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Hiring & Onboarding for Your Small Business: The Do’s & Don’ts of Attracting Top Talent

Can you remember the days when you believed you would never generate enough revenue to call your idea – your passion – a real business?

And yet, here you are today, feeling overwhelmed by tasks, to-do’s and client requests. You’ve had to turn paying customers away due to a full schedule, and you might even be starting to receive some complaints.

It might be that you’ve reached a point where you just need someone to help you stay on top of the details. Or, perhaps it’s time to face the fact that your ability to tinker with WordPress isn’t going to cut it if you want to level up with your brand. Maybe you even find yourself nipping at the heels of the Growth or Scale stages of the Fizzle Small Business Roadmap.

Regardless of your exact situation, every entrepreneur hopes to reach a point in business when it’s time to ask, “Is it time to hire someone?”

At first it’s only natural to instantly reject the idea, insisting that we are the only ones in our businesses who can truly do things the “right” way. Letting go means relinquishing some control and taking an enormous risk in trusting someone else with part of the work.

Simply put, hiring with a hefty dose of caution just makes sense – because this is a big deal.

All of these factors were very much in play when the Men of Fizzle™ decided to hire someone to take on Member Success. Corbett, Chase & Barrett were a team of three with a specific brand of company culture and frankly, it worked.

Bringing on a fourth team member meant putting the dynamic at risk, but it also meant offloading some tasks to free up time for more strategic projects. Above all, it presented an opportunity to find a new dimension and take Fizzle to a different level.

Hiring doesn’t have to be a chaotic crap shoot. Hiring well is all about attracting the best possible talent, and then executing a well-organized onboarding plan with honest conversation peppered in along the way.

So without further ado here are the Do’s & Don’t’s of attracting and hiring top talent like a pro, straight from the perspective of a newly onboarded team member who just went through this process herself.

The “Do’s”:

Do decide what stays on your plate and what needs to go.

Ask yourself which tasks and projects you absolutely must keep a hand in, and delegate the ones that don’t make the cut. Then go ahead and repeat this process at least one more time in order to truly challenge yourself to let go.

Do you really need to be the one responding to that email? Might there be someone better suited to fiddling with plugins to create the website you dream of? Remember that your number one job in your business is to steer the ship, and that means carving out more time for higher level strategic thinking and direction setting (without sacrificing your sanity.)

Do turn everything you do into a repeatable process – and then record it.

Once you’ve isolated the tasks you can let go of, it’s time to start systematizing. Creating an easy to follow process eases the anxiety of letting go because it takes your workflow from “just the things I do because I figured them out” to “this is a step by step checklist anyone could follow”.

During my first week at Fizzle, I received a library of training videos Barrett put together using Screenflow. After identifying which tasks he would pass along, he simply recorded himself walking through each step of various projects. Particularly as a remote team member, this was invaluable to me because I could take the training at my own pace, follow along and revisit as many times as I liked without having to consume Barrett’s time.

Do collect resources that inspire you and itemize your ideas if you’re hiring for project-based work such as design.

It’s never too early to hone in on exactly what you would like an end product to look like. In fact, the more clarity you have around your project early on, the better you can communicate your requirements to your employees or contractors.

You can also start “People Banking” by keeping a list of possible candidates for future projects to avoid starting from scratch when you’re ready to hire.

Do treat your job posting as a branded piece of content reflective of your company’s spirit.

Imagine you are opening a high-end restaurant on the hottest street in town. Consumers in your city have tons of options, so what would you do in order to differentiate yourself? Throwing up a banner that declares “We serve food here” might attract a very hungry passerby, but it’s unlikely that an upscale foodie will bother to stop by and give you a shot.

If you want to attract the best, you need to put your best foot forward. Take the time to really craft a job posting that makes a seasoned candidate with high potential want to drop everything and apply. I know that’s how I felt when I saw this posting, brimming with authenticity and heart, from Fizzle.

“Treat your job posting as a branded piece of content. It’ll attract the right kind of applicant.”

