In the 90s, yes. Today, no.
You've put in the time. You came up with the idea, you've built it into a product or service, you've got your first clients, and maybe even some funding. Now it's time to start filling key positions on your core team. You've identified that this is the right time to hire.
Now comes the hard part: hiring.
Founders recruiting for their startups have several hoops to jump through - for one, the average cost to hire a new employee hovers around $4,400. That's a big number. Of course, if you're hiring en masse, that per capita number does go down, but not by all that much. Then there is the time investment. It takes an average of 39 days to fill a vacancy in the US, and we're talking longer, the higher up the management you go.
Luckily, we live and work in a time when hiring someone full-time isn't our only option.
Spoilt for choices.
Depending on the skill level and position you're considering hiring for, the options vary.
High Skill, High Ownership roles
Say you need to bring on a senior marketing person to help you create your go-to-market strategy and set the direction for the short and middle term. You need this person to take complete ownership and drive the marketing roadmap with little supervision from you, but you do want to be consulted on all major decisions.
Apart from hiring a full-time, expensive employee, you can consider partnering with another firm. In the example here, a marketing agency would work wonders. You'd get management oversight, as well as execution. Moreover, you'd be the client - so no decisions without your say-so! This arrangement works wonderfully for accounting, legal, human resources and payroll, IT infrastructure, data security, designers and even programmers.
Less expensive than that would be a consultant who you could bring on board for creating the strategy and overseeing execution. They would be responsible for the success of the program, overall, but not look into other areas of marketing. They would oversee execution by your team. The great thing here is that consultants are often open to contracts where incentives are tied to outcomes - this way, you can structure the contract for a lower monthly 'salary', but with a big payout tied to the success of the program, with clear KPIs that both you and the consultant agree upon. It's a win-win. This arrangement works wonderfully for marketing, sales, project and program management, and administrative work (including IT).
High Skill, Low Ownership roles
Say you need content writers. Or data scientists. Or UI designers. Or social media marketers. Or any role that has finite boundaries - there's a clear start and a finish, or a clear demarcation between their role and that of the rest of the organization. This is where freelancers shine. Not only are freelancers a cost-effective solution, but they also give startup founders enormous flexibility - strong relationships with key freelancers can give startups the confidence to take on work that would otherwise involve a longer lead time.
Low Experience, High Ownership roles
This is your army of doers - young sales reps, marketing people, programmers, DBAs, business analysts… The list is endless. Luckily, these are all people that you can hire from the fresher and newbie pools, with a few people in there with more experience to balance them out. It is a win-win because you get to keep costs down, and they get to work in a high-growth environment. If you have a strong consultant or manager overseeing them and guiding the overall project or program, these teams can produce some real gems that you can then promote internally as your business grows.
Low Experience, Low Ownership roles
Hire an army of interns. There's no shortage of advice to hire interns to keep costs down. But there is a flipside: management and motivation are key with these workers. Interns often work best in teams directed towards specific projects, supporting your permanent staff. This ensures that they have a reporting structure, concrete tasks to complete, and an overarching goal that should be oriented around their strengths while being just enough of a challenge to be exciting and engaging. They should also be given frequent feedback.
If used in combination with a few high-performing junior managers, you create an environment where the interns get coached, and the young managers learn how to mentor and manage other people. As these jobs are relatively low risk in the first place, mistakes here can be remedied quickly and turned into important teaching moments for all involved.
Repetitive, Process/Regulation driven tasks
Do you need an employee when a cloud-based SaaS solution will do?
What can SaaS do? Marketing automation, project management, accounting, payroll, graphic management, and social media management. Also, appointment scheduling, analytics, time tracking, team communication… need I go on? This is the beauty of working in SaaS. Whatever your needs are, whatever your niche is, someone has thought of a solution that's right for you. Here's my list of favorite SaaS tools that make my life so much easier.
Once you know what your hiring needs are, the next big challenge is to find the right candidates and make offers that work for them, and work for you. Hiring, managing people, growing them into high-performance teams… It's a long game. It is also more art than science, and we each need to find our own way there.
I can't stress enough how important your mentors and peer community are here. Each industry has its own quirks, and knowing what they are is key to getting your hiring and compensation strategy right. Listen to all the advice you're being given, and finally, trust yourself. You'll get a few things wrong, of course. But fortunately, this is an area where you fail forward - each failure will help you fine-tune your approach, making you more attractive to the talent you want to attract.