Well, you finally made it.

That first hire is just around the corner and your small business isn’t quite so small anymore.


But chances are you’re not quite ready to celebrate, right?

In fact, you’re probably equal parts nervous and overwhelmed about what it takes to bring on some new blood.

Hey, we totally get it – and we can totally help!

Many business owners are overcome with analysis paralysis when the time comes to make that ever-so-important initial hire. And honestly, that’s not a bad thing.

Because you want to make sure you find the right fit the first go-around rather than hire someone on impulse or spend months on end chasing candidates.

Luckily, we’ve been around the block enough to know exactly what small business owners should consider to make sure their first hire is a home run. Below we’ve broken down the specific tips and details you need to focus on to onboard someone as smoothly as possible.

With that, let’s dive in!

1. Make Sure They Have “the Right Stuff”

First thing’s first: you need to know what sort of skills you’re looking for in your new hire.

This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to want to hire someone who looks just like you in terms of your background and experience.

Instead, you should strive to hire someone that rounds out or compliments your own skillset. Think of your new hire like a puzzle piece: they should be able to fill in the gaps of what your business is currently missing.

For example, let’s say you’ve been struggling with your business’ software and social media needs. In that case, it would make perfect sense to hire someone who’s tech-savvy.

Or let’s say you’re a bit of an introvert. Maybe you feel that you need someone who’s more direct and outspoken to get in front of fresh customers – and you’re probably right.

There should probably be some overlap between your respective skill sets. That said, you don’t need a clone of yourself: you need someone to help you grow!

2. Hire a Specialist, Not a Jack-of-All-Trades

Ever heard the expression “jack of all trades, master of none?”

Many job candidates like to act like they can do everything you ask of them.

And while being proactive is a positive quality, this mindset often leads to an employee that’s pretty mediocre at their job rather than really good at what you actually need.

You need a specialist. You need someone who speaks your industry’s language and can prove that they’ve been around the block. This will not only help narrow your search but also help you in attracting more qualified candidates.

Which leads us directly to our next point…

3. Craft a Compelling Job Description

Job descriptions don’t have to be Shakespeare.

However, the quality of your job description speaks volumes about both you and the sort of applicants you’ll bring out of the woodwork.

Some key pieces of writing a strong job description include…

  • An industry-specific job title (“junior stylist”)
  • A glimpse of your business’ personality: humor and wit are totally fair game for a job description if that’s part of your brand
  • Reasons why someone would want to work for you (highlight rewards or opportunities, upsides of the work environment, location, the chance to get in on the ground floor, etc)
  • A brief summary of day-to-day duties
  • An outline of requirements and expectations for applicants

The last point is a big one.

There’s a school of thought that says you should set a higher bar in terms of job requirements to help weed out unqualified candidates. On the flip side, you don’t want to scare away perfectly good candidates for having outlandish expectations for their years of experience or education level.

When in doubt, you can always put yourself in the shoes of your potential hire and see what other companies are doing when hiring for a similar position.

4. Look Into Your Own Network Before Posting a Job Listing

Ideally, you can hire someone from your own network via referral. This can save you tons of time, energy and potential headaches as such talent is already vetted and deemed trustworthy.

In the case that you can’t find someone you know directly, putting out the feelers on social media (specifically Facebook Groups) is a good idea. Again, you want to exhaust your own personal network before going into the wild, wild west of job boards.

Don’t get it twisted: your amazing new hire may very well come from the likes of Indeed or LinkedIn. That said, the average job application gets approximately 250 applicants digitally. This means you’re inevitably going to be sifting through some less-than-stellar resumes on your quest to find someone who’s worthwhile. Be prepared for it!

5. Figure Out What Your New Hire is Worth

Small business owners typically don’t have much wiggle room when it comes to paying their first employees, especially if your business is still relatively young. This can work both for and against you.

On one hand, you leave less room for negotiation and can treat your salary expectations as a matter of “take or leave it.” On the other hand, you don’t want to only attract bargain bin-level “talent” because you’re strapped for cash.

