I need to hire help…any tips?
January 2, 2014 9:14 AM   Subscribe

I'm a few hours from the end of a very successful Kickstarter campaign, and as a result I'm suddenly in charge of a company with nearly 2000 customers and a lot of work to accomplish. I need to hire some help, but not having done this before, I'm not exactly sure what I'm looking for or how to find it. Basically, I want to use some of my project funding to make it so that I can focus all of my efforts on project goals that only I can accomplish. I think that means hiring a secretary and/or a personal assistant, and someone who I can trust to answer my emails, tell me when I actually need to deal with something personally, and potentially even have access to my credit cards for buying groceries, outsourcing project-related tasks, etc. What's involved in finding someone who does good work and is trustworthy? (I'm in Los Angeles, though I can imagine having someone do much of the secretarial work remotely)
posted by sdis to Work & Money (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds to me like what you want to do his hire an employment agency. Why? Several reasons.

First, it eliminates a lot of the guesswork from the hiring process. The agency has a vested interest in making sure the people they place are good at their jobs, as you can send the person straight back if they aren't.

Second, it eliminates a lot of the actual work involved in having an employee. It's not as simple as just having them do work and writing them a check every other week. Hours have to be tracked. Taxes have to be paid. Insurance has to be secured. Benefits have to be worked out. Simply put, there's a reason HR departments exist, and the move from zero to one employees is in many ways bigger than the move from one to fifty.

Fortunately, you don't have to just go with the nearest temp agency and deal with whatever people they happen to have lying around. There are specialized agencies that deal with specialized needs like this one, and LA definitely has both sufficient supply and demand for this kind of service for the market there to be pretty efficient. There are dedicated agencies that place people solely for jobs that can be roughly grouped into the "personal services" category, e.g., nannies, housekeepers, personal/executive assistants, chefs, estate managers, etc. Do a little googling.

Granted, paying an employment agency may sound like it's going to cost you more than doing all the work yourself. But remember: you're hiring someone so you don't have to do tedious clerical work. Taking on additional such work created by hiring said person is exactly what you don't want to do. You're creating an HR function for your business where they wasn't one before, and farming that function out it is probably what you want to do here, at least for a while. If the person really works out and you get sick of paying the agency fee, most of these agencies have procedures for transferring the employee completely.
posted by valkyryn at 9:28 AM on January 2, 2014 [13 favorites]

This is sort of the person I was hired as when I started my job. I work for a small company that was really more of a startup feeling kind of place for the first year I was here. Here's a comment I made a few months ago with a bit of detail on how to find the kind of person you need.

What I personally think you should do is NOT hire someone with a ton of experience. You should hire someone extremely bright who is maybe recently out of college but has great personal references, so that the two of you can work together to figure out how things will be done at your company. It's weird working for an extremely small place, and it requires a lot of flexibility, and the fewer preconceived notions a person has about what their day to day will be like the happier they will be.

Pay this person well. Give them benefits. If the company does well and expands (especially if it expands quickly and the job description sort of shifts and the responsibilities multiply) make sure this person is very nicely compensated with a year-end bonus because you appreciate their hard work so much. The key is to show them how much you value them, and how vital they are, so that it doesn't feel like some random personal assistant/secretary job that someone takes for a while before finding a "real" job. (This is how you find good people and keep them.)
posted by phunniemee at 9:32 AM on January 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

You could consider posting on Mefi Jobs to get a better idea of what you actually want (trying to actually type a job description or advert is great for crystalising what you really want the person to do) in the mean time and this will maybe allow people to give better answer?

There may be people here that would take on a short term gig remotely that would allow you to get your longer term plans better put down. Being as all this is a bit of a rush from nowhere (it seems) it may be worth considering whatever you plan now to be shorter term until the basic building blocks are established. Remote may work for the first few months but you may find it isn't panning out for you day to day in 5 months time. Don't plan yourself into a corner before you even have a plan, as it were.
posted by Brockles at 9:41 AM on January 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

The most important thing, as someone who has done exactly your assistant's job before (one on one with a relatively inexperienced small business owner), is the following:

- Pay commensurate with the going rate for this type of work at other more established companies.

- Pay needs to be on-the-books with taxes taken out, or at the very least the rate needs to take into account that your employee will be withholding their own taxes and paying at self-employment rates. So, if for some reason you absolutely cannot go through an agency, or deal with the payroll taxes in some other way, add 30% to that nice healthy competitive pay rate.

- Just like you want to hire someone who is reliable, you also need to provide a stable work environment for your new employee. Hiring an assistant is not like using a cleaning service or signing your kid up for piano lessons. You cannot just call it off when your budget gets tight.

If all this seems way more complicated than you can really deal with, I'd recommend dividing out the tasks that can be done remotely and hiring a virtual assistant, probably through a service or agency of some kind.
posted by Sara C. at 10:02 AM on January 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Another option if you can't afford a full time salary and there are overflow tasks that a virtual assistant can't deal with, would be to get in touch with a local university to find a college student who wants to gain experience in your field, and set up an internship.

This only really works if you have only a few hours of rudimentary tasks per week, and most of those tasks are at least tangentially related to your field. You probably can't get an intern to grocery shop for you, but you probably can get an intern to help you deal with paperwork, do research, deal with social networking, etc.
posted by Sara C. at 10:05 AM on January 2, 2014

Response by poster: The whole "virtual assistant" thing seems to be a pretty common idea. The same questions apply there: how do I get a good virtual assistant?
posted by sdis at 10:07 AM on January 2, 2014

how do I get a good virtual assistant?

