How To Hire Your First Employee

I talk a lot about how to find leads for web design, especially high-ticket, recurring revenue clients. Once you get a steady flow of leads coming in, the next step is to figure out when to hire your first employee.

The Sign You Need To Hire Your First Employee

A few weeks ago, I started working with Christopher, who has landed over $64,000 of new business in the last few weeks. So, naturally, it’s time to start thinking about scaling up Christopher’s business.

If you’ve never hired an employee before, certain questions arise like:

  • Is it really time to hire an employee or should I just work harder?
  • What would the employee do?
  • Should you hire a 1099 subcontractor or an actual W-2 employee?

When you’re growing and have more work than you can handle by yourself, the obvious next step is to get help. But, there’s a bad time and a good time to hire an employee.

When To Hire An Employee

The best time to hire an employee is when you have a well-defined workflow that you plan to stick with, but you don’t have the manpower to pull it off. Furthermore, you recognize that the problem (hopefully) will get worse the more your business grows.

The last time I was involved in hiring employees was when our WordPress e-commerce platform was growing and the level-one support tickets (entry-level questions) started to pile up beyond my ability to reply in a timely manner.

It was a defined job that I could do myself, but I didn’t have the time to do it anymore while also driving the development and coding forward for our platform. So, I documented what needed to be done in terms of the tools powering our support desk. I wrote up a training manual of FAQs so the employees would have the information needed to be successful. Then I started hiring people to do that thing.

How NOT To Hire An Employee

Most of the people who ask me about hiring an employee aren’t ready. I’m not saying they aren’t too busy. I’m saying they aren’t ready to bring on a person in a way that will be successful for the business, the business owner, or the employee.

A bad time to hire an employee is when you feel overwhelmed but don’t know exactly what would make things better.

For example, if you have questions of all types coming in from everywhere and you just wish you could “clone yourself” to get more done, that’s a bad time to hire someone.

You’ll never be able to clone yourself. You wouldn’t want to even if you could. Ideally, you hire people who are better than you at the thing you’re hiring them to do.

If you’ve got the “I need to clone myself” feeling, it means there is too much chaos and not enough structure. Hiring someone under these conditions is unfair because there are unrealistic expectations. The employee will be doomed to fail before they start. That’s no fun for anybody.

Hiring Employees To Staff A Project

Another common trap that’s easy to fall into is to land a big project and then hire an employee to help with that specific project. The problem starts when the project ends, and you don’t have a pipeline of new leads. It’s easy to get fully invested in the big project you’re working on. Then there’s no work.

In my experience, small agencies tend to experience a lull as long as 6-months between larger projects. That’s a long time to pay an employee. But laying them off for doing a good job completing a project isn’t fair.

Hiring Employees For A Traditional Web Agency Is Hard

It is notoriously difficult to hire employees for a traditional web agency because:

  1. Most web agencies are project-driven, not workflow-driven
  2. The business owner feels stretched so thin they might snap so they aren’t available to get the employee up to speed and successful
  3. All of the clients want access to the business owner because that’s the person they know and trust.
  4. The projects have extremely thin margins (usually because you put the thin margin in on purpose).
  5. Every project is different and the employee can’t be expected to be as skilled and versatile as the business owner

Therefore, sometimes the first thing web agencies need before hiring the first employee is to convert at least a portion of their business to a Solution First Agency, so they have a consistent pipeline of clients who want access to the results of their solution (not access to the business owner).

5 Step Checklist To Hire Your First Employee

Here’s a quick checklist to summarize how to hire your first employee as you scale your web design and digital marketing agency.

  1. Identify a workflow problem (not just a workload problem)
  2. The workflow is well-defined and documented
  3. The employee has the tools and knowledge needed to succeed
  4. You’re not trying to “clone yourself”
  5. You’re not hiring to staff a project; you’re hiring to build your business

The Authority Framework

Discover the counterintuitive strategies I’ve developed over the last 20 years for landing serious, growth-oriented web design clients.

This is a modern approach to solving the most frustrating problems of running your own web design business.