, especially if they’re working part-time. So the question you might find yourself asking is..should you ask them to go full time? should you take on another freelancer? Should you promote this person to manager and take on 1 or 2 freelancers?
The answer may be yes to any or all of those questions. It depends on individual needs and situations.
However, I’ll definitely recommend hiring more than 1 person if you’re unsure. First of all, you’ll always overestimate how many tasks or how much someone else can do and secondly, if you’re paying per task or per hour, it doesn’t matter if it’s done by 1 person or by 2. The price to you is the same.
As an added bonus, hiring 2 people for a job means that if 1 of them doesn’t work out, you can replace them without having to jump back into the business yourself.
Make sure you are paying a fixed price for your tasks. That way, you’re going to remain in control of your expenses. I only pay hourly for managers, or for freelancers where a task may take a different amount of time each time (such as keyword research). You can still hire multiple people instead of 1 though, just control how many hours they’re working.
The main takeaway here is that it’s usually better to have several people than it is to have one. As long as you don’t end up with more people than you can manage (which is probably about 10), the more the better. If you do end up taking on more people than you can man-manage yourself, then just promote one of them to a manager too.
Lesson Five: Pricing
I think the biggest question people have is about how much to pay people, but I’ve put it way down the page here because I think the other lessons or more important. Price is arbitrary if you don’t understand the systems.
I can’t tell you exactly how much you should pay people because I don’t know what your business model is, and it’s unfair of me to publicise how much I’m paying my own team.
However, I can definitely give you some tips for figuring out what to pay.
1.) Start Low
You’ll be surprised that there are very talented people out there who want to work for less than you’d expect. You’re not exploiting them by paying them too low (they choose to accept the work after all).
If you find that there is nobody good applying for your job, or you can’t find quality workers for that price-range, then you can start thinking about putting the price up until you hit the sweet spot.
The point I’m making is that you might think you’d need to pay $20 per hour for a project manager, when I’ve found a lot of talented PM’s for $10, and I know others who pay $5.
2.) Use Fixed Rate Where Possible
It’s always better to pay per task where possible. This way you and the freelancer both know the exact amount, and you don’t get any nasty surprises.
Even writers, who usually charge per word or per hour, will be happy to work “per article” (as long as you tell them roughly how many words to write).
3.) Use Bulk Pricing
The number one concern every freelancer has, is looking for more work. If you tell someone you can give them 50 articles, they’ll be willing to work for less.
What looks better? “I’ll pay you $50 per article” or “I’ll pay you $2,000 for 50 articles”. One is a guarantee of $2,000 and the other is a higher rate but a lot less money.
4.) Adjust As You Go
It takes practice to arrive at the right rate to pay and you may end up over or underpaying some people initially. Just be thoughtful and you will reach the right pricing.
Don’t be afraid to fire somebody who demands a pay raise or doesn’t appreciate the work you’re giving them, but also be prepared to give a pay rise to someone who really deserves it.
I like to give end of year/Christmas bonuses to the freelancers on my team who’ve been with me a while and who deserve it. There’s no rule for this and I don’t give everyone a bonus, but I show my appreciation for the one’s who’ve earned it.
Building a team is an organic process that you get better at as you do it. However, if you think about it strategically, you can definitely systematise things and scale without too much headache.
The important thing to remember is that you will overestimate how good your replacements are or how much they can get done. Nobody will work as well or efficiently as you (unless you’re not very good at what you do).
The best way to grow is to learn to do everything yourself first, and then split up your tasks into groups, and train a team to handle one of those groups at a time. Eventually you’ll have built a team for every aspect of your business, which allows you time to go learn the next thing, or to work on other tasks.
Once you get the hang of things, they can scale quickly, but the only way to get there is to get started.
About The Author
Dom Wells is the founder and CEO of https://humanproofdesigns.com. Their mission in 2017 is to help as many beginner affiliate marketers as possible to get started, and to help their existence audience make more money from their niche sites.