The old mantra of “you get what you pay for” sort of rings true here. There are plenty of variables surrounding your hire’s level experience and personal situation which will determine whether or not your salary is satisfactory. For example, there’s a huge gulf between someone fresh out of college with few commitments and someone with tons of experience who’s also trying to support a family.

Either way, there’s no excuse to lowball anybody in terms of pay. Whether you already have a budget in mind or not, you should familiarize yourself with what’s considered standard for your respective role and location. Resources such as PayScale can help clue you in.

PayScale screenshot

Oh, and it’s also a good idea to frame to your new hire that there’s obviously room for growth since they’re your first employee. This can help temper their salary expectations and likewise show that you’re putting faith in them.

6. Do Your Digital Homework on Your Potential Hires

A bit of social media sleuthing can go a long way toward making sure your potential hires are who they say they are.

While it may feel somewhat stalker-ish, checking out social profiles is totally commonplace in today’s business world. Think about it: would you want to hire someone who’s writing potentially compromising or offensive stuff on Facebook or Twitter? Social profiles provide an unfiltered view of your hires and more likely than not you’ll find that what they’re posting is completely normal.

Also, asking for references is definitely fair game, too. While references aren’t the be-all, end-all of what a candidate is worth, someone with glowing, authentic recommendations certainly stands out versus someone who has nobody singing their praises.

7. See if the Chemistry’s There

The need to get along and have chemistry with your coworkers may not seem like that big of a deal in the corporate world.

But for small business, it’s a make-or-break situation.

After all, this is your first hire. You’re going to be spending a crazy amount of time together, whether it be in-person, on the phone or digitally. The ability to effectively communicate and enjoy each other’s company certainly matters in the context of a two-person operation. You don’t need to be best friends, but ask yourself: would you be cool hanging with this person on a 12-hour flight?

And of course, always trust your gut when it comes to bringing someone onboard. Your business is your baby and you wouldn’t let just anyone around your baby, would you?

If you have your personal or professional deal-breakers for your employees, they’re pretty much impossible to keep out of your mind. That’s fine, but just know that the more particular you are, the more difficult it is to find someone for the long-term. It’s a balancing act, for sure.

8. Be Prepared for the Interview Process

You expect your candidates to come prepared for their interview, but are you prepared?

Just about any question is fair game for your first employee, especially since you’re going to want to know them inside and out before bringing them on board. If you’re dealing with multiple candidates, you may want to do a round of phone or Skype interviews before meeting anyone in-person (at the office or a public place like a coffee shop).

It’s a nice bonus to bring someone else along for your interviews such as a colleague or fellow professional who’s assisting you. A second opinion never hurts, and that second set of eyes may help highlight positives or negatives about your candidate that you weren’t able to catch yourself.

9 Put Your New Hire to the Test

As part of the screening process, don’t be afraid to give your candidates some form of test to ensure that their skills are up to snuff. Again, such vetting is commonplace these days.

For example, you might go through some specific roleplay scenarios with someone who’s a sales specialist: you could likewise give them a written or take-home test you’ve put together yourself. Some professions might require more hands-on tests such as stylists who might be tasked to do an actual haircut on a dummy head in addition to being quizzed on industry terms (fringe, hombre and so on).

If nothing else, these sorts of assessments can teach you a lot about someone’s mindset, motivation, and abilities. How someone acts and reacts in real-time can be truly eye-opening.

10. Double-Check That Your Paperwork is in Order

Finally, the boring stuff! Yay!

Hiring requires a seemingly endless array of paperwork. Regardless, it’s legally required and isn’t something you can simply skim over.

For reference, this checklist covers what you’ll need to go over with your accountant for new hires such as:

  • An employment contract
  • Employment forms (W-4, W-9)
  • Prepare and obtain signatures for internal forms (non-compete agreements and so on)
  • Benefits documents
  • Personal data (for contact and emergencies)

And with all that, you’re finally poised to hire your next prospect!

Ready to Bring Your New Hire on Board?

Don’t forget that being in a position to hire someone is a huge milestone!

And rightfully, you want to make it count.

With the tips above, you can move forward with your hiring process with some much-needed peace of mind as you seek out the best person for the job.

Because at the end of the day that’s what you deserve. Chances are you know what you want in your first hire – so go out and make it happen!