How to Make Your First Hire: Tips for Small Business Owners

How to Make Your First Hire: Tips for Small Business Owners

You finally did it! You started your own business and have everything in place to make it a go. But first, you need to hire. That’s where many small business owners cringe – and fail.

That first hire can be the key to your business success – or failure, because starting a small business and deciding who to hire really comes down to finding someone who believes in the business and isn’t looking for rigid structure, says Patrick Foss, co-founder of Excelsior Brewing Company, a locally and employee-owned company in Minneapolis’ western suburbs.

Who do you hire first? How do you know who to hire first?

Making that first hire

“You have to hire for the core skill you need – sales, brewing, manufacturing, but also someone who can be flexible to play outside their position as the business needs shift,” says Foss.

Foss is also the President of ThinkTalent Human Capital partners, a Twin Cities-based company that specializes in selection technology implementation and support with a focus on Taleo recruiting, onboarding, integration, reporting and passport partner. He knows people and processes and how to make business work and his first hire for Excelsior Brewing was the key hire he and partners needed. That hire was a legendary brew master who was also instrumental in the brewery design, equipment selection and taught the founders many things it would have taken years to figure out.

“His willingness to do everything, including paint walls in the early days, was mission critical to getting to employee number two through ten,” says Foss.

If you’re starting a business you have a dream of what that looks like when successful, says Foss. And if your first hire isn’t someone who also buys into the dream, it might not be the right fit.

“If you hire people to key positions early who share the dream, you’ll be amazed at what can happen,” he adds. “I realized early on in my consulting business that hiring a person on January 1st means I may see the first revenue dollar deposited June 1st. If we allow for a 30 ramp up before assigning them a client, they perform billable work in month two, we invoice at the end of month two and a large company can take 60-90 days to pay. I think this shows the ultimate example of ‘investing in people.’”

Making the first hire as a small business owner is a huge first step into growing your company and taking it to the next level, says Alissa Henriksen, a former staffing and recruitment company business owner who recently sold her half of the business and is in the process of starting her next small business – also in the staffing and recruiting industry.

Finding the right fit

“First, you want to make sure you fully understand the culture of the company you are creating,” says Henriksen (follow Henriksen on Twitter). “Your culture is the heart of the business and it will help align yourself and your business with those you are hiring.”

How can you do this?

Write down what you are trying to create as a culture because most often that will align with the personality traits in the people you are considering to hire for your company, says Henriksen. Make sure the culture is clearly defined in your job description. Yes, you need a job description and make sure the roles and responsibilities are laid out and specific, says Henriksen.

Small company fit

Next, you want to make sure the first several people you hire can work in a small company environment.

“If the majority of their career has been working with larger corporations, they probably aren’t going to be the right fit – at least not right away,” says Henriksen.

Example: One small business owner ran a unique business, a web-based retailer that sold wrestling products, but also reported amateur wrestling news. The owner hired an announcer to broadcast an out-of-state tournament. The owner wanted the broadcaster to spend time helping sell apparel at the tournament before the evening broadcast. The broadcaster was not onboard – and not on staff long. In a small business, you have to find people are willing to do everything and anything, especially that key first hire. A job description will help, but they must be willing to go above and beyond and do anything that can help the business succeed.

“You need to make sure you hire someone that is self-sufficient, motivated to figure things out on their own, passionate about what your company is doing, and familiar with how smaller organizations run,” says Henriksen. “This person cannot be spoon fed because you will not have the time to babysit. That might sound harsh, but it’s the truth.”

You need someone who can pick up on things quickly, take on multiple tasks at one time and not get overwhelmed, be able to jump from project-to-project, and have great communication skills.

Seek help – don’t do it alone

Next, find someone who can help interview the next candidates you are looking to hire. If you can’t afford a recruiter, find a mentor or strategic business partner to help interview candidates. You want to make sure you have a second – and even third – opinion on the people you bring into your organization.

“As the owner, you have several hundred things on your mind and you probably are making this hire because you desperately need the help,” says Henriksen. “This is an awesome problem to have, but it’s crucial that you don’t make an emotional decision.”

You need to take the necessary time to find the right candidate for the position, adds Henriksen.

Avoid friends and family

“I would highly recommend not hiring family or friends right away,” she says. “It might feel like the most comfortable thing to do and an easy solution, but you will be able to set clear expectations and either party will not feel taken advantage of throughout the interviewing and hiring process.

Finally, use social media to get the word out that you are hiring. Network like crazy because a highly recommended candidate is someone that you need to consider for your open position, and they are being recommended for a reason – they are valuable.

Never settle

“Never settle and make sure you surround yourself with people that are better and smarter than you,” says Henriksen.

Do that and in no time (well, maybe a little bit of time), you can sit back and watch your company grow and develop into what you’ve been dreaming all your life.

Ready to hire?

Written by

Matt Krumrie is a career columnist and professional resume writer who has been providing helpful information and resources for job seekers and employers for 15+ years. Learn more about Krumrie via, connect with him on LinkedIn ( and follow him on Twitter via @MattKrumrie.

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