This is going to be a solo episode with me, your host Beth Anne Schwamberger, and I’m going to be talking all about finding and leading a great team in your business.
These are questions I get all the time: How did you find your team? The ladies who work for you are so awesome, how do I find these people for my business!? And what do you do once you find them? How do I get these awesome VAs to stick around?
Those are exactly the topics I’m going to dig into during in this episode.
On the Podcast
4:43 – Finding A Great Team
8:15 – What I Look For
19:40 – How To Lead Your Team
28:07 – Letting Go (of Micromanaging)
30:00 – Be Open To New Ideas
33:30 – Facilitating Creativity
35:02 – Working With New Employees
41:34 – Bonus Tip: Help Your Team Prioritize
45:00 – Wrap Up
I want to start with a caveat: I don’t want this at all to sound like I’m tooting my own horn. I’m not this totally amazing, flawless boss. I have lots of room for improvement in terms of being a leader, and the boss of a few employees. I’m constantly messing up, and also learning, and having to say sorry. I constantly need to get feedback and ask how I can make my business an even better place to work. I’m just one, humble mamapreneur sharing what I have learned so far. I’m sure that a year from now, or 5 years from now I’ll have loads more to share.
Many of you are in the beginning stages of hiring help for your business, and some of you are seriously just thinking about it. But I know you’ll absolutely relate to my 1-year experience having a team and leading a team. Keep in mind I’m just a few steps ahead!
I also want to point out this is the very first episode I’m recording since Baby Levi has been born! I’ve been taking a nice, long break from work – honestly barely checking in, which has been fabulous. I plan to keep things pretty minimum for a few more months. Bear with me during this episode, as I’m a little out of practice and not getting as much sleep as I used to! Hopefully, it’ll be fun to hear from me, knowing I’m thinking about you all and missing you all. I’m excited to jump back in over the next few months.
Finding A Great Team
The first step of this formula is finding your awesome team members. I’ll just share quickly my experiences finding a great team.
And to quickly clarify, when I say ‘team’ I mean:
- Ellen (Tech guru, problem-solver extraordinaire, and the glue that holds our team together)
- Carlee (Answerer of emails, organizer of stuff, keeper of spreadsheets, and maker of downloads)
- Victoria (Community builder, social media manager, and coordinator of podcasts)
These are the three ladies who work in the business every single week. Beyond these three, there are several independent contractors who work for me. Contractors like Sarah Heddins who edits our podcast, Hadassah Stoll who does most of my graphic design work, and Lydia Kitts who does all my InDesign stuff and planner formatting. These are people highly skilled in a particular area who I hire to do specific tasks and jobs. Our independent contractors do those same jobs for a lot of other people as well.
For Ellen, Carlee, and Victoria, I’m their main squeeze. Some of them work with other clients here and there, but BBM is the main thing that they do week in and week out. They feel like Brilliant Business Moms is where they work. Their roles change and morph, they are constantly learning new skills and have new tasks and work independently.
There’s a difference between someone who does specific tasks working for many clients and someone who does many tasks for a specific client.
All this to say, our independent contractors are just as amazing and awesome, too!
Finding my team really happened gradually. In all cases, I hired each of these ladies through word-of-mouth referrals and personal reference. The Brilliant Business Moms private Facebook group was (and continues to be) a place where I find help for my business. My sister and I started that group a few years ago when we were teeny tiny, and over the years I’ve grown to know a lot of the women in the community. Over time, some ladies in the group would post that they’re looking for some VA (Virtual Assistant) work, and post the skill sets they had.
What I Look For
So what are some qualities I look for when I hire someone on my team? It’s someone willing to work for me every single week and be invested in Brilliant Business Moms. I want my team to feel like they’re part of something, not just punching a time clock.
1) Hire for Character
When I am looking for someone like a podcast editor, I’m hiring for a particular skill: sound recording. That’s not necessarily something everyone can do, so I really want to make sure I find a person who has that specific skill and is excellent.
But for example, with someone who’s going to be in my inbox every day doing customer service, in that case, it’s not necessarily the skill I’m after, it’s what that person is like. It’s much more about their personality than an easily teachable skill.
I want to work with someone who I can build a strong relationship with, and feel like I can really trust.
At this point, I can usually throw out a new idea to my team and trust that either Carlee, Ellen, or Victoria will take it and run with it!
