December is nearly over, and every time it ends, entrepreneurs begin thinking about ways to grow in the new year. What better way to take your business to the next level than to hire some great people to help scale your efforts?
But hiring new team members can be a daunting task, to say the least. For which roles should you hire first? How do you know if somebody is a good fit for your company and culture? Should you hire a remote employee or stick to your in-house team?
We’ll answer all these questions (and more) in this 3-part guide to hiring a rockstar team for your Shopify store in 2020.
Here are the questions we’ll help you answer regarding hiring for the new year:
- Is it really time to hire, or should I put it off? (Part 1)
- For which roles should I hire first? (Part 1)
- Should I hire a generalist or a specialist? (Part 2)
- What are the upsides and downsides of remote workers? (Part 2)
- How should I evaluate potential new hires? (Part 3)
- What should I do to prepare for my new team member? (Part 3)
- If I need to let somebody go, when and how should I do it? (Part 3)
Ready? Let’s dive in.
To Hire or Not to Hire?
After all, that is the first question to ask yourself.
The decision to hire in the new year (or any time at all) comes down to four primary things:
Let’s not get too fancy here. Goals are simple. They are merely what you want to do with your business, not only next year but in the long run.
Do you want to grow and sell one day? Do you want to create a lifestyle business with a super small, remote team so you can travel unencumbered? Do you have a social mission you want to achieve?
As I said, it’s simple, but important to think about, because how and who you hire drastically changes based on your goals.
The obvious portion of budgeting for a new employee (or contractor/freelancer) is whether or not you can afford them. If you can, simply move to the next section: bottlenecks.
If you can’t afford anybody right now, things are a bit more tricky.
Your first instinct may be not to hire anybody because, after all, there’s no extra money. While that might be the case (e.g., perhaps your shop is two months old, and it’s just not time yet), in many other instances, the lack of a budget to hire is an excuse.
As an entrepreneur, think of yourself as a new parent. Your newborn baby is your business. By and large, the most successful parents make significant sacrifices to help their baby grow physically, emotionally, and mentally. And they don't do so reluctantly, but gladly. So must you do now with your business. That means you must reconsider your budgetary excuses for not hiring new employees, but instead think about the personal sacrifices you can make that will help scale your business.
Can you scale down your lifestyle to upscale your business? If you could shave a few hundred or a thousand dollars off your monthly personal budget, what part-time employees could you hire to help you grow your store? What impact would those new hires have on your business in three, six, or twelve months?
After all, if you’re building a business, the aim is to build something bigger than yourself, something that can run without you someday. Better to start that process now, rather than later.
Even if you have a budget, that doesn’t mean you should absolutely hire somebody. Plenty of high-growth startups have made this mistake time and time again. Hiring dozens or hundreds of new employees just because you have a pile of VC money isn’t always a smart move. Often, it’s an exercise in business suicide.
Instead, think about the bottlenecks in your current business. Moreover, think about the things that you are doing which are creating roadblocks in what would otherwise be a smooth process in your store.
My friend Jonathan Kennedy, Founder and CEO at HeyCarson (and creator of the Shopify Entrepreneurs Facebook group) has a lot to say about this topic.
“To have a successful store,” Jonathan told me, “You need to deal with at least 25 to 30 different areas of expertise, and there's no way you're going to be able to solve all the problems on your own. So the faster you can identify your strengths and make sure that you're putting your time as a store owner into the right things, the better. What I mean by that is understanding what's core to a business versus what are satellite skills that you can delegate.”
According to Jonathan, even if you are good at a particular skill within your business (e.g., accounting), you must delegate it. The reason is that most of the skills required in your business are not core to growing the business, but merely to maintaining it as it grows. Spending your time on something like accounting creates a bottleneck because that’s time you could be spending on something more important, like product and business development.
Here are some common tasks which Shopify entrepreneurs take on themselves, which create bottlenecks:
- Content writing/marketing
- Backend or frontend development
- Ad management
- Social media management
- Customer service
- Product fulfillment
All of these, and probably many more, should be the first tasks on the chopping block from your to-do list.
