Scaling your startup: How to recruit the best team to achieve your ambitions

Taking your startup from founders-only to employing staff is a big shift in gear. It comes with a new set of financial responsibilities and you’ll have to start considering HR practices and what kind of company culture to develop.

It’s a daunting task, but also one that’s incredibly liberating. Get the right people in place and you’ll increase company output and free up your time to focus on your bigger ambitions.

Read through this blog post to help you expand at the right time, develop a clear job description and recruit with confidence.

Be clear about the role you want

When you take on your very first hire, it can help to free up your workload as a founder. This was exactly the case for Joseph Black, co-founder of UniTaskr.

“For our first three years, it was just myself and my co-founder, and we both wore a lot of different hats. I was responsible for finance, customer service, marketing, logistics – everything really,” he said.

Joseph explained that when they decided to hire someone, they had to think carefully about defining their own roles first.

“Prior to even taking on new employees, we had to look at how we should segment and diversify our roles. First we identified our core strengths and how to split them out. Once we’d done that, it made things far more manageable before building the staff infrastructure and bringing in the right employees,” he said.


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Mapping out new job descriptions

Looking carefully at your role can help you decide which tasks you want to continue to own and which would be best to pass on. You might have a strong background in finance for example, but is managing the company’s accounting the best use of your time?

Think about your current responsibilities and weigh up the pros and cons of handing them over by asking these questions for each:

  • How important is it that I continue this task?
  • What is the cost of employing someone else to do it?
  • How easy is it to recruit for these skills?
  • Can someone else do it better or quicker than me?
  • How much time will it free up for me if I hand it over, and what could I focus on instead?

This simple exercise helps you to develop a clearer picture of your own role and the one you need to recruit for. Once you have a list of tasks for your new hire, split them into essential and desirable categories to help you streamline applicants at the selection and interview stages.

Consider different ways to take on staff

Hiring staff doesn’t always equal full employment. Consider whether other options – like work experience, interns and outsourcing to freelancers, consultants or agencies – could suit you better at this stage.

When Jason Nicholls, founder of New Kings Coffee, first expanded his team, he chose to do it by taking on an intern. He applied for funding and managed to get at least 90% of an intern’s salary funded.

“In my personal life, I don’t really use social media, but you have to use it when you’re running a business,” he explained.

“I employed a young intern who was really au fait with social media, so it was an easy job for them to do. They got some good experience and I got good social media management for my business at very little cost.”

The next stage for Jason was to outsource to external experts and agencies. He is now at the stage where he outsources most aspects of his business, from manufacturing and fulfilment to sales and marketing.

“Outsourcing can be a more cost effective and flexible solution. If you’re outsourcing to an agency, you have control over your costs and the time that you employ them, whereas with an employee it’s a long-term commitment,” he said.

He warned that tension can develop between employees and external agencies, leading to certain operations running less efficiently.

“I outsource paid advertising to an agency, but I have an employee doing digital marketing. There’s a bit of a disconnect there and potentially, it’s an opportunity to bring it all in house to create greater synergy.”

Bringing external staff in-house

Taking on interns, work experience placements and freelancers also allows you to build up a pool of tried and trusted people, some of whom could become employed staff at a later stage when it’s the right time to hire.

Not only can you see if someone has the right skills and attitude for your business, you can also test run the concept of passing on certain tasks before creating an in-house job description.


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Five steps to confident recruitment

1. Hire slow

At this stage, most startups are recruiting with no formal HR process in place. This means it will take time to develop job descriptions and go through the interview process.

While it’s tempting to hire someone quickly so you can get them started and see some progress, this is one area where it pays to take your time to find the right person.

The key takeaway here is to avoid hiring for the sake of it. It’s frustrating when you spend days going through applications and interviewing candidates and none of them are right. But, in this situation the best option is to start again.

2. Standardise the interviews

If you don’t treat every applicant the same, it’s impossible to compare them effectively. Develop a standard format for each stage of the interview process that always ties back to the job description.

Here’s an example of how to format the interview stages:

  • Stage one: An informal chat to introduce candidates to the company and the role. At this stage, you’re gauging their interest.
  • Stage two: An interview with set questions designed to see how they perform against the essential criteria in the job description. At this stage, you want to find out if they can do the job.
  • Stage three: A presentation where you ask them to go into more detail about a certain aspect of the role or come up with a short strategy. At this stage you’re looking at how they would do the job if they got it.

Rachael Twumasi-Corson, founder of Afrocenchix, asks a range of questions related to the industry, the company and the candidate’s competency.

“When asking competency questions, I always make sure I ask candidates to describe what they’ve actually done in a similar scenario rather than only asking what they would do in that situation,” she said.

3. Balance personality with skills

Your business will develop its own culture as it grows and the people you employ are integral to this.

At UniTaskr, the team culture is particularly important to the founders. The business employs recent graduates who understand the company’s mission to connect students with part-time work around their studies.

“For me, it’s very much about the person. I’m always asking myself, do they understand the business and are they a good culture fit? That’s a massive thing for us as we want our team to act as a family,” co-founder Joseph Black said.

Don’t be blinded by personality, though. Stay clear on what skills can be taught versus which are essential and remember that different perspectives are valuable – hiring people purely because you like them can lead to a lack of diversity in your workforce.

4. Recruit for the future

Are you looking for someone to develop and grow with the company – or do you need someone who sees this as a short-term role? If you have different takes on this, it could end badly. Ask yourself:

  • Does this person’s goals align with yours?
  • Do they want to develop the skills and experience you need in the future?
  • Do they believe in your company mission?
  • What are their short and long-term goals and plans?

5. Look beyond the interview

Look at the candidate’s whole application for clues about their abilities and attitude.

“A lot of the time interviews just show how good people are at interviews – some people interview well but can’t do the job,” said Rachael.

She believes you should pay attention to the CV and covering letter as these can show someone’s passion for the job.

“Is it a generic application or have they tailored it to you? If they haven’t tailored it and don’t particularly want to work for your business, they’re going to struggle in a startup job.”

Did you find this blog post useful? The article is powered by Sage. Their accounting and HR software supports startups and growing businesses. It can help you understand business performance, get tax right and be more organised – find out more here!

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Chris Goodfellow
Chris is founder and CEO of Inkwell, the company that runs The Pitch. He’s a journalist and editor by trade, and his work has been featured by everyone from The Guardian and The Financial Times to Vice magazine.

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