Bootstrapping a startup is challenging, so when a company with very little capital starts to gain some traction and market recognition, it’s a relief for the founder to finally face questions about expanding operations. When that moment came for me, I was excited to expand my company, Quiet Light Brokerage, by hiring advisors who would help our clients sell their online businesses. Figuring out my hiring model, however, proved more challenging than I anticipated.
The way I saw it, there were only two viable approaches: the first was to hire highly skilled salespeople who could work independently and be trusted with important decisions. The second approach would be to design systems that would address individual tasks that needed to be managed. I would then make sure I had a well-designed process in place to ensure the workflow would run smoothly, and everyone involved would work together effectively.
Instead of choosing only one option, I decided to try and combine the two together. But without a clearly defined hiring model, my new advisors floundered, causing a decline in my business. Luckily, the experience enabled me to reframe my thinking and course correct my hiring practices in a way that proved invaluable to getting my company off the ground.
Outlining hiring needs too broadly doesn’t work
The skills I initially targeted were those of “good salespeople.” But this was too broad: What was I really looking for, someone who excelled at short-term quick sales or someone who would be more comfortable and relaxed looking at the bigger picture by doing the long-term relationship sales? The term “salesperson” became too broad and confusing.
Meanwhile, my new advisors struggled with their role of helping people sell their online business. Since they were paid on commission, they made very little to no money, and many left their jobs shortly thereafter. But this was my fault, and mine alone. They were talented salespeople who were simply placed in the wrong job, and had I used a more robust hiring model and had a clearer vision for the company, perhaps these initial missteps would never have happened.
Identifying your ideal hire
At that point, I was seriously considering turning my firm into a boutique, single owner-operator consultancy when a former client asked me if he could come on board as an advisor. At first, I was extremely skeptical and said no. When he asked again, I said no again. And again. But to his credit, Jason Yelowitz is a persistent man, and I finally agreed to him coming on board. To this day, that was one of the best business decisions I have ever made.
I hadn’t exactly resisted hiring Jason. His resume was impressive, and he had the right kind of experience and skills that I was looking for. But after working very hard to bring on new staff only to see them struggle, I was not inclined to repeat the process all over again. Still, I decided to give it another shot. To my complete surprise, Jason hit the ground running from day one, and in doing so, enabled me to analyse what made him so successful where his predecessors had failed. This ultimately allowed me to develop a checklist of qualities I was looking for in the ideal employee, which in turn, strengthened my business.
Defining a hiring model that works
At the end of the day, when it comes to our business (selling profitable websites) it is not really something that can be done purely through systemisation. The process simply contains too many variables that require human judgment, so you need to be able to be flexible in how you approach each one. I found I needed experts in business, not just “good salespeople” who could follow a system.
Since the hiring model had been more clearly defined, the company has prospered as a result. No longer am I straddling the fence with both hiring options: Now I am a firm believer of hiring highly skilled, highly independent workers. What’s more, we have become one tightly knit family, where everyone is considered to be more of a partner than an employee. This has led to higher productivity because everyone feels truly vested in the company’s success.
Developing your own hiring model
If someone asked me for advice, I would tell them the following: Take the time to analyse your product or service and focus your hiring model. Can it be systematised or does it require a human touch? If you choose a systemised model, define your systems clearly and specifically. If you choose highly skilled employees, determine what skills are vital to their success.
I didn’t get my hiring model right on the first try, and that almost broke my business entirely. Fortunately, bringing Jason on board gave me the template for a much more focussed hiring model that has now been proven over several years to be successful. I would encourage you to weigh both options carefully to determine which hiring model is the best fit for your company.
This article “What trial and error taught me about my hiring model” was first published on e27.
Mark Daoust is the Founder and CEO of Quiet Light Brokerage, a website brokerage firm that sells profitable websites valued between US$100K-US$5M.
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