All of this thinking about hiring, of course, wouldn’t be worth thinking about if the demand for your product is low or non-existent. Don’t be like the all-too-common new Shopify entrepreneur that jumps the gun when it comes to bringing on new team members because they haven’t proven their product’s worth yet. Whatever you’re selling, your product needs to have a proven unique value proposition (UVP) before you start hiring.
What’s more, your UVP isn’t a clever one-liner that goes in your investor pitch deck. It’s something real, tangible, and easily experienced. The UVP of Parachute Coffee is that they deliver freshly roasted, sustainably sourced, high-quality coffee directly to your door every month for a reasonable price. The UVP of Headphone Zone is that they invest a ton of time and resources to educate customers about their products, as well as to gather their community of audiophiles for local meetups. Each has proven that their product has a UVP, and the proof is in the sales.
I like the way that Kurt Elster, host of the Unofficial Shopify Podcast, talked about UVP when I interviewed him back in June 2019.
“If you have never made a sale, you have not validated your business,” Kurt told me. “You should not be trying to scale or hire, flat out. I have hard-earned experience on that one. It's like, 'No, no, no. You first need to sell a hundred of these. Then go out and hire.' If it's not working, stop doing it. You're in charge, you can do whatever you want. Validate your business and be willing to pivot."
In short, it doesn’t matter how many supposed bottlenecks there are in your business if you’re not generating sales. If that’s the case, instead of hiring, it might be time to simplify.
The Hierarchy of Delegatable Tasks
Assuming you have sufficient customer demand because of your UVP and you’ve identified the pain points in your store’s processes, you may be left with a laundry list of things to delegate. So, this begs the question: which tasks should I delegate first?
To answer this question, we’ll draw inspiration from the 80/20 rule (or the Pareto principle), whereby its theorized that 80% of outputs result from 20% of inputs. I’ll assume most readers know about the 80/20 rule, and that it’s merely a guidepost. Obviously, depending on the nature of your product, supply chain, and audience, the 80/20 rule will need to be adjusted accordingly.
In any case, there are two main parts to the Hierarchy of Delegatable Tasks:
- Tasks that are the most valuable
- Tasks that take the most time
We focus first on the most valuable tasks because of one core truth: delegating a low-value or no-value task simply because it takes a lot of time is a waste of resources. Said task ought to be eliminated instead of delegated.
With that said, which tasks already generate or could generate the most amount of value (i.e. sales, profit, etc.) for your store? Here are the most valuable and delegatable tasks that come to my mind:
- Customer service
- Ads management and strategy
- Conversion rate optimization (CRO)
- Product fulfillment
One might argue that customer service doesn’t generate revenue, but it does prevent returns. After all, a product that’s sold and returned is not only worthless, it’s actually a loss on the books due to return shipping and labor costs.
Ads management is directly tied to new sales and leads. Assuming you’re no expert on the subject yourself, it makes perfect sense to bring somebody else on who can handle this critical part of your business. We’ll lump CRO into this bucket as well.
And lastly, product fulfillment because a late order is likely a canceled order.
After assessing the value of various tasks in your business, take a look at how much of your time they take up. Otherwise, analyze the amount of time they take up from other VIPs in your company (e.g., high-level executives or people with specialized skills better used elsewhere). An example of a VIP you’d want to free up would be your senior developer dealing with minor site bugs or design tweaks.
There’s some excellent overlap between the tasks that are valuable and those that take a lot of time, which is usually why the cross between the two are generally the first to be delegated. Here are the tasks that tend to take the most time according to the entrepreneurs we’ve interviewed:
- Customer service
- Product fulfillment
- Social media in general (including ads)
- Content writing and content marketing
Note that the top two tasks also appear on the value list, but that the bottom two tasks don’t. Sadly (and much to my chagrin as a content marketer), social media and content marketing are not the most valuable part of most Shopify business models. Even if it means betraying my kind, I would easily and honestly say that it makes very little sense to delegate organic marketing tasks before hard operational or paid marketing tasks.
We’ll be back with Part 2 of our 2020 Simple Hiring Guide for Shopify Stores later this week! In the next part, we'll discuss:
- Hiring generalists vs. specialists
- The benefits and drawbacks of remote teams