Plenty of small businesses start off as sole proprietorships. However, as your business grows and expands, it usually becomes necessary to move on from being a one-person operation and start building out a team. This is a watershed moment for the entrepreneur. Hiring people is expensive, and each new employee will increase the amount that you’re investing into your workforce through wages, benefits, etc.
For small businesses, it’s not easy to increase costs without being sure that there will be a corresponding return on that investment, whether it’s an increase in profits, a more efficient workflow, or the addition of essential skills that are missing from the team. For example, choosing to bring on an experienced accountant to support your accounting and bookkeeping processes can be a valuable investment for business owners who don’t have the necessary skills or knowledge to handle the books or budgets on their own.
Small companies also don’t have the luxury of increasing the headcount whenever there is additional work to be done. They must minimize costs and get the best business results from their existing team.
The result is a situation that feels a lot like a catch-22: You can’t grow your profitability unless you add more people but adding people increases costs, leading to lower profitability. So, what’s the answer?
In some cases, the answer might be to hold off on scaling your team until absolutely necessary. For that to work, though, it’s important to be strategic about how your business operates with fewer contributors.
Read on to learn five tips for maximizing results and boosting business performance with a smaller team.
Allocate responsibilities clearly
Every team member should have a clear job description. It should be as detailed as possible — don’t leave any room for ambiguity or misunderstanding.
In addition to having clear responsibilities laid out, it’s important to have a backup plan in case things need to shift at any point. Who will take over if the primary individual responsible for a task is unavailable? Figure out who on your team can step up to fill in for another if and when necessary. Try to allocate work that matches the individual’s capabilities and temperament to ensure a smooth transition and minimal disruption to your business’s regular operations.
Once you’ve defined these primary and backup roles, create a schedule to carry out a review periodically. You may need to update task lists and reallocate responsibilities from time to time, whether it’s to better align responsibilities with an individuals core strengths or to make room for team members’ growth.
Finally, make sure that everybody is clear on responsibilities and expectations at the onset. You don’t want a situation where you create role descriptions for each employee that nobody follows.
Recruit with culture fit in mind
Your business results will depend greatly on the quality of your employees. So, it’s important to be mindful when bringing new individuals to your team.
There are three key factors you should consider when you’re working on how to attract and retain employees for your business. The first two are pretty obvious. The candidate should have the required qualifications, and should ideally have relevant work experience. However, many entrepreneurs would say the third factor — that the candidate be a good culture fit — is even more critical.
To figure out if a candidate is a good fit for your business’s culture, you should see whether or not they align with your team on values and beliefs. If they don’t, it might be that they’re not the right candidate for the job. You can train people to use Google Suite or teach them everything about your products or services, but bringing someone on in the hopes that they eventually vibe well with the team or adapt to the culture could be a recipe for failure.
So, how will you know if the person you are recruiting will be a cultural fit? Here are a few questions you might ask during the interview process to do a culture fit gut check:
- Which is the management style that brings out the best in people?
- What is the ideal work environment?
- How do you handle cross-functional collaboration?
- What do you do when you have a tight deadline?
- Who is someone that inspires you?
Track individual performance
In a small organization, every employee must work towards improving the company’s business performance. This also means that every person must carry their weight and contribute to meeting the company’s goals.
How will you know if every team member is adding adequate value? You must define your organization’s key performance indicators (KPIs) and track each worker’s achievements. Identify the numbers and metrics that matter for your business and monitor them carefully.
The KPIs you track should include the things that matter most to your organization. Think about ways in which each employee is helping grow your sales and profits or cut down on costs. The key is to link individual KPIs to organizational goals so you can understand how personal contributions are laddering up into business-wide wins.
Consider working with freelancers
Operating with a smaller team, you might be at a point where you feel like your current team is missing a core competency or isn’t able to scale in a particular area because of lack of bandwidth. However, maybe you’re not ready to bring on new team members just yet. This is where freelancers can come into play. Freelancers can save you money while providing your business with a high degree of expertise in a specific field at short notice. According to Statista, there are 70 million freelancers in the United States, and the number is expected to grow to over 90 million by 2028.
There are plenty of websites that small business owners can use to find the right freelancer. Of course, you need to be careful when hiring people who work on a per-job basis. Check their credentials, review their work samples, and talk to their references, if possible.
The biggest advantage you have with freelancers is flexibility. You can hire a person for a specific task and work together for a contracted period, after which you can choose to wrap up the engagement or keep the freelancer on for additional work. It’s one of the best ways entrepreneurs can continue to grow their businesses without having to hire a large number of full-time employees until the time (and level of growth) is right.
Don’t let negativity hurt business performance
A negative work environment where office politics is rampant and people spend time gossiping will ultimately affect business performance. In Don’t Let Negativity Sink Your Organization, author Bill Taylor points out that even one or two people with the wrong attitude can wreak havoc with team morale and productivity.
It’s a human tendency to magnify negative emotions. An employee constantly at odds with team members can neutralize the good work others are doing. The “bad apple” will spoil the organization’s atmosphere and could prove to be a drag on business results.
The solution? Get rid of three types of bad apples: “the jerk, the slacker, and the downer.”
It’s possible for small businesses to grow and thrive without adding more people. You needn’t increase the number of workers in direct proportion to your business volumes. Instead, you need to use your existing human resources effectively and ensure that every new employee plays an adequate role in helping to improve business results.