12 Steps For the Small Business Owner to Hire an Assistant and Lighten Your Load
(Part of the Small Business Success Tips series)
As a small business owner, you probably tend to “own it all”. Although it’s true that it is your business, this doesn’t mean that you need to DO it all. Free up your time, energy, talent and (dare I say?) life—and be MORE productive–by getting some tasks off your plate. I have hired some wonderful, dependable and effective assistants, and have developed a super process to get (and retain) just the right person. The steps provide continual “testing” along the “path to hire”–to minimize problems and headaches later on.
Big companies know the value of being “slow to hire”. I was a director of two technical staffing firms, and I have also worked for two of the top “slow to hire”, multi-step hiring companies–AT&T and Disney– and have experienced the process intimately, first hand. These two companies have a very high retention, low turnover rate that is attributed to their hiring processes. You see, the psychology of taking time, and asking more effort of the candidates, places a higher “implied value” on the position. People tend to value that which is not easily provided to them…and so it is with job applicants. By taking a little extra time, these companies get just the right people. And so can you.
Keep this in mind—your job is to be best at what you do, which is really what you’re providing to your clients. You are the expert at the technology or service which you provide. You need to be DOING that expertise, right? If you’re not the one doing it in your company, who else is going to? Other people can do the other “stuff” which is NOT part of the expertise in your company (i.e.: YOU). You will make more money by freeing up your brain, energy and time to do what you do best.
So, here’s my proven 12 step process for finding that special someone to help you:
1. Make a list of what you:
- Hate to do
- Don’t do well
- Put off doing
- Isn’t the best use of your time and/or talent to learn, but needs be done.
- Scratch out those things that really don’t need to be done. Some things may just be habits that can be eliminated. So, use this time to ditch ‘em!
- Figure out how much you’re willing and able to pay. If you’re not able to pay anything, don’t let that be a show stopper. Some college students want “intern credits” and work experience, and will work for free. In 2011 I hired a part-time admin for $8.00 an hour who was a senior at San Jose State University. He was highly capable, efficient and bright. The low pay was not an issue for him…and he was one of many good candidates happy to work for the low pay. My current assistant is a college junior who is reliable and brilliant, and is thrilled for the learning experience of working with me and the impact he can have on my business. If no interns are available, and you can’t afford anything, perhaps you’re able and willing to do a full or partial exchange of services. Decide on your payment type and amount now.
- Start the job postings/email processes. Set up a separate folder for applicants’ emails. (I set up a separate, new email account on Gmail to be used for applicants to send communication to me.)
- Send out emails to friends, family, groups you’re part of, or do a posting on Facebook describing what you’re looking for, and the tasks you’ll need handled. Make sure that you state that “the tasks MAY include….”. To accomplish more, you may need more than one person to do various tasks. That’s alright. One person may be great at posting on social networking sites, another may be great at making phone calls. You can divide one 20-hour position into two 10-hour positions. – OR—
- Contact your local college/university and see if they have a job posting/job board service. This is what I did, and I got a highly capable, fast, accurate, conscientious (and inexpensive!) young man for an “as needed” assistant. As I mentioned. some students will even work for a free “internship”. (Note: If you are worried about dealing with immaturity issues, be aware that many college students are well beyond the 18-to-21-years-old range, and eager to work. I have had great experience with 20-21-year olds!)
- When listing the job opening , whether to a group or on a job board, state the pay range, hours required, education required (registering on a job board site will prompt you to be clear with the details), location (on-site or virtual), and any other questions people might have. (Think of the “journalistic questions: Who, What, When, Where, Why, How) This will save you lots of time on returning inquiries. Be very clear up front with yourself first, so you can address this later.
- Make sure all responses go to an email address. As I mentioned, my applicants sent responses to a separate a Gmail account set up just for receiving job responses and resumes. If you chose to set up a special folder for job applicants, move applications/inquiries into the dedicated folder as they come in, to be reviewed later. This will allow you to easily set aside a dedicated block of time each day to go over all the applicants. Don’t give out a phone number yet. That’s part of a later step.
