Being a first-time agency owner is like diving in the ocean depths. You have to juggle a slew of roles, work at least 16 hours per day and hustle to grow your agency.
We’ve all done it, though we know it’s not sustainable in the long run.
The moment you realize you need a team to support your company’s growth can be both exhilarating and frightening.
You may be confused about who to hire first and for what roles. You might wonder about balancing costs and even writing a good job post.
But you’re on the right page to solve those issues. I won’t just take you through the generic considerations. I’ll show you actionable advice and insider tips from my experience growing inBeat to 30+ employees so you can build a solid, sustainable team.
Keep reading below.
Who Should Your First Five Hires Be?
Before reviewing the first five hires, let’s analyze two important considerations.
Freelancers vs. Full-Time Employees
Freelancers are less expensive and don’t require as much paperwork. You don’t have to give them medical, paid leave, or a notice period if you want to terminate the contract. In some parts of the world, hiring freelancers means paying less taxes.
Those are essential aspects for a new agency.
However, in my experience as CEO and owner at inBeat, good freelancers are hard to find. Most freelancers have other projects, meaning they will dedicate less time to your company. They will also be less invested in it.
Insider tip: Hire full-time employees in critical positions and find effective freelancers you can rely on for the rest.
For example, inBeat has a head of content but hires multiple content writers. In total, inBeat has 31 full-time hires and works with many other freelancers:
Senior-Level vs. Junior-Level Employees
Junior-level employees will also help you cut back the costs, and you can find some passionate, talented newbies.
However, senior-level employees bring more experience and expertise to the table.
Although those qualities come with a cost, they can accelerate your agency’s growth. Besides, seniors make excellent mentors for juniors, meaning your juniors can gain hands-on knowledge faster.
Your First Five Hires
Here’s who your first five hires should be:
1. Chief Operations Officer (COO) vs. Chief Product Officer
Your agency needs smooth daily operations to function properly, not to mention grow.
In inBeat’s case, hiring a COO kept our team organized, strategy-driven and focused. Tackling our finances and strategy correctly fueled our growth.
You may also consider hiring a Chief Product Officer to drive your agency’s creative vision and help you gain a competitive edge.
2. Project Manager
Your projects will multiply as your agency grows. Project managers help you tackle the ever-accumulating clients.
You need to hire a reliable person for this position to keep your deadlines and budget in check. Besides, your clients will appreciate your organization and efficiency, so they’re likelier to refer you further.
3. HR Manager
HR managers are essential in any growing agency. As you’re onboarding more people, you want to pick the right professionals and know they have all the necessary support.
And you also want to ensure you’re complying with all laws and tax requirements without tackling the paperwork yourself.
This goes practically without saying. A growing agency cannot rely on accounting software because you’ll be facing more unique situations and have more questions.
Besides, you won’t have the time to input all the bills and invoices yourself.
5. Personal Assistant
A personal assistant who can tackle multiple roles is an important first hire. This person will streamline your day, prioritize your tasks, plus help with communication and research.
You may not realize it yet, but this help frees up a lot of your day and takes the pressure off. That means you can focus on more important tasks and save money in the process.
The Step-by-Step Plan for Hiring for Your Agency
Now that you know who your first hires should be let’s see how to actually do it. You’ll find out plenty of insider tips and actionable advice, so keep reading:
Most agencies create job posts without first preparing the legal structures and policies. That’s a mistake.
You should focus on:
1.1. Legal Obligations
Consider your legal obligations as an employer, especially if you’re hiring people instead of using freelancers. These requirements include:
That’s why I advised you to consider an HR specialist within your first five hires.
1.2. Payment System
The payment issues to consider include:
Method of payment
Insider tip: Get a trustworthy payroll service provider to streamline the payment system. It will help you avoid costly mistakes, especially if your Labor Departments' laws seem dumbfounding.
1.3. Employee Handbook
This document includes all policies, procedures, and performance expectations, from behavior to results and time off.
You need a clear employee handbook to ensure you and your employees are on the same page. This will help you avoid conflicts in the long run.
2. Develop a Job Description
A job description is the first impression you’ll make to your new employees. In fact, at inBeat, we found that the job posting dictates our entire interaction with future hires.
