Why hiring a team has changed everything about how I work (and how you can consider hiring one for yourself)

My days are profoundly different now that I have a team. Five years ago, I launched WeGrowMedia, loving the efficiency of “doing it all,” working where I wanted, and when I wanted.

Last year, I decided to make a big change. I realized that I need to take the next step and turn WeGrowMedia into a team. When I interviewed artist and baker Andrea Lekberg, she framed it this way:

“If you have a business so small that you are doing everything, then you don’t have time to think about growing it. You can’t grow. You are always behind and overwhelmed.”

The WeGrowMedia team is comprised of me and two other people:

  1. Diane Krause – Project Coordinator
    Diane is basically my business therapist. She strategizes with me around a thousand details about the courses we run, partnerships, timing, and helping me work through decisions. She keeps it all on track, and also happens to be an editor and publishing expert, so she basically makes everything better than it was before.
  2. Leah Shoemaker – Graphic Designer
    Remember that kid in high school who was wildly creative, and could create something magical from a pile of random junk? Well, that’s Leah. She creates original photography, graphics, layouts, coding, and other material for our courses. Leah is basically pixie dust.

Why I Think Outsourcing is a Horrible Idea

Since I run my own company, I obsess over entrepreneurship, interviews with other company founders, and the tools that make it all work. Again and again, I hear about online marketplaces that make it easy to outsource small projects. An easy example is 99designs. You upload an idea that you need designed, a bunch of freelancers “bid” for it with ideas and price, and then you select one.

Loads of people I know and trust use 99designs. For many of them, it works. It gives them access to a talent pool that was previously difficult to find, and at prices that are super cheap.

My own very personal opinion of this type of marketplace: BLEH!

Biff TannenNow, if you use 99designs or are a designer who finds work through it, I am NOT judging you. You are awesome. I love you. Do what works for you. I will gladly shake your hand, buy you a beer, and wash your car Biff Tannen style.

But I don’t want to outsource stuff to the lowest bidder. I don’t want to turn my creative work into a bunch of component parts sourced out to day laborers. (Again, nothing wrong with day laborers, I just don’t want that to be the foundation of my daily life in the company I create.)

I want to invest in others. And by doing so, invest in my company.

I want a team, not a bunch of hired hands who are treated as replaceable at any moment. I mean, don’t we all prefer to be treated as a member of a team?

The more I work with Diane and Leah, the more I wonder: Why would you want to outsource when you can develop a team?

I can say a lot here, but I will just make two more points around this:

  1. I am learning how to become a better manager. This means I am inherently becoming a better communicator, and learning how to establish processes that include others. This is a skill set that will benefit me in 1,000 ways through the rest of my life.
  2. I am helping each of them grow professionally. I am investing in each of them. Sometimes, it is simply the nature of the work; Leah was thrown into three back-to-back course launches within the first six weeks of working for me. She learned a lot of stuff in that time that it takes some entrepreneurs years to experience. Other investment is more direct: I suggested she learn Adobe Illustrator, and am paying for it and training for it via Lynda.com. That is a skill she will have for her own work, and for anyone else she ever works for.

I Give Them as Much Freedom As Possible

I live and work in New Jersey, Diane is in Texas, and Leah is in western Canada. None of us have ever met in person.

Diane and Leah work the hours they want. That changes day to day, based on the rest of their lives. It’s not unusual for Leah to message me saying, “I won’t be able to work tomorrow, because I’m climbing a mountain with my friends.” After I think to myself, “CANADIANS!“, I message her back saying, “Thanks for the heads up!”

I love that I am able to support her creative work, while also supporting her personal interests. That combined, this creates a LIFE for her that she wants to lead. I want her to lead that life, not feel controlled by me, her “boss.”

My Hiring Process

The idea of hiring a team is kind of scary, right? For me it certainly was. As someone who runs his own small company, and one that 100% supports my family, it can be terrifying to think of also being responsible for paying others. Let’s face it, I feel so much responsibility already.

So I put limits on everything to help me mitigate risk:

  • When I hire, I call it a 3-month internship. So if things don’t work out, it is already agreed upon that there is no job after three months. BUT… with both Diane and Leah, I had conversations about extending that. Diane has now worked for me for more than a year. Leah for more than four months.
  • Because I start out hiring “interns,” I start out paying intern rates. This allows me to not worry as much about immediate value when I begin working with someone. We have a runway as they settle in and figure things out.
  • Each of them generally have an expectation on a cap for hours. It’s not a firm rule right now, but they each work between 10-20 hours per week. So it’s firmly part-time, and I gladly advise each of them on how they can get other work outside of what they do for WeGrowMedia. Both Leah and Diane do have other work they do. I have VERY ACTIVELY tried to advise them on how they can get more clients and charge more for their work outside of WeGrowMedia.

When I hire people, I create a job description and post it on my blog, then just circulate it through my network. In 2014, I made a big effort with this, and received 80 applicants. In 2015, I rushed it, and received 20.

What I tend to find is that most of the people who apply are qualified. Which makes it really difficult to choose the best candidate. In 2014, I lost sleep over this because all of the people I interviewed were so awesome. I ended up hiring three interns that summer! Two of them, Kathi Gadow and Rachel Burns, did work beyond that initial summer, but then got wrapped up in school and a new job.

While I always frame it as a 3-month internship, I’m looking for a partner. I now know what people know when they say, “you are overqualified.” When you speak to someone who you can sense is in a short-term transition, and will quickly move on when the next opportunity comes up. That they are READY for a bigger opportunity than the one I am offering.

I am also learning my own preferences along the way. On more than one occasion, when talking with my wife about someone I had interviewed and was considering, when she asked why I wouldn’t want to hire them, I would say, “Because they didn’t smile in the interview.”

It turns out, I have a strong preference for people who smile. Who are enthusiastic enough to smile without much prompting. I’m not sure what that says about me. But if I am speaking with three equally qualified candidates, I will hire the one who smiles at the drop of a hat.

When I consider why this might be, I think it may relate to a post I shared not too long ago: This Isn’t Easy. Because it isn’t. Trying to create a company from scratch — one that supports my family and helps me and my team grow creatively — it’s difficult. And if I’m going to be on this journey filled with danger, I want it to be filled with joyous people who see silver linings, who find joy in small moments, and who will look at a crazy mountain we have to climb, and take that first step with a smile.

Or maybe I’m just superficial.

How We Work Day to Day

How to Create Your teamThere’s so much more to share. I created a guide called “How to Create Your Team,” which covers the following:

  • My hiring/interview tips
  • How much to pay
  • How to create systems around communicating with your team
  • Why you should hire virtual workers
  • How to limit risk

You can grab it here (when you do, you will also be added to my weekly email newsletter list, by the way. You can unsubscribe anytime.).