How to Efficiently Weed Out and Hire Job Applicants
So, okay. You’ve taken the steps described above, and you’re ready to receive responses from eager candidates.
- Responding to applicants–
- Craft a “Thanks but no thanks” email for ones in whom you have no interest, and send that out to them right away (otherwise, they may keep emailing you, and it’s good to respect them AND yourself by not delaying or wasting time).
- Craft a “Thank you, and I’m interested in seeing if we’d be a good match” message to ones who might be a good fit for your needs…and (this is very important) ask them to call you. Record the phone greeting in step 7, below (I used my home number…see how in the next step).
- Every day, review the applicants and send out the pre-written email response, and be prepared for phone calls.
- Phone procedures. Use a phone number that you don’t use much or don’t feel that you MUST answer. Change your greeting to say something like: (>>speaking very clearly<<) “Hello. If you’re calling about the job posting, please stay on the line for further instructions. If you are calling on another matter, please press “pound”, and leave your message. I will call you back….” Pause for a count of 3, then:
“If you’re calling about the job, please leave the following information:
Your name, your phone number. State the least and most number of hours you can work per week or per month, and what interested you about the job. I will get back to you within 24 hours. Thanks for calling.” This is what I call the “how well do you speak and think on your feet? test” for the applicants…a great way to continue the “weeding out” process!
- Follow-up. So now you have their written information (their resume or list of skills), and a good idea of how well they verbally communicate and think on their feet (they’ve left you a phone response). Now what?
- Email the ones that don’t pass the “phone message test” (group A), with the “Thanks but no thanks” email you crafted earlier.
- Pull out the resumes of the ones you want to talk to (group B)
- Call group B candidates, asking them to set up a time for a phone call—or perhaps talk to them right away, if convenient for both of you. NOTE: No in person meeting yet!
- Now for the live phone conversation:
- Get a note pad for TAKING NOTES, and have the resume as well.
- Start with this opening line: “Tell me about yourself”. That will start the conversation flowing, and you can ask more questions for clarification, using the resume as a guide.
- State the job duties, and ask them their comfort level with each of them, on a scale of 1-5 (or whatever feels right for you).
- Take notes on all this!
- If you like them, do NOT offer them the job yet! Ask them to send you a description of the conversation you just had with them. Nothing fancy.
- Ask them when they could get this in to you.
- Ask them to review your web site to get an idea of what you do.
Okay, so you should have a pretty good handle on the applicants’ skills (speaking skills, writing skills), background, job needs, strengths, and ability to think and express themselves quickly and effectively.
- There are a couple of ways to go forward:
- Meet with them to get better acquainted, and perhaps go over your job requirements. This would be a good time to bring something you’ll want them to review with you, or you may want to review something on the Internet with them.
- If you are having an inner debate over two or more candidates, you may ask them to do a quick piece of research for you and get back to you with their recommendation/findings (I had my future assistant look at Social Oomph, and find out costs, capabilities, etc., and compare it to another service. I needed this info, but didn’t have the time to research it myself.)
- Finishing up—making the mutual commitment:
- Make your decision.
- Contact the lucky gal or guy, and ask them when they can start.
- Create a “Letter of Understanding” (LOA), with start date, agreed-upon pay structure (their wage to start, what kind of wage increase later, and when), job functions, number of hours, how often they will be paid, where they will work at your business or wherever they wish), insurance coverage (none), etc. It’s best to over-communicate, than to have misunderstandings down the road! (Feel free to contact contact me for the LOA I use.)
- Make two copies of LOA
- You sign both copies
- Your new assistant signs both copies.
- You each keep a copy of the LOA.
- Start getting your “hand-off’s” in order…you have a new assistant! Congratulations to both of you!