Startup Guidance: When it’s Time to Hire a Team

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Here’s a challenge that almost all successful startup founders face eventually: You’ve launched your business, gained the trust of financial backers, refined your product or service and attracted your first customers. Now you’re beginning to grow, and it’s time to shift course and take off the dozens of hats you wear during an average day. Until this point, you (and your co-founders) have served as your own IT department, your own sales team, your own CFO, CMO, and HR staff. You water the plants, you take out the recycling, and you answer the phones. Who else would?

It’s time to delegate some of those tasks and place them in the hands of qualified, specially trained experts, but you’re having difficulty letting go. And the reason is clear: you’re not sure you can trust your business to an employee (or a team) who you don’t really know.

What if they leave too soon after stepping on board? What if they’re reckless with trade secrets or intellectual property? What if they mishandle company or customer data? Or, in an unpleasant but common scenario, they simply cost too much for the contributions they provide?

How much do you stand to gain or lose when you commit to a new employee, and what kind of legal relationship should you establish? Should you hire full or part time employees on an at-will basis, or should you sign contracts with independent providers? And how can you mitigate the risk involved if a new employee simply doesn’t work out?

When it’s time to hire a new team member, or several, don’t put off the decision. The longer you wait, the longer you avoid delegating vital tasks. Develop a targeted staffing plan that can increase your odds of interviewing and hiring the best possible person for the job, then place every aspect of your working relationship in clear legal terms, marked by concrete expectations on both sides of the table.  

Keep in mind that employee-employer disputes and misunderstandings most often result from vague language in the hiring agreement or the lack of an employee handbook. Your handbook doesn’t have to be perfect from the start; this is a flexible document that can change as your policies evolve. But having one available for new employees can clarify details regarding time and availability commitments, how the employee should handle sensitive information, behavior expectations for the workplace, and the steps necessary to register a complaint or address performance issues.

All business owners make staffing mistakes now and then, but with a legal strategy in place, you’ll correct mistakes quickly and create the most efficient, equitable and cost-effective path to the creation of an invaluable team.