You can teach people skills over time! All the ladies on my team, at one point or another, have taken courses to learn new skills. Those are the things I’m happy to spend money on, to allow them to take a course and expand their knowledge, because I know they’re smart and motivated and they’ll help BBM do great things.
2) Hire People Who Believe In Your Mission
The mission of Brilliant Business Moms is to help women make money doing what they love. It helps that all the ladies on our team are brilliant business moms themselves! They get what BBM is about. They get all of you.
There are tough days, for sure, but I know these women are in it for the long haul. They’re not going to take a tough day out on any one of you or anything like that! Because they’re so passionate about the mission, and they know we’re all in it together.
3) Hire People Different From You (Like Really Different!)
If you can, hire people with different personalities and different skill sets, than you. I know a lot of you have interacted with Ellen, Carlee, and Victoria quite a bit, so you know that they all have different personalities and skill sets… and that’s incredibly helpful!
When you think about hiring help, you want to hire people to do the stuff you’re not good at. You want that person to be quicker than you at certain tasks. You do not want a “Mini-You.”
Here’s the thing about a Mini-You. A Mini-You is going to annoy you like crazy. A Mini You probably wants to also have their own business and call all the shots, and not necessarily work on a team!
I think about my personality and I realize that I really don’t like working for other people. I really, really feel strongly and passionately about being my own boss. So if I hired a bunch of Mini-Mes, it wouldn’t bode well for building a team! They wouldn’t want to work for me long term, and wouldn’t enjoy it.
Find people who are really different from you, but are incredibly solid. In each my team members, I want to know this is someone I can trust, has similar values as me, has a fabulous work ethic, is a great problem solver, and someone who’s really smart. That’s what I look for.
4) Remember: You Get What You Pay For
I do not recommend that you go to Upwork.com and find the cheapest person you can. It won’t work well long term! Consider the long-term vision you have for your business, and maximize your business growth for the long run. That’s way more important than the bottom line.
If you want someone to do cheap, shoddy, inconsistent work, go ahead and find that person who will do the work for $3 an hour.
But if you want your business to be successful for the long term, including building a solid team, you really need to fork over a little bit more per hour.
I’ve heard from quite a lot of other bloggers and online business owners who have gone through a bunch of VAs in the past that they tend to struggle with finding quality people who stick around and who nail the projects and tasks. The common thread I tend to see is they’re not paying their employees enough. Of course, if you’re not paying your employees what they’re worth, they’re going to look for work elsewhere! If you don’t create an environment in which they’re fulfilled, they are going to look for work somewhere else.
You might not be shelling out big bucks right away, but you need to have that long-term view.
I tell my team all the time I wish I could pay them more! I do give raises and bonuses when I can. I want them to know how much I value them and how amazing they are. I want them to know that long term I don’t plan to keep them at whatever hourly rate they came to BBM with. I want to slowly raise those rates over time. When we do a big launch and it goes well, I want to give them all bonuses to thank them for hustling hard. (The same is true for Christmas! They got bonuses and gift cards. Just find those ways to value your employees wherever you can.)
How To Lead Your Team
Now we’ll assume you’ve found your team and talk more about leading your team.
The first tip I have is: take the time to give praise. And I don’t mean praise in between feedback and critiques. You want your praise to stand on its own. Go out of your way to send an email to say they’re doing an amazing job. Or, that they went out of their way to solve a problem creatively. Let that praise stand on its own.
And make sure your praise is genuine! I never want to give a disingenuous compliment. I want to be 100% honest and transparent with my team members. With that, they know if something needs improvement. They know if something got missed, and I want to make sure it doesn’t get missed the next time. I’m 100% honest and upfront with feedback and when things need tweaking. I don’t apologize at all for being picky! I have a strong vision for BBM and how I want it to look, how I want it written, and how I want it communicated. That’s my job! I’m the CEO. I have to have a clear vision.
But with that, I know my employees can’t read my mind. That’s a big mistake I see new bosses make. They have a strong, clear vision, and assume everyone on their team has the same strong vision. That’s not true! You’re the leader. It’s your job to be an effective communicator and convey that vision to your team. Never expect people to read your mind. Always expect the new project or task will take a bit of back and forth.
