You may have heard the old adage, “what gets you to six figures in revenue is entirely different from what gets you to $1 million.” And while this is true from a strategy perspective, there’s one ideal consistent in growth: your team. A strong team with varied experiences and skill sets is a must for a company that’s seeking to scale. However, it can be challenging to know what team members are needed (and how many are needed!) to begin the scaling journey.
While that answer will look different for each industry, there are a few staples that can be applied across the board if you’re ready to start expanding your team. Here are a few considerations and tips to help you build a team that’s in it for the long haul.
1. Get Crystal Clear On Your Company’s ‘Why’
It sounds simple, but Simon Sinek and his TED talk are right. The “why” behind your company is the ‘little engine that could’ that can help it scale. Without a clear ‘why,’ prospective team members may be allured by the pay and benefits you offer, but not totally committed to what you’re trying to do as a company. I was speaking with Andrew James Dunbar, the founder of Oasis, and he shared that he’s learned from his own experience of scaling to six figures with a team that “you can’t fake it.”
“You can't go in it just to make money or with an idea that you don't truly believe in. Start with the core of your company – if you take the time to answer your “why” – why are we here, what's our goal, what is the mission? Fill in: “we help (target market) achieve (result) through (process)” and it will make it very clear what it is you're trying to do. If you can't clearly state this and believe in it, you won't be able to convince anyone else to buy into it,” he warns.
So, before you even put out a job description or think about hiring, make sure you’re ultra clear on what you’re building – not just your vision of how to scale to six figures. Otherwise, you may attract the wrong candidates or none at all.
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2. Seek To Understand Each New Applicant’s Long Term Goals
Once your “why” is as clear as day, every applicant’s long term goals should align. Here’s why: losing a team member almost always sets a team back in its journey to scale — especially when a startup team is on the smaller side. While it’s impossible to expect that every single team member you hire is in it for the long run, you should have some degree of confidence that the applicant will feel that they have some skin in the game. The truth of the matter is that applicants who have entirely separate long term goals from what you’re creating won’t be all-in in the way that your startup needs.
Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule. Some applicants may have a far off dream of doing something entirely different, but have a real talent that can be applied now. The main thing to look for is their level of commitment, so that you can trust that they’ll do whatever it takes to help you pull off your vision. Carly Guthrie, Principal at Guthrie HR Consulting, shared in an interview about employee retention with First Round that “People who love their job and the company will work all the time anyway [despite being told to take weekends off]. If you’ve hired good fits, you’ll see this happen.” This is the type of commitment that you need to see.
Brett Siegal, the founder of Ruuster, commented that “The people that thrive in a startup environment are those that can think across contexts, have deep general curiosity, and have ambition motivated by an opportunity to change the status quo. That profile of person tends to have the most motivation when they have an “alley” they own and can make important independent decisions day-to-day with as little blocking them as possible.”
“My goal for the people I'm privileged to work with is to expand the “alley” they own over time with increasing levels of latitude to operate independently, make decisions, and contribute to broader strategic conversations as they prove they want and deserve it,” Siegal continued. Ensure that at the very least, you feel you can trust each team member with the proper amount of commitment to own their alley within the company.
3. Give Team Members A Sense Of Control
One thing is for sure: team members show up differently if they see directly how their work and their contributions impacts the company. They could absolutely love your company’s “why” and work overtime, but eventually, if they don’t feel like they’re important to your team, it will start to take a toll. Sweta Patel, the founder of Startup Growth Mode, advised in a Forbes article, “Don’t give responsibilities and then take away control.” In other words, don’t give them all of the grunt work with little of the leadership.
“As a leader, it is also important to trust your team. Acknowledge who you are working with, and respect their capability. If they weren’t experts at what they do, you wouldn’t have hired them in the first place,” she posits. For small startup teams especially, this has to be done thoughtfully. Every single person who comes onto your team should be able to act as a stand-alone leader. It’s simply the name of the game at the beginning.
Ideally, a startup that has a clear ‘why,’ finds employees who have clear commitments, and gives talented team members real leadership and control is in the best possible position to continue to scale. Remember that your team is your best asset, and will be the reason you hit that six figure mark. Think about this daily as you hire, potentially fire, and manage your startup team.