Becoming A Boss

Posted March 23, 2011

NOTE:  Here is a sneak peak at my In Business column in the next issue of Event Solutions Magazine.

@hgivner: Luv your ES column! My biz is jamming, am so busy I can’t handle all the work myself. Ready 2 hire my first employee.  Any advice? Candace, Independent Planner, LA

I got this Twitter message last month (though Candace asked me not to list her Twitter handle).  My first response is, how great is it that people are so busy again!  Now, hopefully Candace has read my previous columns on how to calculate her fee structure so she’s profitable, and not just busy (because we all know they ain’t the same thing.)

My second response is that hiring her first employee is not the only solution to being super busy.  Candace could instead use this as an opportunity to raise her rates, be more selective in the kinds of clients and events she takes on, etc.  The buzz she’d create by turning away clients because she’s so “in demand” will do wonders for her reputation.  Because make no mistake, hiring an employee will change the nature of her business in many ways, some of which she may not anticipate.  But if she still wants to move forward in becoming a boss, here are some tips to do it right.

1.     Hire Someone To Replace the Lowest Paying Part of Your Job. You know the phrase “chief cook and bottle washer” which describes how entrepreneurs often have to do everything?  Well, in this case you want to start by hiring someone to do the bottle washing part, which presumably is the lowest paying.  Make a list of the main jobs you do in your business (sales, marketing, event operations, administration, etc.) and next to each one list approximately how many hours a week you spend on it, and what you think the market salary or hourly rate is for someone to do that task.  Your first hire should be the lowest one, because that’s the cheapest way for you to free up some of your time.  Your goal is to then shift that time toward the highest paying part of your job, which presumably is working with your clients.

2.     Allocate Time to Manage Your Employee. Unfortunately, those low level hours your employee will take off your plate won’t all become available to you.  Why?  Because managing your employee takes time.  This is probably the biggest oversight people make when hiring someone.  You’ve got to factor in time to interview, train, coach and manage them.  And the more time you put in teaching someone how you want them to do something, the less time you’ll spend putting out fires if they mess it up later.

3.     Create A Detailed Job Description. List as many of the tasks & responsibilities this person will have as you can think of.  This will not only help with accurate recruiting and interviewing, but will also serve as an outline for your training and a benchmark for performance evaluation later. And when you begin your training, start with the phrase, “Here’s what I expect of you.”

4.     Document Your Training Process. When I ran my event company, I got a lot of things wrong, but one thing I got right fairly early on was to create written training materials.  This is an investment the first time around, but when you hire additional staff, it provides two great benefits: (a) It saves you a ton of time, and (b) it insures consistency in how your staff gets trained.  Here are some examples of the types of things I wrote down and would give to my new hires for us to review together:

a.     Info About the Company. This is a no-brainer that too many people miss.  I wrote a short script for people to learn on how to explain what we do and what key points I wanted them to convey.  Your employees are ambassadors for your company; empower them to properly represent you.   I’d even give them an oral test on this before allowing them to answer the phone.

This should include a list of Frequently Asked Questions by clients and suggested responses.

b.     Instructions on Repeatable Tasks. This includes step-by-step procedures for things like running reports, doing inventory, creating a timeline, etc.  (My personal favorite was how to download postage to our Pitney Bowes machine.  I had one admin create that instruction sheet, and it was literally passed from one admin to the next over a fifteen year span.  To this day I never learned how to download postage.)

c.      Info About Company Benefits & Policies. Candace probably isn’t thinking about this, but she can bet her new employee will.  How many vacation days do I get?  How many hours a week do I work?  What happens if I work all weekend on a job, do I get Monday off?  Is there health insurance?  What’s the travel reimbursement policy? It’s best to think these through and write them down.  They don’t have to be perfect; you can always change them.  (The first time an employee asked me this stuff 20 years ago I remember thinking:  “Benefits?  You mean working for me isn’t a joy unto itself?”)

5. Provide Frequent & Clear Feedback. Most new bosses are reluctant to criticize their hires, and instead let things go.  They eventually either learn to tolerate mistakes, or it builds up and the only criticism that comes out is “you’re fired.”  This helps no one.  Employees need your feedback.  If they’re doing something wrong, tell them immediately.  Likewise, if they’re doing it right, give them a pat on the back acknowledging it.

6. Be Their Boss, Not Their Friend. I’m sure this will be the one area I get the most hate mail on, but 8 out of 10 bosses in this industry I polled for this column are just that; they’re bosses.  The other two like to be buddy-buddy with their staff and like to think they’re all one big happy family.  I’m not saying you need to be a mean-ass boss, but rather that if you become too friendly with your staff it eventually compromises your ability (& backbone) to give disciplinary feedback and to push them to achieve superior results.

It’s far more important that your employees respect you than like you.  It may make your stomach turn to see them clam up when you approach them at the water cooler, knowing that its you they were gossiping about, but in the end its what’s best for your business.

*In my next column, I’ll talk about how to handle an employee that’s not working out.

3 COMMENTS

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  1. Howard
    Sean Low
    March 24, 2011 at 10:06 am Permalink

    I really like this post Howard — especially the part about writing everything down, setting expectations and boundaries. The only thing I would love to see included is an ethos that you expect staff to go beyond the boundaries you set for them. Even if you hire someone for the lowest paying part of your job, you want someone on your team to want to be inventive and creative with what they are tasked to do. How about telling them what you expect, showing them how you do it, then challenging them to come up with a better way to do the same thing? Most teenagers today can program just about anything. My guess is that they could set your Pitney Bowes machine up to automatically download from anywhere on the planet. Sure there is an app for that. I am certain you did not have automatons on your staff and also fairly certain you are not advising that here. Just think that the days of doing a “good job” by doing what your told are gone.

  2. Howard
    Anne
    March 25, 2011 at 7:18 am Permalink

    The idea of telling your emloyee what you don’t like vs letting it build up until it results in”you’re fired” is so important, as it is in all relationships. Very good insight and employee management skills!

  3. Howard
    Ben Child
    April 2, 2011 at 2:43 am Permalink

    Great post, Howard.

    Not only does this validate you, but it really gives perspective across any industry as to what building a business involves. Much appreciated!