I’m never, ever frustrated that we may have to go through five rounds of revisions before it’s what I wanted. For me, that’s part of the job. It’s how things go. I want you to have those expectations when you hire a team member. Projects are going to take multiple rounds of revisions, especially when your employees are new. Never, ever be irritated if it takes a while for a team member to get your vision.
A Hack for Communicating With A Remote Team
One trick that I’ve found helpful to communicate as clearly as I can is to do screencast videos for my team. One of the benefits of having a team that works remotely is we each get to work on our own time and schedule. But it’s also harder! I can’t walk down the hallway to Victoria to give her my real-time feedback. Scheduling a Google Hangout (especially for projects with quick turnarounds) isn’t always going to work when we’re figuring out four time zones.
What works well for us is to do screencast recordings.
So, if Ellen and Carlee are doing a landing page, I’ll make a video and go point-by-point through all the changes I’d like to make: this image here is too small, change this color, edit this content. I nitpick every detail of those landing pages! It would be super confusing to type all of that feedback in an email, right?
The screencasts can also be useful to teach your employees something new. For example, when Victoria took over the podcast, I used screencast videos to show her all the steps she needed to do to get an episode up, like how to upload an episode to Libsyn and use this other piece of software to tag the file. Get yourself some sort of screencast software (like LiteCamHD, Camtasia, or Screencast-O-Matic.)
When I first started the videos I wondered if I was being too extreme. Is it too annoying to hear me drone on and on? But it turns out, my team loves getting these videos!
And funny enough, apparently their spouses and kids all know my voice and listen to the videos, too! In creating those videos, they get to see the raw and uncut version of Beth Anne. Sometimes in my screencast videos, the dog starts barking, or Holden needs me, or I’m frustrated about something and they see the real Beth Anne even though we don’t get to work side by side.
Letting Go (of Micromanaging)
One thing that’s important to say now is that you must let your employees do their own thing in terms of their workflows. Even though I’m super nitpicky about how I want an email worded or the landing page to look, I’m only nitpicky on the final product. I do not micromanage behind the scenes.
I do NOT say to Victoria, “Hey, when you’re doing the podcast workflow, do it in XYZ order. This is exactly how you have to do it. You have to use a spreadsheet I created.”
Rather, I say, “Here’s what needs to be done. Here are the tools you’ll need. Come up with your own system.”
We all have different personalities! Our brains work totally differently. I know if I created a whole system and passed it to Victoria, it may not work well for her at all. I want to give my employees the freedom to get things done the way in the way they want it to be done.
What I really care about is the end result.
Be Open To New Ideas
I also want to encourage you to be open to new ideas in your business. I work with women who are brilliant, creative, and motivated. And I want you to hire amazing people, too! If you can assemble a fabulous team, you have to understand that they bring a ton to the table. You want to encourage creativity and feedback from your employees.
Do not run your business like a dictatorship! Sure, you are the boss. At the end of the day, you decide what stays and what goes. But along the way encourage feedback, encourage new ideas, and encourage ways to improve the business. Each of your employees is an expert in their own little part of your business, and oftentimes they might just have a better pulse on what’s going on.
Victoria has a better pulse about what people are saying on social media. Carlee has a better pulse on the customer service questions we’re getting in our inbox. And Ellen has a better pulse on all the tech tools that we’re using, where the glitches are, and where it can run more smoothly. I am literally just the leader, giving them the tools they need; they’re the experts in the trenches. I for sure want their best ideas for how to serve our customers with products and processes.
I know that for many of you who’ve run your business on your own for awhile, it feels like your business is your baby. And I know it’s really hard to let that baby go! But when you do so, that little baby just thrives and flourishes in new ways that wouldn’t have been possible with just you.
The same way you have strengths and weaknesses, the people on your team have strengths and weaknesses. You want to harness that energy and let the strengths of your team strengthen your business.
Letting go of micromanaging also makes for happy employees!
Remember, you’re going to be hiring really smart people. And smart people don’t want to just check tasks off to-do lists. They’re motivated and want to challenge themselves and try new things.
Keep in mind, though, this creative overdrive won’t happen on your team member’s first day.
Those first 1-2 months will be about you slowly giving your Virtual Assistant more and more tasks in the business. There won’t be as much fun and creative stuff early on. But, over time, as they get to know your business and customers well, and they’ve mastered those boring and mundane tasks, the creative collaboration will come. Keep in mind that you’ll want to help your team be involved.
