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Taking the plunge to go solo and start your own recruitment business is a huge step. It’s a break from the stability, security and familiar environment of agency life, and a journey into the uncharted waters of entrepreneurship.

But, in some ways at least, getting started is the easy bit.

When you kick off, it’s just you – giving it everything you’ve got to build a starter customer base and get some revenue in through the door.

You know yourself, you trust yourself, and you’re confident that you’ll put in the hours and effort needed to get results.

When it’s time to start adding additional headcount to your agency, a whole new range of challenges emerges.

Your first hire can have a huge impact on the direction and pace of your agency’s growth, and – whether you’re aiming to build the next 100+ person agency or simply expand the capacity of your lifestyle business – choosing the right team member is a strategic process that will shape your business profoundly.

Wherever you are with your growth or future planning, here’s some food for thought on getting early hiring right.

Think long term

When you’re a busy founder building a recruitment business for the first time, any type of extra pair of hands seems an appealing prospect.

Someone who can take some of the strain on candidate screening, scout for new customers, build data lists or pick up some of the administrative burden while you focus on delivering vital sales…

It’s a hectic time being a one-man business, and assistance in any form serves to lighten the load.

But who you hire into your agency in the early days has much more significant consequences than simply helping you to lower your stress levels.

Your first employee’s role, responsibilities, and – most importantly – capabilities will affect not only what they are able to contribute to the business, but also what you spend your own time doing.

If, in the interest of some short-term stability, you opt for a candidate who only serves to ‘plug the leaks’ in your own busy schedule, you may risk limiting the speed with which you can scale at the pace you’d really like to achieve.

In contrast, if you strategically pick your hire based on what they can contribute to the business in both the short and long term – somebody who can not only cover their assigned tasks in the first few months of employment, but continue to make meaningful contributions to your agency as it expands – you add a valuable asset to your organisation that can help turn the wheels faster as you move towards further growth.

In short?

Our advice is always to hire the most well-rounded, capable person you can track down (or afford).

The investment in bringing high-quality talent into your agency early on will lift the pace of growth and provide ongoing returns as your business becomes more complex.

Design a robust vetting process

Many founders can feel awkward or uncomfortable creating a structured interview process for their fledgling agency.

Doesn’t it seem a bit ridiculous to pretend you have a formal hiring process when it’s obviously just you, meeting people and using your own judgement to decide who can do the job?

It’s easy to understand this mindset, but in reality, it doesn’t matter whether you’re hiring for a one-person business or a huge corporation.

The basic principles of interviewing and evaluation don’t change, and you need to be even more confident than a larger business that you are making a well-informed choice, because the impact on your business will be so much greater if you get that choice wrong.

On top of that, your eagerness and excitement to get somebody on board might blind you to some orange or even red flags about their interview performance or behaviour during the application process, where a more rigorous screening setup would filter them out.

Slow responder to email communication?

Last-minute change of schedule for a planned call?

Apparent inconsistencies describing performance or employment history?

Whether big business or small, an effective interview process has to involve a series of pre-planned steps that are structured to test and explore all aspects of a candidate’s profile, and make a balanced and objective assessment of how well they fit the role.

Given how much depends on this first key hire working out for your business, you owe it to yourself to approach the project thoroughly and professionally.

Remember how much your time is worth

Another key reason to avoid taking shortcuts when adding your first team member is the effect they will have on your own time.

As a business owner, time is the most valuable thing you possess.

You have a finite amount of hours per day, and you have to work out how to use them for maximum impact to help your business grow and thrive.

In a small business environment, the chances are that however you structure things, you’ll be dedicating a large amount of time to your new hire.

Between training, coaching, reviewing and collaborating together, they will quickly become among (if not the number one) highest consumers of your time.

As such, it’s important to think about what that time is achieving.

If you’re essentially micro-managing their work, using them as a tool to extend your own workload, then the contribution they add to your business growth is relatively limited.

Still worse, if they don’t work out as an employee, your agency slides back to square one, and you’re left to find and train a replacement to back-fill that function.

If, however, your first hire creates additional value outside of your personal workload (that is to say they bring in new clients, improve your internal operations, make lasting contributions to marketing, branding or strategy), then your output as a business increases significantly.

Time spent with this type of hire is more likely to focus on decision-making, planning and other activities that “move the needle” for your agency’s growth, rather than simply helping them deliver their goals to support your work.

Set the standard

Lastly, it’s worth considering the impact that Hire Number One will have on Hires Number Two and Three.

First impressions matter.

Especially in the beginning…

If your first employee is a skilled, high-energy rockstar who’s enthusiastic about your agency’s growth and sold into the bigger picture, you’re going to be able to attract better people to join you on the journey as subsequent tiers of the company fill out.

If Hire Number One is evidently working in your shadow in a largely administrative capacity, that dynamic is very different and that contagious excitement will be harder to build.

Good people like to work with other good people, and building that team of A-players that you know you’ll need ” one day” to take your agency to the next level of growth will get harder and harder if you lay down a foundation of B-players in the early months.

How does it work?