How to address skills shortages in your firm

Group of employees sat around a desk with their laptops on the table


Many small business owners start up as a sole operator - but when the time comes, it's vital to take on the right people at the right time. Here's how to identify the gaps that need filling as you grow

It's often a familiar story when people start their own business. Because they don't have much money, or just to minimise risks, they end up  taking care of a wide range of tasks themselves - sometimes jobs they don't enjoy, or that they're not particularly good at.

But with success comes change - whether sooner or later. The business becomes established, and to keep pace with growth, you need to recruit.

"Some new businesses take off very quickly, others take longer - but whatever the rate, it's important to bring in the right people at the right time," says HR and recruitment expert Laura Bailey.

Do you really need to hire?

"Whatever the business or its stage of growth, the business owner and/or the senior management team must be absolutely sure that recruitment is the right option," she adds. "If you're not sure - I'd always advise holding fire.

"Using freelancers is hugely popular, and more common now than ever. It can prove a cost-effective alternative to taking on full-time staff, as can outsourcing certain business functions or roles, such as HR, IT, sales, marketing, accounting or project management.

"As the business scales, some tasks may be brought back in house, with new staff members recruited for those roles."

To avoid costly mistakes, Bailey says recruitment shouldn't be rushed. Your approach should be well considered, planned and executed. "Get your recruitment decisions wrong, and you can end up wasting thousands of pounds and many hours of your time. Then you have to start the process all over again, meaning more time and money.

"You should never rush, because recruiting the right person is a major investment, and, ultimately, a business is only as good as the people it employs."

Spotting skills gaps in your team

Bailey says that in most cases, it will be apparent where more manpower is needed. Often this will be driven by the need to increase sales, or to provide greater support to your existing sales and accounts management staff.

But other roles are important to a growing business, too, she says - whether that's developing new or innovative product lines, providing customer service, or managing crucial admin.

Often, your existing staff will simply have reached capacity, making recruitment unavoidable if the business is to continue to grow, adds Bailey. "In many instances it's obvious - you'll know where you need to bring people in.

"Creating new value-adding roles can be more challenging, especially if you lack knowledge or experience. But this can make the difference between business success and failure - and continuing to grow your revenue is key."

Getting help from the experts

Bailey says successful businesses prioritise good communication with their people. If you have that culture, she explains, your employees will tell you when they've reached capacity if necessary, helping to reveal which roles you need to recruit for and when.

"There must be a sound business reason for all recruitment decisions you make, and, obviously, your business must be able to afford to take on more people," she adds.

Bailey believes in including existing team members when recruiting new colleagues, especially if they are going to be working with or managing them.

"If you lack experience, but have budget, I would recommend accessing professional HR support when recruiting. Look on it as an investment - one that can prevent expensive mistakes," she concludes.

"Recruitment doesn't have to be complicated or time-consuming, but very often business owners have so many other things competing for their attention. Seeking professional HR advice and support when you need it can save time, and ensure you make better recruitment decisions."

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