Hiring Help

Year-end number crunching is always a dicey proposition.  Did I make money?  Did I lose money?  What do I need to keep doing?  Stop doing?  Change?  (I fear change.)  However, my numbers for last year (my fifth full year in business) show a 104% increase in gross revenue!  That makes the 39% increase I was so excited about the year before look piddly.  To what can I attribute this spike in revenue?  Setting my ego and my BS aside and hiring an absolutely kick-ass assistant.

I reluctantly hired her in January of last year.  I say “reluctantly” not because of her, but because of me.  I have always subscribed to the ridiculous notion that “if you want something done right, you must do it yourself.”  In fairness, this philosophy was born and nurtured in business school, where group projects wouldn’t have gotten done, nor would I have graduated, if I hadn’t carried 90% of my group members.  Business school didn’t exactly teach me to delegate, which is a word that made me shudder until middle of last year.

When Kristina (aforementioned kick-ass assistant) arrived on the scene, I was in the midst of hiring/firing/trying different assistants, both in-the-flesh and virtual, with no success.  One couldn’t figure out how to answer my phones, another didn’t understand outline numbering in Word – simple tasks, or so I thought.  Like a newly divorced woman setting back out on the dating scene, I trepidatiously met with Kristina.  With folded arms and a raised eyebrow, I was skeptical of every skill she named and just waited for her to say something to justify my not hiring her, to justify my reverting to my do-it-all-myself-and-work-all-the-time SOP.  Realizing now she was reading me like a book, she adopted a very casual attitude and told me to send her a couple of things to see if I liked how she handled them.  No contracts, no commitment, not even a whisper of a salary requirement.  Me: “FINE.”  <harumph>

So I sent her a few things.  She handled them beautifully. So I sent her a few more.  Same thing.  I was astonished.  She wasn’t me…how could she possibly handle these things with grace and professionalism not even I could have mustered?  SHE ISN’T ME!  (This is where my ego got put in serious check.)  The relief I felt knowing someone else was there, who had my back, and who wanted to see me succeed because that meant success for her too, was overwhelming.

Now, I have someone to whom I can delegate things.  I can even say the word “delegate” now without sweating.  This is big progress for me.

I could divide this article into two at this point – how to hire someone and what do you do with them once you get them.  So, here goes.

HOW TO HIRE

Everyone I know has done the Craigslist thing, with mostly deplorable results.  The job search websites are often no better.  (Realizing now how searching for staff is akin to dating.  That’s a later post.)  The best way, IMHO to find someone to hire is to ask for references.  In today’s job market there is unfortunately no shortage of qualified candidates.  Ask at your networking events, ask colleagues.  In fact, if you have staff, ask them.  If your colleagues have staff, ask them.  Chances are, they’re running in the same circles.  My assistant managed to help place one of her friends in another law firm, though neither of them had a legal background.

If you insist on going online to find help, stick to LinkedIn.  It tends to be a more professional version of social networking and you can do some vetting simply by sifting through profile summaries.  Anyone looking for a job who hasn’t polished their LinkedIn profile won’t contribute much to your success.

There are about a zillion blogs about how to interview, what to ask, what not to ask, and tricks to play on people to ferret out the truth.  I don’t engage in any of that crap.  I rely on my factory-installed BS detector to determine whether someone can deliver on the promises they’re making.  It’s getting more finely tuned the longer I’m in practice, but in case I don’t get it right, I make sure to have an employment agreement with a very clear probationary period.  You also want to make sure your personalities mesh well.  If someone simply rubs you the wrong way, don’t hire them even if their resume sounds like a dream come true.  Just because they’re great on paper doesn’t mean they’re a good fit for you.  (Also analogous to dating.)

Known for being highly progressive in its approach to human resources, Zappos.com believes in being “slow to hire, quick to fire.”  That company is ALL about company culture and even if your “paper” breaks records, you won’t get a second interview if you’d clash with the culture.

I freely admit it’s terrifying to hire someone, to entrust them with your business, your clients, your methods for doing things, and your idiosyncrasies.  Talk about feeling vulnerable.  When you hire the right person, however, you suddenly can breathe, you can take on more work, and do more of the things you love.  And that’s why we’re in business for ourselves in the first place, isn’t it?  Otherwise we could toil away at a big firm and collect a big paycheck and not have to worry about any of this crap.  Show up, grind it out, go home…and grind it out there too.  (Or so I hear.)

Let’s assume you hired someone and they’re awesome.  They’re in the end zone, wide open, waiting for you to pass.  So PASS!

WHAT DO I DELEGATE?

1.  Everything that’s not immediately revenue-generating.  In one of my mastermind groups (sort of a think tank for business owners) I learned this trick – spend a few days with a legal pad on your desk where you write down every single activity you engage in during the day.  Answering/returning phone calls, emails, admin tasks, marketing, reviewing contracts, drafting pleadings, writing letters, blogging, etc.  Review the list and put a star next to everything for which you can send someone a bill.  Everything without a star should be handled by someone else.

2.  My weaknesses.  <Gasp>  With my do-it-all-myself approach and not having anyone to catch me if I fell, it was nearly impossible to admit I had weaknesses, much less identify them.  We all have weaknesses and it’s crucial that you identify yours and delegate those tasks to someone for whom the task is a strength.  If you are terrible with numbers, hire a bookkeeper.  If you always send your calls to voice mail, hire an answering service.  It’s a lot more fun and fulfilling to spend your time in your strengths, so give yourself that gift.

3.  Anything I hate doing.  As business owners, we have to handle all aspects of the business – marketing, admin, bookkeeping, etc. and at some point actually have to do the paying work.  We all have tasks we dread doing.  Dread leads to procrastination.  Procrastination leads to dropping the ball entirely.  Dropping the ball entirely can mean losing clients, paying fines, earning a reputation…ultimately losing money.  We don’t want that.  I *can* manage my own books.  I know my way around QuickBooks and though I do get a little satisfaction out of the sound effects of an invoice being saved and sent and the check register being balanced, the little “beep boops” really don’t make up for how much I dread the task.  So I let client billing pile up, I ignore it, I then forget what I’m supposed to bill and…as promised, I lose money.  When you hate doing something, you probably suck at it, so give the task to someone else.

The more time you spend in your strengths, the more satisfied you will be, which will increase your motivation, your productivity, and lead to more money.  And before you dismiss me as just another money-grubbing lawyer, I’m not in this business to drive a Bentley or take over the world.  However, money can buy freedom and the autonomy to turn around and give back to the community.  My intention with my firm is to carve out a little life for myself, make enough money to do the things I want to do, and give myself the time to give back to the causes near and dear to my heart.  And feed my shoe addiction now and then.