This one is a bit personal and even discloses more than most SMBs like Suited would.
I’m going to tell you what coaches have told me, what virtually all CFOs would recommend, and what just about every startup does to truly scale… but it’s also what we are doing at Suited. Oddly, it still confuses some, and is even dismissed as ‘not a real company structure’ by folks that are, in my opinion, the same folks that thought eCommerce was a fad. Full disclosure, and no apologies for it (here goes).
We are a team of roughly 40 people here… but no, we are not all W2’d employees. We have grown Suited on ‘fractional hiring’ as Forbes calls it in a recent article; some individuals and several key expert teams join Suited fractionally, with a small team of founder/owners, for which I am one.
Suited is going to build, then hire. Build our client base (well on our way there), our systems (better than ever), our relationships and partnership, and yes.. then after hitting X million(s) annually, we began to hire. In fact, to date, writing this article there are only a handful of us that are full-time employees; less than 5 of us.
Shocked? Well,.. sorry. This is how it’s done.
You have a couple of options when you start out. Yank that capital from startup funding, and monetize your service/product solely for the purpose of hiring OR put the funds towards your company’s growth. But you can’t do both, so I was told. And I’m finding that to be oh so true.
The Agency Confession
I find it so very odd that this is even a topic of discussion with professionals I encounter. I don’t mind them asking, but it’s the look of confusion or comment of, “So you don’t worry that’s unstable… that (gulp) you don’t have ALL full-time employees?” I mean it’s really comical! It’s like talking to someone from the 90s or …I’m not even sure what to compare it to. Our growth model is so typical, yet I’m finding many are still marching along ‘hiring’ full-time at early stages for their entire team when they ought to have 3 partners, and the rest contractors or sourced labor force so you can have the chance to survive, pivot, and stabilize. Get to that first 2-3M annually, then you can think about hiring!
For this to be a concern or issue is on par with my asking the kid at the counter at a fast-food restaurant, “Excuse me but do YOU make those hamburger buns? Please tell me you bake those here.. in-house..” Not only is that not the case, but none of the products are made there. The hamburgers’ ingredients are brought in by a major food supplier, the service the fast food restaurant provides is the assembling of that item, the seats, tables, drinks, and perhaps wifi. I care not one bit if that kid is part-time, full-time, or contract, or if the meat (or bun) was made in-house or brought in. I’m sure most reading this agree and find this paragraph a bit strange altogether. What’s your point, Drew?
The previous point might sound like I’m comparing the ingredients in a hamburger to our people at Suited. I am a little actually. The end product is …the product. That is why I’m at the fast-food restaurant. The same goes for your small business. Focus on delivering a great hamburger, and a great experience, not on hiring a full-time butcher or owning the beef ranch, or having an in-house pickler for your pickles. Silly right?
Invest in very very few employees in the beginning and hire partners that will build the business with you while skilled teams, services, and individuals ‘deliver the ingredients’. I’m, of course, not talking about many sectors (hospitality, etc.) that cannot even get off the ground without hiring, but I AM directing this at many professional service businesses: Consulting, SaaS, Sales, Marketing, eCommerce, etc.
Hiring is not bad, it’s the ideal.
Hiring is what you do when you’ve arrived, not when you start. Congrats if you did anyway and are profitable. I know what hiring a full-time sales pro can do for an organization! However… I also know how a good sales system & playbook can outlive that guy when he/she is headhunted away for just a few $$ more. No one cared if you had spent 120k base salary plus commission or outsourced to a sales organization because you know… you’re busy making a thing. You don’t have time to train & manage sales staff. The reasons to build and then hire like this are endless.
Suited is in its 7th going on 8th year with only a handful of executives & owners on a teeny leadership team, and the rest have been faithful contract individuals and contract teams (that pretty much look like employees on paper, and in practice). The very fact that they are contractors, with more opportunity than Suited can offer in these early years, has kept them here, not hiring them. The very fact that our designers and developers have a vast variety of work stemming from 1-2 other sources outside of Suited keeps them fresh and directly benefits our organization, and ultimately our clients.
Like that young guy waiting to save 20% down until he’ll move outta mom’s basement to buy a home, it’s only his ego that has him go rent & drop money (or his mom’s crazy). Hiring full-time employees before a company is very …very… profitable and has deep & wide infrastructure, as well as partners and diversification of revenue …is just strange to me personally. I’m writing this article as I’m hearing this come up in funny whispers as if it’s some secret: Agencies are general contractors folks! Just like a construction organization; responsible to build the building. Concrete, HVAC, Electrical, Glass, Roofing, and other non-employees make up that job, but ‘XYZ General Contractors’ is the name you see on the printed fenceline, right? Their business is ‘general’ contracting, going and making ALL those relationships with ALL of those subs and being liable for them bailing mid-job; not you! Isn’t that great? Just a little call here not to be naive- this is the world around you. Same deal with us, and it’s an encouragement to you reading this if you’re feeling unnecessary pressure to hire at the early stages.
Hire when you can, but not before.
Hopefully, this article has encouraged someone; snapped you out of the one-track mind you’re in from advice on hiring when you needed to pull back and hear that you don’t need to ‘hire’ traditionally, and many (like Suited) did not start out that way.
You don’t need a full-time CFO to tell you this. If you’re growing and have an awesome individual amongst 5-10 on your ‘team’, GRAB that person & hire them absolutely, but don’t feel the need to retain everyone for 40 hours. Not a client we’ve taken on has asked or cared about our team’s structure; they come for results, we give them, word spreads, repeat.