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Hiring Our First Employee (While Keeping the Remote Office)

By Kathryn Hawkins. Agency Process
Image Credit: savacoco/depsitphotos

Here are some lessons we've learned in the process of hiring our first remote employee for our content marketing agency.

As a content marketing agency, high-quality writing is our bread and butter, and we rely on a highly vetted and experienced pool of freelancers to assist with our clients’ content needs. Although we’ve grown our business considerably over the last two and a half years since transitioning to an agency model, we’ve simply scaled our freelancer pool to keep up with demand.

But now, no matter how many freelance writers we work with, we feel our bandwidth stretched thin. While we’re staying on top of our client projects as always, we’re having trouble finding time to devote to our own internal projects and business development—the parts of the business that will help us stay innovative and ensure that we continue growing.

So we’ve decided it’s finally time to hire an employee, someone who can assist with the crucial role of managing day-to-day operations.

While we briefly rented an office space years ago, we’ve long since decided it didn’t make sense for our company. Our clients are all over the country and the world, and it didn’t make sense to us to spend thousands a month on a slick office space, and another $10,000 or more outfitting it with art and furnishings. We'd just have to raise our rates and pass those costs along to our clients. So we’re committed to remaining a remote, distributed team—our freelancers work from anywhere they choose, and while we’ll need more regular in-person interaction with our new employee, we plan on hiring someone who can do the majority of his or her work from a home office.

We placed a listing on our site and promoted it through our networks, and over the past few weeks, the applications have been coming in. Already, we’ve been surprised with what we’ve found—and what it’s made us realize about our business.

The position depends on the employee.

The job listing has attracted a diverse pool of talented applicants, each with their own sets of unique skills. As we read over each resume, we’re seeing different ways that applicants could fit into our company—one might serve as more of a project manager and administrator, based on his skills, while another seems like a candidate to serve as managing editor. Another has a fantastic background in sales and could assist with introducing our business to new clients.

To be honest, we’re open to letting the employee shape the role—we know the types of gaps we need to fill, and we need to find someone who can do the best job at serving as many of those needs as possible. (Or serving one or two of them really, really well.)

We need to create our own employee culture.

As a husband and wife team, we’ve had a fairly insular view of our business. We haven’t thought that much about what our company values are, as they’re no different from our personal values.

Now, as we get ready to bring someone else on board, we need to consider how we’ll behave as managers: How will we measure employee milestones? What will we do if we’re having a communication problem with a client? What’s the dress code for in-person meetings? (For the record, yoga pants are totally fine when it’s just us, though maybe not the best look for a client or prospect meeting.)

In this process, we’re looking towards other companies we admire, such as the social media platform Buffer, which has created a culture focused on transparency and self-improvement, despite being a distributed team. While we’re not planning to go as far as them and broadcast salaries to the Internet, we plan on sharing details of how much we pay ourselves and how much client revenue is coming in. Honesty is important to us, and we want our employee(s) to get a clear picture of how well our business is doing—and reward them over time for helping us grow.

We need to formalize our processes.

As with many small businesses, much of our business knowledge lives in our heads instead of on paper. Sure, I know which writers on our freelance team could pull off a quick turnaround blog post for a robotics company, but I haven’t done anything to make that knowledge available to anyone else. We’re realizing we need to come up with more defined systems for sharing knowledge internally and managing workflow, so our employee can get on track to work autonomously as quickly as possible.

Fortunately, we’ve recently moved to a project management system called Teamwork, which can help us keep track of who’s doing what, so it should be easy to integrate another person into that process—but there’s still a lot of knowledge that we’ll need to get down on paper. (Or a Google Doc, as the case may be.)

We’re learning how much we still need to learn.

While we’ve worked with freelancers for years, the intricacies of hiring an employee are still new to us. We’ve learned from Bright Umbrella founder Emily Lewis’ comprehensive series on hiring a remote employee, and recently spoke with an HR consultant. We’ve decided to stick with hiring an employee based in Maine, due to the tax complications of out-of-state hires (plus, it’s nice to get coffee together every now and then). We’ve found out that we need to issue a sexual harassment policy, provide our employee with signs about maintaining a safe work environment, and make sure that she or he takes a break from the computer every 4 hours.

It’s all a big change from the far less involved rules for working with freelancers, but we’re hoping it pays off—we want to find someone who’ll be with us for the long haul, and can help us grow the company to the next level. Hopefully, we’ll find that person in our stack of applications. If not, we’ll wait as long as it takes.

What did you learn in the process of hiring your first employee? We’d love to hear about it—share your thoughts in the comments.

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Kathryn Hawkins

Kathryn Hawkins is principal and chief content strategist of Eucalypt Media. She has worked as a freelance journalist for media publications and managed inbound marketing and content strategy for corporate and nonprofit clients for more than a decade.

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