Do identify four “must have” key candidate traits.

Four might seem arbitrary, but any less and you might not be vetting rigorously enough; any more, and you risk making concessions if a candidate hits most of the criteria.

In my days as a hiring manager, drive, passion, cultural fit and competence usually made the cut. We devised questions that helped rate any given candidate as a “yes” or “no” in each area. Only those candidates with four “yes” marks moved forward in the process. No “maybe”s, no exceptions.

Committing to non-negotiable characteristics increases your odds of staying objective. Interviewing candidates and imagining someone on your team is often a personal if not sentimental process, so use this strategy to take emotion out of play.

Do seek results-based answers (and be relentless about it).

Sometimes the difference between an average candidate and your team’s next superstar is hidden in the nuances of their answers to seemingly basic questions, such as, “What accomplishment are you most proud of?”

But listen closely, and you can discern the difference between someone who plainly lists their responsibilities and someone who ties their victories to the results they produced.

The candidate with a bias for results will show a heightened ability to see how her efforts make an impact downstream, and that’s exactly the kind of person you want to hire in the early days when there’s plenty of shaping left to do inside your business.

Do demonstrate leadership and showcase your values.

Talented players want to know that they will be challenged, listened to, encouraged and believed in. Admit that you aren’t a perfect organization, and that there are many places in your business to optimize.

Top talent doesn’t want to step onto a perfectly well-run, problem-free ship; in fact, the go-getters of the world will likely feel invigorated by an opportunity to steer.

This is one of the most vivid memories I have of interviewing with Team Fizzle. Every interaction with Corbett, Chase, and Barrett felt genuine. They weren’t shy about the company’s opportunities to grow and improve, and I felt that their letting me peek behind the curtain was a preview of the kind of trust I would experience as a team member.

Show off your culture and favor real people stuff over the obligatory stiffness that comes along with traditional corporate processes.

Do enlist a second (and third) opinion.

Even if you are a one man show and you believe you are simply hiring a virtual assistant to handle some email, this decision has the capacity to impact your business for better or worse.

When your business is small the stakes are high, and because you are limited to your one and only perspective, it’s a good idea to have someone you trust talk with your possible hire.

If you have a team to rely on already, see to it that each person has a conversation with him or her to get everyone’s seal of approval. If you’re a solopreneur, tap a trusted friend or peer on the shoulder and arrange a conversation to get another take.

“Solopreneurs: get a second opinion from a friend or fellow entrepreneur before you hire a new employee.”

Do lay out a 30, 60, 90 day plan with some basic checkpoints for your new hire.

This might seem like an intimidating or time consuming step, but it doesn’t have to be that way. All you need to do is come up with some straightforward benchmarks you would like to see your employee or contractor hit within certain timeframes.

Setting the stage early ensures your new employee understands what will be considered success, and is particularly important when working with designers or developers. When everyone agrees on what can be accomplished at which points, the chances of communication breakdown diminish.

Do build an operating system for your team.

Within the Fizzle team, we use an internal set of tools, processes and guiding principles in order to ensure we’re aligned as a team and are headed in the right direction.

For a newcomer, your operating system can function as a cheat sheet or crash course that sums up what it’s like to work with you. It’s incredibly helpful to see all important recurring team events, core values and a summary of the most commonly used tools all tied together in one place.

Do give your new hire a seat at the “Grown Up Table”.

So you’ve managed to hire a high-performing achiever who brings experience and potential to the party. Congrats!

Bear in mind that if your new team member happens to be joining an already established small team, it can feel a little like landing a seat back at the kid’s table during Thanksgiving.

Giving new hires a seat at the “Grown Up Table” simply means seeking their opinions and making them feel like valued parts of your team. If you intentionally look for opportunities to show your new hire that her perspective bears weight, the chances of making a quick adjustment sky rocket.

The guys at Fizzle did a remarkable job in this department when I joined the team. While it would have been very easy (and even natural!) to keep the doors somewhat closed during my break-in period, I felt as though I was given the keys to the control room from the beginning. That observable level of trust and commitment confirmed my suspicion that I had made a great decision when I joined the team.

