It’s thrilling. It’s nerve-wracking. It’s your first big hire. How do you make the right choice and set this person up for success?

My first big hire at Little Pim was a salesperson, because I calculated that if she opened twice as many accounts as I could on my own, she would pay for herself in the first six months, and the rest would be profit. As I got ready to make this big investment, I read many books on how to avoid common mistakes—like hiring based on your gut or not checking that the person is a fit for the culture you want to build, which can put you on the fast track to your first firing!

One of the most useful books I found was Who: A Method for Hiring by Geoff Smart and Randy Street. The book is based on 1,300 hours of interviews about best practices for hiring with more than 300 successful CEOs and details basic, easy-to-implement steps you can start using right away.

I ultimately hired over thirty different people in the course of running my business for nine years, and that first hire feels like a lifetime ago. That’s why it was great to talk with my friend Loren Brill, founder and CEO of Sweet Loren’s, who is in the throes of her first hire right now! Loren created an all-natural place-and-bake cookie dough company that wants to change the way America bakes. She just finished bringing on her first big sales hire and was happy to share her experience – I hope there will be some morsels in here for you (sorry, I couldn’t resist!).

The Story of Sweet Loren’s First Hire

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On knowing the time was right

Loren knew it was time to make her first hire when other people in her business—namely her retail brokers—told her it was time. Sweet Loren’s had already been in business for a year and half with their current refrigerated packaging, but had been in the industry five years total. And Loren was still handling all of the sales.

“I was so used to doing all the sales myself. I had finally gotten our product into over 4,000 stores,” she explains. “I began to realize that account management was really the most important role to delegate. It was time for my role to transition from sales to marketing, PR, and product development so we could continue to grow and not just maintain sales, which is what I was doing in that role.”

By delegating the sales role, Loren was able to devote more of her time to developing and scaling Sweet Loren’s—without sacrificing the relationships she had already built or letting the company’s growth stagnate.

On finding the right person

Loren met her first hire through her network. The Greek yogurt company Chobani had asked Loren to speak at their Women’s Leadership Forum, where she met her future head of sales. “When we met, she suggested that I pitch Publix Supermarkets because there were no slotting fees and we could ship direct. I hadn’t heard of Publix before, but she had great food startup experience and was willing to share it, so I listened.”

“From that year on, she was cheering us on and was always happy to help—it was as if she was already part of the team. She even trained me and helped me tweak my pitch when I finally got a meeting with Publix. And Sweet Loren’s got in!”

“After one year of being friends, she realized she didn’t work for a big CPG company anymore, and told me she’d love to work for us, in a startup she believed in. We’d already built such a great relationship founded on trust and respect. Plus, she was already a fan of the product.”

“Around that time, I landed Kroger Supermarkets. Between Publix and Kroger, I knew I needed help managing these national accounts and that I could afford a big hire like her. We negotiated a bit and came to a fair agreement we were both thrilled about. Now I’m proud to say she’s my VP of Sales and I feel like we can conquer all. She’s setting the bar very high for my future team.”

By tapping into her network and being open to opportunities—like speaking at the Women’s Leadership Forum—Loren unknowingly built a strong relationship with the woman who would become her first hire. So your first hire may not come from posting an ad. You may already know the person you’re about to hire. And if you don’t, someone you already know may be able to point you in the right direction.

What we can learn from Sweet Loren’s about making the first hire:

  • Be strategic and intentional about the role. Instead of hiring someone because you need to get work—any work—off your plate, decide what tasks would be the highest and most valuable use of your time. Be honest about the work you hate doing or where you’re passing muster but aren’t taking things to the next level. Ask how this hire will push your business forward. The hire should pay for themselves with the increased business they bring in, and you should map out together the expectations and milestones for getting there.
  • Tap into your network to find that perfect fit. You don’t have to put an ad in the classifieds to find the talent you need. Reach out to women you’ve worked with in the past. Talk to your flying buttresses—peers, coaches, friends, and mentors that already know and support you. Do things to expand your network—like taking on a speaking engagement or joining a group for entrepreneurs. You never know where you’ll find the person you need.
  • Delegation opens the door to bigger opportunities. Delegation is a skill. And like any skill, it takes time and practice to develop. Once you make that hire, the burden is on you to actually give up the reins. Delegation is kind of like a muscle: The more you flex it, the stronger it gets. For more on how you can start flexing that muscle, check out my previous blog on delegating your way to the top.

And if you want even more insider tips, tricks, and tools for making your first hire a success, join me for my VIP Coaching program where we’ll study the best practices of successful CEOs. It’s also a great opportunity to expand your network and meet other women entrepreneurs who are looking to GO BIG. We will be meeting every other Friday for the next six months via Zoom, an online video conferencing platform.

If you are thinking about your first big hire, this is a great time to talk to other CEOs who have done it, like Loren Brill, and to also do a bit of research about how you can structure the compensation (part salary, part bonus, part stock options?). Maybe that should be my next blog?!

P.S. To apply for my VIP Coaching program for women who want to GO BIG faster and in great company,click here. Starts on October 7th, so don’t delay!

Stay brave,

Julia