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Building a Great Team with Rapport

Hiring – especially for the first time – can be one of the scariest moves as an entrepreneur. Rapport currently has nine crew on top of me, and the dog. I’ve had a lot of experience with this and, though was lucky to find really great people, learned a few things along the way.

This is one of the top things other entrepreneurs ask me for advice on. My top tips are:

  • Try prospects out on a project or two before committing.
  • Define the need/position first, then find the right person.
  • Personality and ‘fit’ into culture is as important as skill.
  • Be open to them doing things differently then you and let them shine.

Try People as Freelancers Before Hiring

My very first hire was Art Director Lisa, who is still with me today. I absolutely could not have built the company without her. I was fortunate to work on a project with her old boss and friend of mine Mondo Lulu, and got to know her through him. Then, as he started scaling back she began freelancing for me. I knew her design style, her work ethic, that her strengths complemented mine, and that we got along like old friends. My only hesitation hiring her full-time was sustaining her pay. When I had the need with a large project and knew I could keep her busy for three months I asked her to come full time – that was six years ago.

Since then I’ve been fortunate enough to try most people out on a contract basis before making a commitment. Not just to see the quality of their work, but to get a taste of their working style and personality. If it doesn’t work out, it’s tough on both sides, so this is a really great way to try each other on for size.

What Kind of Help Do You Really Need?

My second hire was a newborn designer, and a big mistake. I was still doing all the admin work myself and felt I didn’t have enough time to do all that and my design work. I thought I needed another designer and the recent grad was cheap. I found I still didn’t have time to get anything done and was also now babysitting this kid. So, I let him go and hired an administrative person. Pamela was a God-send. This was my first pure overhead employee – unlike Lisa who generated revenue. But, Pamela took the work I liked least off my shoulders, did it better than me and freed me up to do what I was really good at and made good money for.

Besides hiring for the wrong role, it’s also a mistake to hammer a job around someone you ‘like’. I now determine what roles we really need to fill against goals for the company, then create detailed job descriptions around them to use in my search.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of the Culture You’ve Built

Our team recently did a colours test with our business consultants, Your Planning Partners. Seven out of 10 came in as blue or the ‘Relationship Way’ first. We varied on what came second (Action, Organized, Logical), and that was reflected in skills and roles. What it told me was the team strongly embodied the Rapport values of being laid-back, friendly, relationship-oriented, client-focussed and a close family that got us our name. This culture started with me, gained momentum with early people like Lisa, and continues today in the people we attract. Skills in relation to the role you’re filling are incredibly important, but if a really talented person doesn’t fit our friendly, collaborative culture they don’t belong at Rapport.

It’s important to have more than one of you meet with prospects. From a practical standpoint, I had Senior Web Developer Noel, do initial interviews with junior web developer prospects to make sure he had the skills needed. Then I met the recommended finalists to make sure they fit in and talk money. We added the ‘social interview’ with new guy Nick, where he joined the crew for drinks to get everyone’s feel for him. We are a very social bunch, and it’s a very big deal day after day if someone just doesn’t fit in socially. I think I’ll continue that tradition.

Define Your Values, Be Open to New Things

There is always more than one way to skin a cat. I find this most evident with web developers as their logical nature means they always question the way the other guy did it. But, it’s the same with design, processes and which way the toilet paper goes on. It’s important to define the standards expected for the end result as well as the practical processes that run the business, than make these consistent across the board. However, you’ve hired people to complement what you do, let them. This may mean everything from different journeys to great design, to suggestions that improve workflow.

We’ve defined our vision, mission and values, which I share with the company repeatedly. Resulting details include things like design and web standards, or the project management process we’ve developed. The key is sharing it with the whole team, getting their input, then giving them flexibility within to do their thing.

This makes for a much stronger and more dedicated team than if I insisted everything was done my way.

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