Do remain open to feedback and leave space to grow as an organization.

Remember how excited you were to incorporate a fresh perspective when you were hiring? What may have seemed exciting during interview conversations can quickly take a personal turn when your new hire points out inefficiencies within your business.

Don’t be afraid to put down your armor and really listen to your newcomers, keeping in mind that they speak from a valuable outsider’s view.

The “Don’ts”:

Don’t skip the interview (and yes, it should be “in person”).

Even if it’s a project-based short term job, you need to get a handle on communication style to be sure you can rely on your next hire.

Simply put, there are too many places to hide in a portfolio or a resume, and there is just no substitute for real conversation.

If you are hiring a remote worker, consider inviting them to a Skype video interview so you can pick up on body language and simulate an in person interview.

Don’t rely on tired, pointless interview questions.

Asking candidates what kind of tree they would be if they had to choose will rarely reveal whether they have what it takes to be the next rockstar on your team. Instead, opt to place them in real life situations they’ll face on the job to see how they respond.

For example, while interviewing with Fizzle, I demonstrated how I would respond to common customer emails and complaints in order to show my ability to treat our members with care.

Learning how your candidate would react situationally is far more valuable than “magic bullet” questions designed to throw people off.

““How many marbles would fit in a school bus?” is not a good interview question and more hiring advice for entrepreneurs”

Don’t be taken in by first impressions.

While the importance of finding the right cultural fit for your small team cannot be understated, your interview can quickly turn into a “who would I most like to get a beer with?” contest if you aren’t careful.

Instead approach your own opinions with skepticism and assume that you’re going to gravitate towards the person you like most. Challenge yourself to really hold that person up against the key traits you identified earlier and make sure she passes with flying colors (and hopefully is pretty cool to drink beers with, too.)

Don’t settle.

Particularly when under the gun to hire someone as you’re drowning in your email inbox, it can feel like the best hire is the quickest hire.

If someone feels 75% up to your standards, that person can probably learn the rest on the job – or so you hope. As much as it would make life easier if this were true, rounding up on an employee, virtual assistant, designer or developer while hoping they are “good enough” can be a grave mistake.

Sometimes the right person for the job does not immediately present himself, and if waiting it out and continuing the search is what it takes to find a match, so be it.

Don’t skip over praise, or the tough stuff.

Since you did such a bang up job during the interviewing process, you have markedly increased your chances of having a new team member or contractor you feel awesome about.

You feel awesome, which is great, but don’t forget to share your feedback. Plus, since no one is perfect (nope, not even Beyonce), there’s bound to be opportunity for some redirecting.

Don’t merely assume that your new hire “probably knows she’s doing it” – because she probably doesn’t, and you owe it to her to be honest.

Don’t neglect small details.

When you’ve worked in your business for months or years, you quickly get acclimated to the bumps and bruises that make your company a little quirky. While you have learned to just roll with it, your new hire is forming his first impressions.

Those crucial early days are also the ones when top talent decide if they have made the right decision in picking you, so don’t overlook seemingly meaningless details like having new email addresses set up on time. While to you it might look like a little slip up, to your new hire it looks like you don’t have your stuff together.

Don’t forget that this is a big deal.

While your new team’s first few weeks and months will run mostly as “business as usual” for you, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that this a big deal for the new person.

It’s normal and even expected for new hires to feel a bit like they’ve been dropped off in the middle of a jungle, even if your team is amazing (like mine!)

Whether you’re bringing on a full time team member or hiring for project-based work, there’s a lot of excitement and fear mixed up in the process. However, with some intentional strategic planning and a lot of authenticity, you can attract talented candidates and make your next hire feel lucky she joined you.

“Hiring your first or next employee as an entrepreneur is a big deal. Make sure you get it right”

Are you think of hiring an employee? What are you most concerned about? What questions do you have? Have you hired recently? What did you learn in the process? Share with us in the comments.

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