When to Hire Your First Employee

Q: I’m a one-person shop, but recently, I’ve been overwhelmed with the volume of orders I’m getting. Is it time to hire my first employee? What’s the best way to proceed?

You’ve crossed an amazing milestone of your business. The success of your business is made from late nights at the shop. The extra order you took last week is paying off. The growth you will experience happens when your one-person shop is pushed to new heights. Are you ready to take the next step and hire on your first employee? Let’s take a closer look.

Before you decide to bring on another employee, there are several key points to consider. Becoming an employer is exciting, and while having someone work for you can feel like an achievement, it also adds a great deal of responsibility. First off, you need to evaluate the needs of your business. Do you have enough work to keep your employee busy year round? Whether they’re a part-time or full-time employee, in order to maintain trust, your business needs to provide enough work. What happens during your slow months? Simply put, can you afford it?

If you can afford to hire, you should then evaluate what role they’ll play. By teaching them a skilled trade, you’re investing your time and trade secrets into a potential risk or success story. If it works out, they can be a long-term employee. If it doesn’t, they can turn into competition. Before hiring, exhaust all the extra help from family and friends because employing someone in your shop is like handing over the keys to your new Corvette. Consider a part-timer first. Someone that could fold, box and do other non-skilled tasks to make your job easier. When you’re ready to train your first skilled worker, office manager or outside sales rep, understand that the relationship becomes much more serious.

Volume is good, but volume doesn’t always warrant another hire. You have to balance hiring employees because it can be a slippery slope. When you’re only making a few bucks per garment, a 24-piece order becomes a lot less profitable when you have to pay employees. Some shops have a 2:1 ratio: For every two production staff they hire, they hire one office/sales staff to support them. If you’re hiring an employee, understand your role will change. Before doing that, have you exhausted subbing jobs out to contract printers? Don’t be embarrassed by it. That’s what those shops are for. They can lighten your load during the busy season. The best ones drop ship to your customer.

Hire for attitude, and train for skill. A coach can make a player good at a sport, only if the player shows up. Make sure you’re careful when hiring your first employee. Consider finding someone you can grow with and mold. If you aren’t sure about how to hire, there are several solutions for either temp agencies, or contract workers.

Some may think hiring your first employee makes your life easier, but guess again. You’re now a manager, a boss, an owner — and you’ll need to support that employee like any other employer. Make sure you’re well-versed in human resources, have a solid system for payroll and understand benefits. Not to mention paid holidays and workers’ compensation. Those big business buzzwords are something you’ll need to take seriously. Rest assured, there are great tools out there that are easy to use, like QuickBooks or Gusto. Don’t forget, you’ll need to get set up with your state if you’re hiring a full-time employee. An accountant can help with that.

Remember also, no matter how great of an all-star you hire, your employee can clock in and clock out. As a business owner, that simply does not exist for you. At the end of the day, it’s your checkbook, your livelihood. Therefore, you still need to lead from the front. The second you take your foot off the gas, and lose pulse on your business, your destiny is in the hands of an hourly wage. If the relationship goes well, and the business grows exponentially, consider profit sharing, but be careful about handing over equity. It’s very easy to distribute shares of your business when you are small, but it’s difficult to get that back once it’s gone. Be smart here, and don’t get complacent.

Always remember, this is the best problem a company can have.


Bruce Ackerman is the founder and CEO of Printavo, a business he started in 2012 after running a print shop in college. Since then, Printavo has grown to help shops all over the world get organized and streamlined. You can contact Ackerman at info@printavo.com or visit www.printavo.com.