Same way as hiring one in person: go with an agency. There are virtual assistant agencies just like there are personal services agencies.
posted by valkyryn at 10:16 AM on January 2, 2014

I do not do what you do,nor do what you seek to do what you are trying to hire pple to do, but I can share a perspective if you plan to go the virtual assistant route and not hire with an agency (is that what you are asking with your followup question?) I am answering from the perspective of a person who gets independntly hired by companies to do service X and it has taken me a while, but I can tell how they make assessments to go with person X or Y.

-Places that you can search: LinkedIn is great. You can type in key terms if you need any specialized skills. I would look for people who are registered with their own company (LLC or S-corps)- the reason is that they will be paying their own business taxes and are used to working independently. I would google more to make sure the company name and work of the person comes up(it usually does, but some people pose as other things).

-Here is what I would do to truly assess someone.Be honest and upfront (have potential hours). Pay them for a small project (ie a few hours of research). Give directions and a deadline. Make it small (5 hours, whatever). Now see what they come back with. This is graet because you can test them and many people fail at any of those points: 1)Delivering on time, 2) communicating, 3) following directions, 4) quality of work. Actually, even if you go through an agency, I would ask if you can interview and give an hour long test. Seriously, it is done even at vry high levels of employment, and people fail....can't follow directions, etc.

-If you find via quality of work that one or two is really good, I would go with those people. Be up front and tell them you need x hours/month (and flat out pay for it), because if they are good they may/can easily go elsewhere.
posted by Wolfster at 10:32 AM on January 2, 2014

Re: Sara C's intern suggestion: please do this only if you intend to pay the intern minimum wage or more.

Unpaid internships are almost always unethical and usually illegal.
posted by ewiar at 10:44 AM on January 2, 2014 [6 favorites]

A few years ago, I was hired as this type of person via a Craigslist ad. However, doing it the Craigslist way takes a lot of time and involves weeding out a lot of "hell no" candidates before you even get to the interview process. If you are looking to get someone involved pretty soon, regardless of physical or virtual, I'd probably go with an agency.

IME, if you want someone who is going to work with you (physically), an ideal candidate will be flexible, motivated, and have some interest in the field your business will be in. This person can be a kind of "wears many hats" type of person who grows with you/the business.

However, if you want someone who is going to work remotely, an ideal candidate will be experienced with working virtually and experienced in some specific tasks. You may need to hire more than one person, depending on your needs.

You may even find a combination of the two to be a better fit than one or the other.
posted by sm1tten at 10:47 AM on January 2, 2014

Unpaid internships are almost always unethical and usually illegal.

This is why I suggested OP go through a local university.

For-credit university sponsored internships are absolutely not illegal in any way, and are only unethical if the arrangement is unethical.

That said, what I actually said in my post definitely applies. Keep it under 10 hours a week, and tasks that actually relate to your business. Which should be a field that your intern is looking to get career experience in.

And all of this should be done through the university department, fully compliant with whatever red tape they require to give the intern course credit.
posted by Sara C. at 10:56 AM on January 2, 2014

I know of a great payroll company. You'll need one. Also you need to buy workmen's comp insurance and a bunch of other things. The best payroll companies do this. I recommend Big Fish.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:22 PM on January 2, 2014

I'm a Massachusetts- and California-admitted attorney. I'm not your lawyer, this isn't legal advice.

Sara C is wrong. It is absolutely false that an unpaid internship is made legal simply because the intern receives college credit. See, e.g., Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Inc., 11-CV-6784 (S.D.N.Y. June 11, 2013) ("Receipt of academic credit is of little moment. A university's decision to grant academic credit is not a determination that an unpaid internship complies with" state or federal labor law).

Unpaid internships are unethical not only because they exploit the people who actually work as interns, but also because they perpetuate inequality by denying important entry-level employment opportunities to young people who are too poor to work for free.
posted by ewiar at 2:56 PM on January 2, 2014 [8 favorites]

Have you ever managed people before? By managed, I don't just mean employees or direct reports. I'm also including being responsible for delegating tasks to collaborators on a non-trivial project.

If the answer is "no," or "not really," then I'm going to suggest that you start small, maybe with 1/4 or 1/2 time, and with the assumption that you will be doing well if you break-even in terms of how much stuff gets done for the first few weeks, or more.
posted by Good Brain at 6:10 PM on January 2, 2014

Ironmouth is right- a Payroll company is very helpful (and surprisingly affordable), although I've never heard of Big Fish. The truth is that there are a lot of rules you need to be aware of starting a business with employees. You should check out the Secretary of State's website to see if there are instructional pamphlets or the like to help you navigate unexpected pitfalls. Better yet, sit down with an attorney (and yes, I'm totally schilling for my own kind) to help out if you haven't already filed for some sort of business status.

Meanwhile, your employee sounds like he/she will have access to lots of your personal stuff. Be sure to interview in multiple rounds to try to get a real feel. One of the partners at my firm does a "typing test" where he asks potential employees to type while he dictates. He then starts reading from "On Bullshit" by Harry G. Frankfurt. The real test is how they react to the unexpected/shocking experience. Figure out what quality you are looking for and try to find a way to test it.

As a side note, read "On Bullshit" by Harry G. Frankfurt.
posted by LBJustice at 6:23 PM on January 2, 2014

You have a small business. You need a business plan. There should be a branch oif the Small Business Administration in your area. They can help you get the initial help you need to make a plan and start things on the right footing.

You may need a lawyer, accountant/bookkeeper, tax preparer, errand runner, marketer, PR person, shipper, customer service rep, and whatever I left out. Having a business plan will help you describe what you need, which iwll help you hire who you need.
posted by theora55 at 10:11 PM on January 2, 2014

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