Hiring Articles

Ultimate Hiring Guide for Interior Design Firms

Ultimate Hiring Guide for Interior Design Firms

To successfully grow your business you need to build a strong team. And yet often designers have trouble letting go of full control and question the need for a team.

What would your life be like if your business kept growing, your profits increased, and you were to delegate some of what is currently on your plate so that you didn’t work such long days, on weekends, and you could focus on the parts of the business you really enjoy? That’s why hiring is important and necessary.

Why You Should Hire: Hiring Will Save You Money

There are only 24 hours in a day. When you begin to build a team you will find that your revenue will increase because your business will have more “hours” available with additional people to get the work done and consequently be able to grow your bottom line.

How is that possible? How can you make more money when you’re paying someone a salary? It’s because an employee is an investment. An investment that will pay huge dividends! You shouldn’t hire a new employee if their work won’t result in more profit. Taking tasks off of your plate is a great way to make more profit. If you can pay someone less than your own billable rate to do things you don’t need to do, may not want to do, and may not do well, it makes sense to grow your team. You can spend more of your time on revenue-generating projects rather than bookkeeping, sales, or other tasks that owners and senior designers shouldn’t be focusing on.

Once you realize the benefits of building a team, take time to write down the tasks you do every day. And for each task, ask:

  • Do I like doing that?
  • Am I the best person to do this?
  • Is there someone I could hire to do this?
  • Can I outsource this?

If you have 5+ things on that list then you definitely need to hire someone to take over some of those tasks.

How to Know When to Hire

Balancing the right number of staff can be tricky. Not enough staff and you could be losing out on additional revenues and profits. Too many staff and you erode the bottom line. While there is no magic formula for when to add staff, there are some basic benchmarks you can use to determine when it’s to your benefit to hire.

How is your time being allocated?

When business starts to pick up, you may find you are suddenly spending a lot of time on fairly routine tasks rather than on the things that really matter, like developing new business, managing clients and racking up billable hours. Consider how much your time is worth in sales and billable hours versus the cost of adding staff to handle those routine tasks. If the scale is leaning toward the value of your time (and maybe your sanity), you should add staff.

How much business are you losing?

It’s easy to fall into the trap of confusing being busy with being profitable. If you had another person on staff, how many more projects could you take on, how many more hours could you bill, or how much more product could you sell? Sometimes in the long run the cost of not hiring someone far outweighs the cost of adding staff. If you find yourself saying “no” to new projects because you don’t have enough time, it may be time to hire a new team member.

Are you facing a crunch or experiencing growth?

Admittedly, this one can be difficult to assess, especially if business has been slow for some time. If you are seeing a seasonal surge in demand, you are probably better off outsourcing some tasks, engaging freelance contractors, using temp labor, or taking on an intern. Even if the cost is somewhat higher in the short term, it may be worthwhile. On the other hand, if you have been working on growing your business and are starting to see the fruits of your efforts, now may be a good time to add staff so that you can get them up to speed and not lose momentum when you need to put your foot on the gas pedal.

Some additional things to consider are:

  • The strength of the local economy
  • The strength of the local real estate market
  • The outlook for your potential clients’ financial prospects and job security
  • Employment rates
  • Stock market performance
  • Interest rates
  • Mortgage rates
  • Inflation rates

If the forecast is positive, you probably want to add staff now, before you get overwhelmed and the cost of hiring increases.

Is there too much work to be done?

Are you or your current team regularly putting in overtime? Paying overtime can cost almost as much as hiring a new member of your team, and that’s just the financial cost. There is also a cost to the mental and physical health of your team. It can take its toll on the quality of the company’s work.

You may be attempting to delegate work to others, but if your team is already on overload, it should also be a red flag that you need to bring on additional team members.

Can you hire part-time?

Remember that you do not need to hire a full-time employee, but could hire someone part-time or an independent contractor. Post gigs on freelance websites like Upwork.com or Guru.com or check in your community. There may be stay-at-home parents who have great skills and would like a part-time job while their children are in school.

Before hiring that new staff member, take some time to review your business plan and budget. Adding staff involves some costs, in addition to increased payroll and benefits. You may need to adjust your cash flow projections to accommodate them.

Plus, you have to expect some disruption to your business while you conduct a search, interview and screen candidates and onboard the new employee. Depending on the type of position, the entire process can take weeks or even months. You want to try to time your hire in order to minimize the disruption as much as possible, both for your sake and that of the employee. Otherwise, you’ll get distracted and the employee will not be properly integrated into your business operations. This can cause problems down the road. An improperly timed hire can end up being worse than not hiring at all.

Hiring vs Outsourcing

It’s possible that instead of hiring a full-time employee, you will have better luck outsourcing a role to an agency or freelancer. This can be ideal for small but specific tasks that don’t require an intimate knowledge of the company. But it’s not ideal for everything.

Pros of Outsourcing

  • Reduced costs: The cost of living may be less outside of large metropolitan areas. So it can cost less to outsource to a remote contracted employee. You also save on certain employee-related costs such as benefits, equipment, and the space needed to give them a desk in your office.
  • Cost and efficiency: As your business expands there is an increase in the need for additional help. The type of things that you should not be doing and often do not require someone to be present in your office to do can be outsourced. In addition, if your business has some major peak periods, then outsourcing offers you the flexibility to add to your workforce temporarily as needed.
  • Expanded circle to find the right fit: You do not have to be limited by how far away the person lives if you outsource to a virtual employee.
  • Opportunity to find an expert at a specific task or tasks: This can give you the ability to feel like and be viewed as a much larger firm.
  • Practice for hiring: It’s an effective way to grow your firm without taking on so many more permanent employees and an excellent way to make the leap from solo practitioner to having one or more employees.