Working With New Employees
A mistake I see business owners make all the time when hiring new employees is setting expectations too high for a brand new team member.
Take a deep breath and trust that if you’ve done your homework, you’ve interviewed your team member, and know they have solid character and believe in your mission, then you made a great choice; then give that person time to adjust. The person you hire will need time to adjust to their new role on your team, you as their boss, and the projects you’re giving them.
New employees (and even old employees tackling a new project) will have a learning curve. Just plan on there being mistakes to work through up front.
There will be kinks and there will be balls that get dropped. Be super patient, and give constant feedback as well as constant encouragement to your team. It’s hard being a new employee and feeling like you’ve got 100 things coming at you. And it’s hard to get feedback on a project you turn in thinking it’s perfect and then getting 20 items to change.
I’m going to be honest with you: I always thought I did a good job of this – but recently I learned that everyone on my team, at one point or another, thought I hated them! That makes me really sad! You can hear more about that in our group episode (spoiler alert: we worked it out!). And I really think that’s because I have super high expectations, I’m really picky, and I am not afraid to give all the feedback a team member needs to be up to my standard. But, even so, whatever level of praise you think you need to give, give at least double of that. Then give it a couple of months to see how things are really going.
The other thing that you can encourage new employees with is that they’re going to get better.
Literally, at this point sometimes I think these ladies read my mind. They take initiative and solve problems before I realize there are problems! That’s because I hired amazing people and took a lot of time up front to tell them exactly what I was looking for over time, and now they know exactly what to do.
For me, that’s awesome! It’s another reason why you want to build a team, and not just hire random people who are the cheapest you can find for a given job. Carlee, Victoria, and Ellen don’t just do the tasks, they solve new problems and come up with new projects to move the business forward.
I can be so hands-off, just because they’re awesome!
As I’m recording this episode, my baby will be 4 weeks old tomorrow, and I am not worried about the business at all! I have no pressure. And that’s only happened because this awesome team is running things behind the scenes without me.
Bonus Tip: Help Your Team Prioritize
As entrepreneurs, we tend to have multiple projects going at once. I try to focus on a few of those at once, but there are always a few more projects on the backburner. Plus the projects that I tend to pick actually have a lot of moving parts, there are a lot of people to communicate with, and there are a hundred things that need to be created. When you have a lot of moving parts, help your team prioritize. The last thing you want to do is have team members who are stressed out and overwhelmed all the time. They’ll burn out and move on to a boss who doesn’t give them ulcers!
At any given time, each of these ladies may have 50 BBM action items on their to-do list. And I know there’s no way they’re going to get all 50 action items done that week. What I do instead is say, “Hey, I know I mentioned this to-do at the end of last week. Given this other project going on, that first task is no longer a priority. Save this task for when we have breathing room.”
Help your team know what’s nice to do, and what needs to happen now.
When you’re hiring really motivated people, they will want to do an awesome job. And if you don’t tell them, “Hey – don’t stress,” they probably will, because your team will assume everything you ask them to do needs to be done as fast as humanly possible. But again, you know they’re humans just like you. In the same way you don’t get everything on your list done, you need to have realistic expectations about what your team can get done. Make sure to let them know when priorities shift. It can be as simple as an email that says, “Hey! On Monday this task was a big priority but now it’s Wednesday and this new task really needs to get done. Sorry I didn’t catch it sooner! But it’s time to change gears.”
So that’s really it! Those are my main tips for finding and leading a great team. And I phrase it that way – leading a great team – for a reason. What’s great is the team. I’m not an especially great leader, but I’ve found incredibly talented and awesome ladies to lead. It’s my job to foster that awesomeness. I don’t have to be amazing and fabulous, I just have to bring the amazingness out in them and I find that super rewarding.
One last thing. Even if you’re on a budget, start with one fabulous person and start them with just a few hours a week if that’s all you can afford. That’s a much better approach than finding a random person on a generic site to work 20 hours a week for $3 an hour. Invest in those people who can grow your business. I think you’ll be amazed.
A year ago, when I first hired Ellen, I never would have guessed sitting here a year later I’d have 3 team members. I definitely wouldn’t have guessed all that we’re able to do and all the people we’re able to serve and reach. That would not have happened had I not hired a great team, or if I had just found random people to do random tasks.
The best advice I can give to you is to be intentional about your team members.
Now It’s Your Turn To Head Out There And Be Brilliant!