Insider tip: Our experience is that you make the best impression if you’re short, concise, and professional. This approach works best for us whether we’re doing influencer outreach, cold emails, or posting jobs.
Besides, a good job description helps you:
Attract the right potential hires and, therefore, save you time and money you can lose by hiring unqualified people.
Set clear expectations to avoid misunderstandings.
Stand out from competitors and make the best impression.
Here are some insider tips that helped us:
Build a candidate persona: Imagine all the skills, experience, and personality they’ll need for your job post. This tactic helps you find the most qualified people.
Do competitor research: Check out what job posts agencies in your niche are creating. Analyze key terms they’re using, salary and benefits they offer, and overall tone of voice.
Use SEO: Search engine optimization isn’t just for websites. Using the most relevant search terms in the job post title and description puts you in front of the most qualified candidates.
Stick to the point: This is our distinctive trademark at inBeat. We are always clear and concise, focusing on responsibilities, requirements, and nice-to-haves.
Here’s part of our job post for a Demand Generation Manager at our influencer marketing agency, where you can see our crisp style:
Highlight a unique selling point: This trait should set you apart from your competitors. It can be salary, your agency’s company culture and values, or something else your potential employees want. That’s why it’s so important to build an employee persona first.
In inBeat’s case, our USP is being “a small, entirely remote team of creatives located all around the world & working on fully flexible schedules.”
3. Promote the Job
Creating the job application is the first step. Now you need to promote it to:
Reach a broader audience in the right niche: Your goal isn’t to make the job post rank first in Google. You need it to reach the right potential candidates in your niche.
Side note: A few years back, major companies like Apple and The Guardian were hiding hiring ads for web developers in their pages’ source codes:
Your small agency may not apply the same tactic; however, use this as an example of out-of-the-box thinking and targeted job post promotion.
Save money: Promoting your job post on the right channels and to the right people reduces the number of unqualified candidates. As a result, your hiring process is more efficient.
Here’s how you can promote that job ad well:
Social media: Use the platforms your potential employees are on. Don’t limit yourself to LinkedIn or Twitter like we do (because that works for us). Use TikTok, Instagram, and other relevant platforms, too. Include relevant hashtags and tag industry creators who might help.
Use influencers: Niche influencers or thought leaders can get the message out in front of the most qualified people in your industry.
Your website: You can post the job ad on your homepage or in a special hiring section. People who regularly follow your website will find the new ad easily.
Recruiting apps: Recruiting apps are like dating apps but for companies and potential employees. Their unique search features, filters, and other functionalities can help you target qualified people faster.
Other methods: Contact industry associations, ask for referrals, or attend job fairs. Regardless of your chosen method, ensure it fits your agency’s values and employee persona.
For example, at inBeat, we publish job posts on LinkedIn, job databases like Wellfound, and freelance platforms:
Other agencies use Instagram:
And others use TikTok influencers to connect with younger employers:
You can choose the option(s) that fit you best.
4. Source Candidates
Again, you can source job candidates from a slew of platforms. You probably already know these options exist, so I’ll tell you what each is best for.
Online job boards: Best for a wide range of filters.
Social media: Best for finding young, creative job seekers and gauging their personalities online.
Referrals: Best for tailored candidates and in-depth, personalized recommendations from people you know.
Recruiting apps: These will help you automate your sourcing and outreach process, reaching a wider pool of high-quality candidates.
From inBeat’s experience, the best way to source candidates is to:
Personalize your outreach: Remember that you’re talking to real people, so you need to identify the most persuasive arguments for them.
Use a multichannel approach: At inBeat, we don’t rely on one method for sourcing candidates. We found this approach works best for agencies, especially when you need to reach more potential employees/freelancers fast.
Pro tip: You can automate and streamline the entire outreach process with tools like QuickMail. QuickMail enables you to reach out to your ideal prospects at scale, follow up automatically, and manage all of your candidate conversations in one place.
5. Conduct Interviews
You know you need to conduct interviews at some point to assess candidate fit and avoid mistakes.
But how do you ask the right questions and evaluate candidates correctly?
That’s where a good HR specialist comes in.
Here’s our usual routine at inBeat:
Prepare questions in advance, focusing on the candidate’s technical and soft skill sets.
Ask open-ended questions to understand how your candidates think and operate.