Pros of hiring:

  • Communication: When you are dealing with an in-house employee, there is body language to go along with verbal communication. This can help avoid misunderstandings immediately when giving instructions and setting expectations. Whether virtual or in-house the key is to keep the lines of communication open and clarify that what you said was understood.
  • In-house employees are working only for you during the time they are at work. If you outsource that may not be the case. Work can be done overnight or at odd hours, which may not work for your schedule.
  • It may be easier to synchronize schedules with in-house employees that have a set schedule.
  • Having in-house employees who fit the culture of your firm creates a sense of camaraderie and a team – a team who can be there when you are ill or are on vacation. This is still possible with a remote team but is more challenging.

Are You Ready to Hire?

When you decide it’s time to either start building your team or add to your existing team, make sure you do your homework! Be prepared not only for the search, but also for the onboarding once you have made the hire. It is worth the time spent as building a successful team will not only restore balance in your life but can also increase your bottom line. Remember, you are building a team for the long term. And the purpose of building a team is to create a successful business – don’t lose sight of this fact. Here are four important things to keep in mind before you hire:

1. Make Sure You Can Afford to Hire

Before adding to the team, be sure you can afford it. You should have a full pipeline and your cash flow and reserves should justify the additional investment. An employee is an investment, but they need to provide dividends within a reasonable time frame.

Then there are always questions about the order of hiring. You may be tempted to hire more designers first, but this isn’t always the best option. If you find that you spend too much of your time doing administrative tasks, you may want to hire an office assistant or an accountant instead! Find the most experienced person you can hire as it will be less expensive in the long run. If you hire an experienced person, their salary will be higher but you’ll spend less time training and needing to micromanage the new employee. They’ll save you money over time!

2. Have a Clear Job Description

You can’t start the search if you don’t know what you are looking for, so make sure to write a detailed and accurate job description. What are the tasks you or other members of your team should not be doing? Make a list and get input from your current team. Organize where the tasks fall in the segments of the business: sales, marketing, operations, design, etc. Then focus on what positions within those segments you need to hire to ease any pain points.

Include skills and experience you expect them to have in addition to listing all of the responsibilities of the job. Hire to balance the strengths and weaknesses of your current team (even if that is just you!), and define those blind spots that are mandatory to fix.

3. Define Your Culture

Be sure you have clearly defined your firm’s culture. It is one of your greatest assets, as well as the biggest make-or-break point for potential hires. Create your vision, set your goals, know what you want your firm to achieve and how you plan to get there. Then as you build a team that fits your culture they will be dedicated to helping you reach that vision – and growth will result.

Refer to your company culture when listing the job availability. This will often help to narrow the selection as candidates may eliminate themselves and you will instead attract candidates who share your values. Ensure this culture is specific and defined, rather than the cookie-cutter “we work hard and play hard”. Just as you do when searching for ideal clients, identify negotiables and non-negotiables.

Have a plan in place to find these candidates. Create a great ad for hiring that will stand out and attract interest. Also seriously consider referrals. Many positions are filled through networking so be sure to let people know you are searching, including your current team members. It’s likely that the people who are already entrenched in your culture will be able to identify others who would be a good fit.

4. Prepare to Actually Hire

Design a process for receiving applications, develop questions to ask and decide how you will make the decision on the final choice. Resumes will give you some basic information about skills but you want to ask questions that will go beyond that, as you can train for skills but not for attitude! Some types of questions you might include in the interview are “tell me how…” questions. Give them a scenario and see how they would handle it. And of course ask what questions they have for you.

Have a current offer letter ready so you can hire as soon as you’ve come to a decision. Finally, when you find that ideal new team member and are ready to offer them the position, be sure you have an onboarding and training plan in place including an employee manual with policies for your firm. You don’t want to lose that great new hire because you weren’t organized enough to convince them you value them as much as the clients you serve!

Attracting New Hires

When you’re hiring, you’re trying to find a good fit for your company culture and required skills. But a potential employee is also searching for a good cultural fit, a job that can fulfill them, and a position where they can either grow into a more senior role or learn enough to get a more senior role elsewhere. Therefore, it’s essential to offer attractive reasons for a potential hire to choose you over another firm, if you do extend a job offer.

Scrutinize your image

We’ve heard about employers using social media to research more about prospective employees, but now applicants are able to do the same to discover more about firms in which they are interested. Websites like Glassdoor have created a place where employees can offer reviews of their place of work, list positives and negatives, rate the head of the company, and average salaries are also listed. It’s been compared to Yelp! for those seeking employment. You might want to encourage current members of your team to post positive reviews stating why they enjoy being a part of your firm’s team if they are comfortable doing so.

Stand out from the crowd

Remember that yours is not the only firm trying to attract wonderful employees. Show that you value their time and work to collect as much information as possible in a short amount of time. Have a member of your team screen applicants in a “first round” to not only save your time but also that of the applicant. Using their resume as a starting point, ask questions to help expand on the information included on the resume. Use questions that will help you discover if the applicant will fit the needs of the job opening as well as the culture you have developed in your firm. Then use something like the Kolbe assessment index to help discover if the applicant is the best “fit” for the job opening. The result will also offer insights into how to leverage instinctive talents at work.

Offer value – not just a job

If all you offer is a job, then all you will get is an employee that only cares about clocking in and clocking out and doing the bare minimum. You want to hire someone who is passionate about your firm and will hopefully stay for a long time. You should provide value beyond just a paycheck, and you will receive the same. This can take the form of bonuses (which do not always need to be monetary), workplace perks like free food or drinks, or the possibility of advancement at the company. It also means providing new skills to employees so they can be more valuable to the company or another firm they choose to move to. And yes, they will be considering how marketable this position makes them for future career opportunities – that is just a reality of hiring these days.

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