Inspiring Success in Architecture for Small Firms and Sole Proprietor Architects

Entrepreneur Architect Academy 006 | My 12 Hard-Earned Lessons for Hiring the Right Staff

medium_2786503962You started your own firm. Congratulations.

Whether it was a planned life strategy or an involuntary response to the miserable “downsized” economy, you’ve made the right choice. In this profession, being an Entrepreneur Architect is the single best decision you will ever make. (Tweet That) Your future is now up to you. Your success or failure is in your hands… exactly where it should be.

It’s not going to be easy though. Success doesn’t happen without a tremendous amount of hard work, dedication and sacrifice. Along the way you will make hundreds of decisions, take lots of risk and fail, over and over again (if you do it right). It’s all part of the process.

The best part of failing is the lesson learned for your future success. (Tweet That)

As you execute your plan and build your business, you will eventually get to the point when you can no longer go it alone. You are going to need some help, but before you begin to peruse Craigslist, you need to know what… and who, you are looking for.

I’ve made my share of mistakes along the way… especially when it came to hiring a staff. I’ve learned my lessons and thankfully, today I have a loyal, trustworthy crew.

My mission here at Entrepreneur Architect is to inspire your everyday success and help you grow a healthy profitable firm. I share my success and failures every week. So, this week I am sharing my 12 hard-earned lessons for hiring the right staff.

1. Wait.

With all your success and enthusiasm for growth, you’ll soon be overwhelmed with getting it all done. Your bank account will begin to grow and you will be eager to get some help. I was… and I did, but I wish I didn’t. Nothing is more important to a growing business than cash in the bank. When you think you are ready to hire, don’t. Wait as long as you can. Take the money you would be paying an employee and put it away in a separate savings account. Build up an emergency fund for 6 to 8 months of expenses (including the salary you are planning to pay your new employee). Once you are fully funded, then go get some help.

2. Plan.

The business plan you developed in Session 002 should include goals and strategies for hiring your staff. At what point will you hire? Which position? Why? Develop an organization chart for your firm and identify every position your future firm will require. Then use that chart to determine the sequence of your hires. Hiring a staff without a plan is no different than building a business without a plan. Without having a clear roadmap for your ultimate destination, you are bound to make a wrong turn.

3. Create the system.

When you start your firm and you are the only employee, you’ll need a very big hat rack. The role of every position identified on your organization chart is your responsibility. CEO, COO, CFO, President, VP, Sales, Marketing, HR, Customer Service, Architect, Designer, Project Manager, Drafter, Office Manager, Receptionist and Custodian… all you. When you’re finally ready to make the commitment to hiring an employee, decide which role will be most beneficial to the firm if handled by an new team member and create a fully developed system for that position. Determine the key results areas for that position and prepare a detailed, step-by-step manual for how the work should be done. When you hire your first employee, you will add another hat to your rack… employer. With a well developed system in place, your new role will be less work than the one just delegated to your new hire.

4. Choose wisely.

Which role are you performing that will be best done by others? Which will give you the most time to develop the next system? Which will give you the biggest bang for your buck? Which will let you make the most money? Would a licensed architect be better than an intern? Could you do more billable work… as an architect, if you hired an office manager? Choose wisely.

5. Take your time.

Don’t rush your decision. Take time to learn about a candidate before committing to hiring an employee. Have multiple interviews with each candidate. Start with a quick meeting to introduce the position and pick up a “vibe” from the person.  The second interview, if there is one, should be more involved. Invite them to spend some time with you in the studio, have lunch with them or take them on a tour of your projects. Learn as much about them as possible. People are on their best behavior when seeking a position from you. You want to meet the real deal. As difficult as the hiring process may be… the firing process is much worse. (Tweet That)

6. Don’t overpay.

One of my biggest mistakes when hiring my first employee (and there were plenty to choose from) was agreeing to a salary that was just too much. I figured that if I paid a higher-than-market salary, I would have higher quality, more loyal employees. It turns out that money isn’t always the answer to finding the right people. It is important that you know what you can afford to pay for the position and then offer less. Remember… cash is king.

7. Offer non-salary compensation.

When starting out, you will need as much cash as you can get… and payroll will rapidly become your biggest expense. Consider offering benefits and incentives that don’t involve money, such as flexible work schedules and freedom to balance the work for your firm with time for their families. For the past few years, we’ve been closing the studio from Christmas Eve through New Years, giving the staff time off in lieu of an annual bonus. This allows us to reduce the expense of a bonus (which has been critical while in economic “survival mode”) and encourages the staff to spend quality time with their families during the holidays. That’s a win-win.

8. Employee or Freelance?

You may decide that you don’t need to hire an employee. You may be better off working with an independent contractor. There are many benefits to taking this route. The temporary role of a freelancer will delay your commitment to an employee and reduce your long term expenses. Taxes, health benefits, equipment… all the responsibility of the contractor. Hiring freelance is great for when your workload increases faster than your confidence. If you are interested in hiring freelance architects, be sure to check out Entrepreneur Architect Projects, a new platform for connecting busy firms with freelance architects.

9. Keep the IRS happy.

Whether you hire an employee or an independent contractor, the IRS wants to know about it. There’s always some paperwork required by the feds and state governments when hiring, so be sure to discuss plans with your accountant before making any final hiring decisions.

10. Do a background check.

Start with a simple Google search. You will be amazed by what you will find about a person online. Check them out on the social media networks. You’ll often discover the clear character of someone by reading what they post on Facebook or Twitter. Pay sites, such as Intelius and LexisNexis, will do a complete financial and criminal background check on anyone you are considering for employment. We often have staff working in clients’ homes and in the studio off hours. Being blindsided by someone less than honest about their history could be devastating to your firm.

11. Ask your friends and networks.

I’ve used classified ads, online and in the newspaper, and received dozens of resumes. Finding candidates is not difficult, but finding the right person for the position is another story. Referrals from friends or through your trusted networks will yield higher quality candidates, better suited for the position you are seeking to fill.

12. Hire nice people.

You may spend more time with your staff than with your family, so be sure you like the people you work with. The character of the people you hire will determine much of the culture within your firm. Mean, angry, gossips do not build great companies. They tear them down little by little. Happy, cooperative, committed people attract other nice people. When your staff is happy, your clients will be happy and ultimately… you will be happy.

Homework

Create an organization chart for your future firm and add it to your business plan.

Flip to your plan’s Vision Narrative and re-read it. What will it take to run that firm? What positions will be required? Who will report to whom?

Your org chart will help you make good decisions as you march your way toward success.

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photo credit: slimmer_jimmer via photopin cc

Comments

  1. All good points…especially #12. It is easy to forget that one when evaluating the experience and technical skills!

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