Don't stress about how to hire an assistant.
Last October, I discovered that hiring an assistant isn't all that complicated. It's the being responsible for someone else's livelihood that can be scary. Sheesh. I'd never hired anyone in my life. What if all my clients left me? What if all the money dried up? What if, what if, what if...
Those of us who have grown accustomed to self-employment (and calling the shots) sometimes have a hard time letting go. But what happens when you just can't leverage your own productivity any more? How will you grow when you just can't squeeze any more billable time out of your work days?
It was time for me to let go. The first step is admitting that you need help, right?
What about you? Do you take enough vacation? Perhaps it's time to find someone who can keep the home fires burning while you enjoy the benefits that make self-employment attractive in the first place: freedom, flexibility, fun.
On one occasion my assistant took my truck to fill it up with gas, get a carwash, and go to the post office. My family was in town, and I was eating ice cream at Sonic. My iPhone stayed in my pocket, and my MacBook Pro stayed at home.
Now I can't imagine running my business without a pressure release valve—i.e., an assistant.
How to Hire An Assistant: A Simple, Step-By-Step Plan
The second half of this post is the simple process that I used to make the hire.
1. Start looking for candidates within your own network. I hired a guy I've known for five years.
2. Write down character traits that matter in your business. Here was my list:
- Strong understanding of professionalism
- Appropriate dress for various occasions
- Good manners
- Willingness to listen without interrupting
- Willingness to ask questions
- Willingness to take initiative and NOT ask questions, as the situation warrants; doesn't always wait to be told what to do next
3. Write down attitude or personality attributes.
- Good at getting stuff done even when you don't feel like it
- Enjoys a challenge
4. Write down skills.
- Good at time management
- Good at creating a to-do list
- Good at rearranging a to-do list based on deadlines and priorities
- Meet deadlines
- Respond promptly to emails, phone calls, and texts
- Follow a step-by-step plan
5. Finally, write down low-leverage activities—ones that are necessary but that you either don't enjoy or aren't the most profitable for you. I had no trouble composing a long list of to-dos that I could teach someone else how to do:
- Attend meetings
- Talk to clients
- Assemble proposals
- Answer emails
- Take pictures
- Write descriptions for eBay auctions
- Create and manage eBay auctions
- Write articles and blog posts
- Post articles and blog posts
- Write press releases
- Update WordPress plug-ins for all my WP websites
- Update Facebook and Twitter
- Create and send invoices
- Load e-newsletters on MailChimp and send them
- Get reviews for my apps
- Find and hire people on oDesk
- Run to the bank to make deposits
- Pick up mail
- Answer support emails
Buy yourself some freedom.
Bandwidth. That's what you're creating. If you can offload the activities that don't tap the sweet spot of profitability or drain your energy or drive you bonkers, then you can create space and free up brain power to focus on sales, business development, or schmoozing clients.
In other words, hire an assistant, and buy yourself some freedom.
Have more than one conversation.
I used a two-conversation interview process. In the first conversation I asked lots of questions: What are your goals? Why are you discontent with your current job? How much money do you need to make ends meet?
In the second conversation I talked about my business: what I needed; what kinds of work I do; the bottlenecks and challenges holding my business back from its full potential.
Do a trial period.
Once I had found a guy that seemed to fit the bill, I hired him part-time for a trial period of three months. We didn't sign a contract. He could leave at any time. I could dissolve the arrangement at any time.
In order to do some work for me, my guy had to quit one of his coffeeshop jobs where he was making $8 an hour. That's what I agreed to pay him. This may seem like a piddling amount, but it actually represented a smart career move for him because he would be learning new skills from me.
Get creative with compensation.
There are things that are worth more than money to creative people—for starters, autonomy, mastery, and purpose. My guy was eager for more opportunities to interact with other creative people and to use his creativity to solve problems.
For this reason, my projects appealed to him more than pulling espresso shots. He could also make his own schedule and work from anywhere with Wi-Fi.
"Compensation" doesn't have to be 100% cash out of pocket. Perhaps you could offer to trade your assistant consulting on her passion project of choice for a break in the hourly rate. Perhaps you could offer a commission on any new clients or projects she brings to your business.
Think outside the cashbox.
Pull the trigger.
There's no way to predict with absolute certainty that a candidate is going to work out. And the best person for the job will still make mistakes.
The important thing is to start letting go of control. The growth potential of your business is waiting for you on the other side of a few lists and conversations.