Focus on problem-solving skills to see how people will handle potential situations in the company.
Take thorough notes with positive and negative points.
Insider tip: We also use behavioral techniques in our interview process, which means inquiring about past situations to evaluate how the candidates would deal with the same problem in the future.
For example, if we’re hiring for a paid ads manager, we will ask about the candidates’ experience with paid advertising platforms, the metrics they use, and the projects they worked on.
But we also ask these two questions:
Tell me about one of your paid ads campaigns that didn’t meet your expectations. How did you identify the cause, and what did you learn from that experience?
How do you stay updated on industry trends and news?
These questions help us gauge whether the person is diligent, solution-focused and has a growth mindset. People who place blame on other people instead of learning from unsuccessful experiences or those who do not read enough should raise red flags.
6. Check References
Checking references is essential because you want trustworthy employees with the right credentials and performance.
You want to be thorough on this point, so:
Ask the candidate for original documents to check their employment history.
Check their education and certifications.
Contact at least three of their references, asking specific questions about their performance, job responsibilities, and work-related habits.
Check the candidates’ public social media to gauge their personalities and interests.
Insider tip: Use a reference-check template. This has been a huge help for inBeat to ensure we’re asking the right questions and getting all the info to compare candidates fast.
7. Test Your Candidates
Testing candidates doesn’t just assess your candidates’ skills and knowledge. Tests are an important predictor of job performance and help you compare candidates objectively.
Competency tests: These focus on people’s ability to perform certain tasks. For example, you can ask a social media manager candidate to create an Instagram post for a specific campaign. Alternatively, you can ask them how they use a particular tool.
Personality tests: If you understand their communication style, overall attitude, and habits, you can gauge whether the candidate would be a good fit for your team. The Myers & Briggs Type Indicator is a good go-to test, especially combined with the Caliper Profile.
Pro tip: Use situational judgment tests when hiring for an executive position. You want to ensure the ideal candidate can make the right decisions in a slew of potential scenarios.
8. Make an Offer
The correct offer can attract top talent and retain quality employees in the long run. A good salary package reflects your agency’s values and keeps you competitive.
And while you don’t want to splurge on pay and benefits, you don’t want to skimp either.
Here’s how we make good offers to get the candidates we want:
We research market rates: We look at similar roles in our industry and location. If we’re hiring abroad in an area with lower rates, we try to find the middle ground between that location and ours.
We consider the total compensation package: We’re looking at other benefits, such as time off, the ability to work remotely, insurance, and other incentives.
We communicate clearly: Clear, concise communication is our strong suit. We can negotiate but never turn those negotiations into a game.
We follow up: We know people are busy, and emails can get lost in spam folders. We give our best candidates a few days to consider the proposal, after which we follow up to not waste time or other resources.
Your job is not done after signing the right candidates. Onboarding can make or break your hiring process because it sets those candidates on a track to success or failure.
Remember: You must ensure your new hires understand their roles, responsibilities, and expectations. Using new hire orientation PowerPoint templates can greatly facilitate the process.
That’s how you increase retention rates and skyrocket productivity.
The first step is signing a clear-cut contract outlining all the details to avoid conflict or misunderstanding.
After that, you should consider to:
Provide training: Give your new hire all the resources to get up to speed. For example, our influencer marketing agency includes training in using social media platforms, influencer outreach tactics that work for us, content creation tools, and more. When introducing a new tool, we create tutorials so everyone can start using it quickly.
Assign a mentor: New employees may need time to get comfortable in their roles. They may have questions and require support. A mentor who has worked in their line can help with hands-on experience and behind-the-scenes insights.
Establish regular check-ins: You’ll need these opportunities to ensure your new employees are on the right track. You can also offer them feedback and answer their questions.
Pro tip: At inBeat, we schedule up to four weekly check-ins at first, but we’re also available whenever our new employees need something. We use Slack as a main communication platform to encourage team involvement, but you can choose anything that works for you.
This guide showed you how to find and hire the right candidates from A to Z. You now know what worked for us at inBeat and should have a pretty good idea of what will work for you.
Remember that the three most important things are thorough planning, putting your job post in front of the right people, and acing the onboarding phase.
If you tick these boxes, you will surely hire long-term employees to help your company flourish.