Q. I have been running my graphic design business for over six years now and my wife joined around a year-and-a-half ago. The business has really taken off and we use freelancers quite often. I really want to put someone on full-time to help with the growth of the business as I know it will enable us to take on more work and in turn push the business in the right direction, but as the graphic design industry can go quiet at times I also think sticking to freelancers is a great alternative. To sum it up I'm really in two minds.

A. This is always a difficult decision to make. Indeed in my experience gained over many years of mentoring, managing staff is the area most small business owners struggle with. And it is often the reason they are unable to grow their businesses and are forced to continue on with just themselves and close family members.
Very often they have had a negative experience with staff that has been so traumatic that they have lost confidence in their ability to select suitable people.

Problems with staff are not unique to small business. All businesses need to deal effectively with their staff to maintain a harmonious work environment and to bolster productivity. Larger companies allocate many full-time resources to their personnel or human relations departments. These departments are not just involved in recruitment and retrenchment but their charter extends to staff training, running improvement programs and staff performance reviews.

In most cases staff problems are not simply one-sided. Business owners are quite naturally protective of their businesses and regard them as their children. They may not be receptive to a new staff member suggesting alternative ways to do things. Their management styles may be directive and authoritarian and this can quickly lead to conflicts, particularly if the new person has a strong personality.

To assist here, some management training can be beneficial in helping the business owner better understand the different personality types and how to manage them most effectively. Carefully selecting the type of person for the job is also very important and this includes thoroughly vetting their referees. There are many courses that can be taken to assist here and the Australian Institute of Management might be a good place to start.

In your case, you appear to be managing this task very well in your selection of freelancers. Obviously such staff will be mainly interested in performing the tasks they have been allocated and will not be inclined to be looking at other issues that might be relevant in advancing your business. A full-time staff member would be expected take a much deeper interest in your business and help you to expand it.

A full-time staff member also sends the message to your customers and potential customers that you are growing and are successful and may itself help to bring in new business.

Obviously you are also incurring a liability – a financial as well as a moral liability; a person that is dependent on you for their livelihood. As well as the additional productive entity you have taken on, another positive is that you will now be under some additional pressure to find new business.  

If you think that you will be comfortable with this pressure and the responsibility and are confident that you will be able to grow your business then I would recommend that you proceed. However do this in a planned way ensuring that the role and expectations are clearly defined and agreed.

Good luck with the further development of your business.

Guy Ward, business mentor, SBMS