I Couldn’t Afford My First Employee, But Hiring Her Helped Me Grow a Million-Dollar Business
Like many small business owners, I launched my boutique as a one-woman show. The Flourish Market was just a fashion truck at the time, so it was manageable for me—and eventually some hourly staff—to take it to events, ship online orders, and market the burgeoning business.
When we opened our first brick-and-mortar store 13 months later, everything changed. Suddenly, someone needed to be present at the storefront six days a week, on top of keeping things running behind the scenes. I was being pulled in a thousand directions and barely had time to do the basic tasks that would keep my business running, let alone the strategic work to help it grow. I had reached a sticking point where the only two ways to move my business forward would be to hire someone to free up my time, or to magically add more hours to my day.
Since I am not a wizard, it would have to be hiring. And I didn’t want to just keep relying on hourly staff, either—I wanted an experienced store manager who could take the mental burden of day-to-day operations off my plate.
When I looked at our revenue at the time (just over $300,000), I could only afford about three months of payroll for a full-time store manager given other costs—but I decided to take the leap and hire a salaried employee anyway. Let me tell you, it was terrifying. I was paying her more than I was even paying myself. I was worried we would run out of money before I knew it, and that I would end up a failed business owner.
Instead, we more than tripled our revenue within that year—more than enough to pay her salary, to grow mine to where it really needed to be, and to put away some savings for the business. Since then, I’ve found the biggest gains in my business happen when I invest in bringing on help, even when it feels like a bit of a stretch.
Here’s why that hire paid off so much, how I ensured I was making the most of my newfound time, and how I now recommend other business owners think about growing their teams.
It Was an Investment in the Future of My Business
I find that the majority of business owners pick option number two when they’re feeling stretched too thin—they try to magically add more hours to their day. That’s usually what’s talked about in entrepreneurship: Are you willing to put in the work? Are you willing to hustle hard enough?
The question I like to ask at that point is: At what expense? Beyond the mental health implications of working yourself into the ground (more on that in a minute), I don’t think this approach will ever lead to true scalability because there’s only so much you can do on your own.
The mental shift that really helped me was this: Instead of thinking about my new employee as a cost, I started thinking about her as an investment. I always tell my coaching clients now that, if you’re hiring the right person, they should make you money, not cost you money.
I learned this from experience when hiring my first salaried employee. For starters, she quickly made up for her salary (and then some) by bringing in retail expertise that helped the store run more efficiently and increase our sales. On top of that, she opened up my time to spend on strategic tasks that would grow the business’ bottom line and impact.
Now, anytime I’m hiring someone new, I ask myself what value they can add instead of what cost.
It Motivated Me to Spend Time on Higher-Value Work
Taking the risk of bringing on a salaried employee before I felt ready really lit a fire under my butt to work on my business instead of in my business—to do the work that wouldn’t just sustain the business but that would grow it to the next level.
I had put a lot of these tasks on the backburner, partially for lack of time and partially out of fear that they wouldn’t work out. But I told myself that, if I hired this person, I had to start investing my time more wisely. I started to think about every task I was doing in terms of the value it was bringing back into the business. There was the $10 per hour work (shipping orders, working the register, administrative tasks) that should be done by hourly staff (who, by the way, we pay more than $10 per hour—that’s just a useful number for this mental exercise). There was the $100 per hour work (styling customers, merchandising the store, tracking best selling items through inventory reports) that should be on my new employee’s plate.
Where I needed to be investing the bulk of my time was in the $1,000 and $10,000 per hour work. This is the stuff that isn’t just focusing on bringing in one transaction but is paving the way for many transactions: Pitching press to get our name out there, improving our marketing strategy, making strategic connections in my city, spinning up new revenue streams (like the coworking space we launched to make use of extra space in our store).
I still wanted to stay connected to my customers, so I committed to spending 10 hours a week working in the store. But, I challenged myself to spend the remaining 30 hours only on those high-value tasks. This approach was game-changing for taking my business to the next level: Less than a year later, we had hit the $1 million revenue mark.
Thinking of how I spend my time in terms of value is now a cornerstone of how I run my business. Each quarter, I do a time audit by tracking every hour of my time for a two week period, and I work to offload any low-value tasks I’m holding onto. I now have my team do the same, which helps us build the job description of who we need to hire next to open up everyone’s time to have more impact on the business.
It Was Necessary for My Mental Health
As business owners, we carry so much. There’s obviously the never-ending list of what needs to get done (which, as I mentioned above, is important to get support on so we have time for loved ones and fun and other things that contribute to our wellbeing). But there’s also the heaviness of wondering: Will my business succeed? Will I be able to take care of my employees and my contractors? Will I end up in a puddle of shame because my business fails?
Before I hired my full-time employee, I felt like I was running on a hamster wheel trying to keep up, and the weight of worrying about my success was making it harder and harder. I’ve always found that the best way to fight overwhelm and fear is by taking action, and by offloading the day-to-day tasks to someone and putting myself in motion on strategic tasks, I felt more empowered to create the success I envisioned.
Bringing on team members is ultimately about investing in spaciousness. The space to take care of yourself so you can show up fully in your work, the space to dream up new ideas, and the space to actually implement them: That’s what unlocks the next level of growth.
We just celebrated seven years in business, and I’m now surrounded by a team of 22, including five salaried employees. Taking the scary leap to invest in someone new never gets easier, but it’s been worth it every time. Not only has it consistently helped me take my business to new heights, but I get the joy and fulfillment of doing it alongside others.