Reluctance to hire can stifle growth
Hiring staff or consultants allows entrepreneurs to focus on growing their businesses, not their workloads
Lorne Brown hired receptionists for his acupuncture and fertility clinic before he fully needed them. He was confident his business would continue to grow, and the front desk staff were essential to his vision for his clinic.
“I knew I wanted to have really good service … so I hired some of the people in advance knowing I’m going to grow into them,” said Brown, the founder and clinical director of Acubalance Wellness Centre in Vancouver. “I knew that if I had reception, it would allow me to grow.”
Early on, he made another important staffing decision: even though he had worked as a chartered accountant before studying traditional Chinese medicine, he contracted a bookkeeper so he could focus on growing his business. The five-year-old clinic now has five fertility acupuncturists as well as two full-time and two part-time administrative staff, and contracts out accounting and marketing.
“You want to delegate, either through contracts or by hiring staff, things that you’re not great at,” said Brown. “And more importantly, making time for things that you’re genius at.”
Brown has avoided the mistake that business consultant Lisa Dorazio sees many businesses make as they grow: founders doing everything themselves.
“They don’t even want to take that baby step, so they’re pulling their hair out,” said Dorazio, who works mainly with small and medium-sized business in B.C.
While some business owners may think they are saving money by wearing many hats, they’re not putting a dollar figure on their own time.
“Time is really money and most people don’t look at that,” said Dorazio.
Dorazio also sees clients with a different kind of problem: they’ve gone ahead and hired staff, but without proper HR policies in place. To tame the chaos, Dorazio often helps business owners set up standard HR tools: timesheets, job descriptions and an employee policy manual.
For Brown, having clear HR policies made a big difference. For example, on top of their vacation time, employees at his clinic were allowed to take additional unpaid time off. But they weren’t co-ordinating with each other, leading to staffing problems.
“You could see that [the business] was getting bigger and we needed some policies because not everybody was sharing the same values,” said Brown.
Brown brought in a consultant to create an employee manual, which his staff also had input on. Now everyone is clear on expectations and procedures.
Aaron Smith, the founder of a company that connects travellers with volunteer experiences abroad, didn’t have to create HR policies from scratch. When his Vancouver-based startup, GoVoluntouring.com, was acquired by Flight Centre in February 2012, he was able to adopt the larger company’s policies.
In addition, GoVoluntouring.com’s values are clearly laid out in its company charter.
“I think HR policies about how we do business and what kind of culture we are is huge,” said Smith. “It’s the framework.”
Before being acquired, Smith used consultants for help with areas like marketing and website development. He now has a team of 14 employees. But growing so quickly hasn’t been without its challenges.
Despite putting down his company’s most important values in the company charter, it soon became apparent that many of the new staff didn’t understand the company’s mission.
“We weren’t addressing the values that [the clients] were bringing,” said Smith. “This is travel as an experience, not travel as a commodity.”
Smith took the radical step of requiring all his staff to take part in a volunteer project overseas so they could understand first-hand what the clients would be experiencing.
Having staff who understand his business culture is also the No. 1 priority for Brown, who said he places just as much value on cultural fit as on an applicant’s job experience. The same goes for contractors.
Both Brown and Smith still rely on consultants for their growing businesses for areas where there is not yet enough work for a full-time job.
Although it’s been difficult at times to let go of control, Smith said there have been many benefits of having more staff: more people means more ideas, and the business is able to put them into place faster.
“[If you’re spending more of your time] on those little things - if it’s on marketing, if it’s on accounting, and not on growing the business, then you really need to look at the business and say this is not sustainable operationally,” said Smith.