Congratulations! Your agency has grown steadily over the past couple of years, and now you are ready to hire your first full-time employee. This is an exciting and scary moment in your business. So many different thoughts are going through your mind: What if it does not work out and I have to let this person go? How will it affect their lives?

It’s the nature of a growing business. In order to grow, you have to hire people. It’s naive to think you can do it all on your own or successfully sub it out overseas. Yes, you can do some outsourcing, but I learned early on from a very successful businessman, Tony Hsieh of Zappos, to “Never outsource your core competency” (from his book, Delivering Happiness). In other words, if you are doing SEO for your clients, don’t outsource your SEO. If you are designing websites for your clients, don’t outsource your design work. You want to control the main thing your business does.

Having a team in-house is the right way to start. So what should this first hire do? That’s the challenge, right? You have to understand your strengths and weaknesses. Yes, you are human and you have some things that you are not great or even good at. For example, sales are very low on my strengths list. Luckily, my business partner Josh is very strong in sales and marketing and is able to explode our business on that side. I’m more of the creative type, so design and operations are where I excel.

You might be a one-man or one-woman show, so you have to determine where you need the most help. I have to assume that if you are at the point where you are ready to hire someone it’s because your sales are growing – and you are the one making them. While you may not like doing sales, at this point you would be better served to bring on an operations person.

Remember that this is your first hire, so it should be someone who will be a key person for your company. Look for a multi-skilled person, someone who can manage projects and also take some of the workload. A highly skilled graphic designer with no organization or web development skills may not be the best choice at this time.

Our first hire was a young guy with a solid technical background. He was a sponge for knowledge and was able to learn a lot of different skills. He has been with us now for 5 years and is our key senior SEO guy. He’s a rock star in our company – we helped him develop his skills, gave him a path, and he took it upon himself to learn and grow.

Our second set of hires included two account managers. We needed some people to take care of our clients. Account managers are key to the long-term success of your company. In reality, you could start your business outsourcing all of your operations work and then move it in-house later, but you can NEVER EVER outsource your customer communications. A good account manager is a key hire depending on how many customers you have. You can manage up to 15-18 customers yourself and still bring on new ones. But after 18 clients, you really need to bring on good people to communicate with your clients.

Don’t make the mistake of not taking care of your customers. This is one of the biggest mistakes I see small and even large businesses make. They spend, spend, spend on getting new customers but then take their existing customers for granted. If your clients feel neglected, they won’t be your clients for very long.

So before you jump the gun and think you need to hire a hotshot designer or SEO person, take a moment to map out your business. See where you are lacking and fill that need first.

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