Bullshit backstory bit, skip down if you want
The dayjob is about three years old this month. It’s been going well, I think. Doubling in revenue year on year.
I work for myself, pay myself a basic wage and that’s it. I get to buy nice work related toys now of course. I’ve turned down more work opportunities in the past year than took on, many times because I can and don’t want to but some because I just don’t have capacity even when I do want to. That bit sucks but I still get to work on great things. Even though I mostly work seven days a week (which when you enjoy what you do, isn’t too taxing) and long hours, I still have missed some projects which would have been fun.
About two years ago I started thinking I needed to hire people. Doubling every year is a nice growth rate but you can’t do that on your own forever. I’ve reached that impasse about now, unless I increase my prices. So two years ago I was looking around and being the type that doesn’t forgive mistakes easily, found it hard to find the right people. Personality wise and experience wise.
An additional slight backstory is that I was a teamlead in a previous job and people management is not for me. I like to just ask people to do things and let them do their thing while I do mine. How are you today, is there anything I can do to make your job easier, I knew you had a hangover and skipped work but HR rules state instead that I have to see can we work together so this doesn’t happen again. Fuck that.
Finding the right people
Back to the main bit of meandering. So I looked at this for a while but work got in the way of looking more into the idea of hiring people. In the past 12 months again as I saw where turnover was going I knew again that if I want to grow the company more, I needed to hire people.
Going past just you
When I talked to a lot of business people, well experienced ones, they all said this: “Damien Mulley can’t scale so what are you going to do?” Back to looking for good people. When you run your company your own way, it’s a mess, full of odd routines and illogical organisation methods so anyone that comes on board will need slight deconstruction of their persona and then rebuilding back up.
So there were things I could do:
* document the way the company works
* build systems and automate them as much as possible
* hire someone to learn these systems
* hire in people that were good with people and have them hire the workers and keep them away from me
This is why a little while back I started looking at the Myers Briggs tests. Find the first fulltime hire and have them being a good match with my personality. Which apparently says I have the same personality as the great dictators. So someone that can put up with that is what is needed and is good mentoring others.
Don’t hire anyone, ever
While this was going on, I used to say this to every business owner I met. Without exception they all told me that employees were the bane of their lives and things would be so much simpler without them. One person that owned a multi-million euro company had 80 staff and said they broke his heart, another said she wished she kept the company at 3 people and that was it because for every new employee, the company made less per person and brought with it more personal drama. It was accepted that employees were a necessity to scale but I was forewarned by many that they would change what I do and change the company too.
Digital will scale?
I’ve been using contractors for various work bits and bobs and for clients I send them straight out to others when they ask me to do certain services (Web dev, web design, marketing campaign supervision, status updates etc.) All these services need people though and it looks like I’ll be avoiding that now. So how to scale?
It has to be digital, right? I’m working on a few web services (me bitching about finding Irish web devs to build it is another post) that will aid the company in scaling up and luckily I’ve calmed work down for the past few weeks and have time to draw out on A4 pages on what these services can do. Still, ironically, getting this right seems to be as taxing as finding that unique special snowflake employee type but I can get away with not wearing pants in the office with this digital employee. Sorry, I went there.
Now this is just me who works in a very personality driven company. I know other business people who love the company of their employees and see them as a big family. It’s not you, it’s me and I have the utmost respect for people like that.
Anyway, it’s been an interesting 3 years and we’ll see who the work in progress goes for year 4.
This video has everything to do with nothing:
Good points there Damien.
I’m in a similar situation, one man band. I’ve decided not to chase those bigger contracts anymore, perviously I thought about using them as a lever to grow. Growing for just the sake of growing seems a little shallow to me, especially if it’s only just so that you can do these bigger projects. Your point of charging more, because you have higher costs (extra staff) also seems to be to the detriment of your customers. Charging your customers based on performance or scarcity is fine, but just because your company isn’t as ‘efficient’ as it was before and charging more doesn’t really seem right.
Managing people would be another pain in the hole, and i already have enough (tendering for business, accounting, networking & actually doing the work) of them. So for the time being it leaves me doing everything, but I have started using freelancers & freelance websites for rapid prototyping or smaller tasks. This is a bit more like a tap, as I can choose when to use them. Having a full time employee or two could just be like a leaky tap.
It’s a tough call, especially in a services industry. That’s part of the reason that solicitor and accountant rates were always so high – the cost of [over] paying themselves plus maintaining staff. And that was a service that was almost like a product – everyone “understood it”, it was regulated and a qualification roughly = capability.
Services don’t scale like product and where you’re ahead of the curve (like yourself and @Paul) – you either give up too much of your own independent IPR, downgrade it to suit or give up a share and bring in a self-motivated partner who is also a fee-earner.
Anyone who isn’t a fee-earner will need you to sell twice as much as you’re currently selling just to get yourself the same amount.
There are some interesting ways you can do this and over the last 12 months I’ve been going through the same process. Fortunately I’ve got two super-experienced people advising me step by step – it’s not very simple.
Lean Business models might be a good way for you to look at employing people with different skill sets and then taking contracts for training-and-implementation-in-part – thus giving you a greater monthly income and visibility.
It’ll be interesting reading about your search for web developers as Ireland seems to be under-going a huge demand for technical capability (programmers, web engineers) and the costs are higher now than 2/3/4 years ago.
Given the complex nature of fee-earner/cash-flow/wage cycles – did you consider a business partner? (just curious)
Damien, a couple of things strike me about this.
1) you haven’t really decided if you want to grow Damien Mulley the business
2) you aren’t absolutely clear on what you want any potential hire to do.
I get the vague impression that you could do with someone to handle the non-directly productive tasks, the admin side of things which might free you up to do some of the more interesting projects that you haven’t been able to take on in the recent past. That might allow you to make more strategic decisions if you are going to go down the growth line.
When you take on staff, you cede a certain amount of control, and especially, vision. a lot depends on how much of that you want to allow.
To close, congratulations on making three years in business.