It’s episode 7- can you even believe it?! We’re on the downhill slope of this podcast season and are so beyond thankful and grateful for all of the support you, our listeners, have shown us so far. In this episode, we wanted to dive into Kristen’s experience building her current team. You know that part in our intro where it goes “it’s not all sunshine and rainbows”? Yeah. We meant it. Building a business is one thing, but building a team and refining your own skills as a leader of not only your company, but people too? That’s a whole other rodeo no one tells you about when you’re first starting out.
Ready to get ahead of the pack and take in some sound advice on this topic? Tune in and read on for the notes!
THE SHOW NOTES
When you get to the point in business where you’re ready to take the next step and start building a team, it’s generally because you’re ready to take things to the next level. What does that mean for you? This “next level” is all relative and subjective to you personally, and the goals you have both personally and professionally.
For Kristen, the next level didn’t mean happier, wealthier or busier - it meant being more organized and streamlined, having more comfort and trust, less mistakes, a better experience both internally and for clients, and better communication. Maybe those things don’t equal the next level for you, and that’s totally okay. This is an opportunity to turn inward, do some soul searching and actually qualify or quantify what you think having extra hands on board will do for you.
Maybe you’re just fine in your little one woman (or man) sailboat and you don’t need anymore hands on deck. If that’s the case for you, good on you! Keep doing what you’re doing to kick ass and take names. If you feel like you’re drowning a bit and are in need of someone to throw you a lifeline, keep on reading because we’ll get to some strategies you can implement in order to get the best employees for you.
“I think I always knew I would have employees,” says Kristen. However, she continues on to say that If you had asked her five years ago if she thought she was a good boss, she would’ve said totally! She’s reasonable, empathetic, sympathetic, honest; but she admits she was lacking at really being able to put her needs second, and put the needs of her employees as developing professionals first. Kristen reflects and says that this concept alone is the biggest key in getting quality employees and most importantly, keeping them. It’s a learned skill, for sure, but one that is invaluable to the growth of your business and the growth of yourself as an entrepreneur.
So, you’ve done some soul searching and are determined to add some amazing new hires to expand your woman show - now what? Before you do anything, get rid of the fear of failing. You can’t be so nervous about hiring that you end up not hiring anyone. Everyone has a bad hire - it’s a right of passage, but you live and you learn and you move on. Also, rid yourself from the feeling of obligation - don’t also hire someone out of pity, or that you know from the get go is not going to be a good hire for you.
Okay, now to the good stuff.
As a solo entrepreneur you’ll start to realize that you do things you hate a lot of your day. In a creative business, most of those hated things are usually totally not creative and more administrative. For Kristen, she realized that she started to feel like she was pushing papers - designing only once a week, in the field once a week, but bogged down on email and administrative tasks every other day. It was hard and she was able to realize that that’s where she had some weaknesses and needed help. Kristen recommends identifying where your weaknesses are, and hiring someone that compliments those. For her, she desperately needed help with all the administrative stuff that comes with owning a business, so her first hire was an office manager so she could clear her plate and have more time to design (the company’s money maker).
“Where I was as a designer at that point in my career was not a good place for me to groom another designer, from a design standpoint or a leadership standpoint,” Kristen says. “Along with knowing your worth, I also think it’s important to figure out what you’re good at, and what your employees are good at. Figure out, or even involve them in what you like to do, and see if there’s any crossover. You could be on separate planets task wise, and that’s totally okay. “
Kristen’s first hire was an office manager that was initially part time to help field consults, write contracts and run errands. This first hire not only helped Kristen build the business, but they also helped me to see what she could work on as a boss, and what her strengths were as a leader. Please note that these are two totally different things. They’re not synonymous and both require equal attention and focus.
After that, her next hire was going to be a second designer. At this point in time, Kristen’s mom was helping her with interviews and their goal was to find someone that could alleviate some of the pressure and take on some of her tasks, but who could also still design. “If you need help seeing how you work best with others, ask your mom - she’ll tell you!” she says. Kristen mentions that she wasn’t ready to pay a seasoned designer because she herself was still learning about who she was as a designer, and her aesthetic (it wasn’t called ODL at the time!). This person was a good fit at first, but things went sour. She then brought in a project manager which ended up being a questionable hire as well. Kristen reflects and says, “There were a good two years where the team I had was questionable, but I think it was important to go through those experiences to learn about hiring in general, who to hire that’s best for both the company and yourself - working with someone 40 hours/week is a lot of time spent with them if you’re butting heads and expectations don’t align.”
It was at that point that she took some time to be self reflective. It was very clear that she needed to pivot (there’s that word again!) because something she was doing wasn’t working. She looked at what she was doing (Was it timing? Hiring the wrong people and not understanding red flags in the beginning? Not understanding the exact needs of clients?) and got better as a boss. “While I don’t take responsibility for the things our first hires did,” she says, “I do think i could have served them more as a boss, lessons I learned only after going through the experience of hiring, firing, etc.”
You have to build your team with people around you that you trust, that trust you, and are drinking the kool-aid. They need to believe what you believe, and be working towards a common goal. Business is business, but it’s also very personal, so you should share common ground. Once you get your foundation laid and begin to find these people, then you can get the luxury of looking at hiring in a different way than maybe before. For Kristen, it was being able to look for “talent,” meaning can they not only do the tasks, but did they have everything on her list of what makes up the ideal candidate for her? Each employee you have over time is a piece of the puzzle, and then the puzzle is always growing, especially when you’re in a thriving business. Not only are your employees part of your journey, but you are part of theirs! They also chose YOU! Accept people for who they are, identify what their strengths and weaknesses are, and build around that, be okay with it and figure out how to help them, and you will go far.
Advice for new bosses
Timing is everything. Don’t hire someone out of convenience just because you need a warm body.
Talk to your employees and talk to them often. Are they happy? What do they need? Having employees that are dedicated to you is the biggest compliment on earth. “That is something that we’ve worked up to as a culture,” Kristen says. “I like to think that it’s because they feel supported in all aspects and know that with anything that happens, we will back them up on it. It doesn’t mean they won’t make mistakes and there wont be training opportunities, but I always say i can fix 99% of what you do, just don’t lie to me.”
Delegate! One of the biggest strengths of entrepreneurs is that they’re control freaks, and this can also be one of the biggest weaknesses. You’ve gotta figure out the best way for you to channel that control freak-ness into something that’s positive and beneficial, and your employees can help you with that. Let them help you! It took Kristen a long time to get there and she can say that it all comes from confidence and personal growth. It will free up your time and mind from that “feeling like you’re drowning” feeling.
As a boss, figure out what your hot buttons are and figure out what you can compromise on. You have to pick your battles.
You have to trust the people that you hire. This doesn’t mean that you let them lead you into a black hole of death, but give them capable hands and empower them to use their own brain, reasoning, project management skills to get your company and clients to the best outcome.
Hiring your first employee is a big deal and affording them is also a big deal. Have at least 6 months of wages in the bank ready to go so that you aren’t worried about how you’re going to pay them.
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