The Guide to Growing your Team


The purpose of this guide is to help you grow and scale your business by focusing on hiring the right employees and keeping them. We will work through four stages of the recruitment process and leave you with the resources to feel confident about finding the right people for your growing business.Goals:

  • Identify who to hire when growing your business
  • Mastering the hiring process
  • Developing the staff you’ve hired
  • Retaining the employees you’ve hired

Who to Hire When Growing Your Business

One of the most challenging things about being an entrepreneur is knowing how to grow your business – when to pull the trigger on adding people to your team and how to go about doing that.There is the risk that comes with adding payroll costs when you don’t know if the individual will pay for themselves, along with the fear of having to let someone go if things don’t work out.When building out a Distributor business, there are some natural points in time when adding staff makes sense:
  • You have more opportunities than you can handle
  • You need to free yourself up from administration to build sales
Hiring Support RolesThere are two roles that can help solve administrative burdens and workload problems:
  • An Account Coordinator who can help with sourcing, quoting and liaising with existing clients so you can focus on building relationships and bringing in new business
  • A Production Coordinator who can manage all general administration needs as well as all supplier touch points after purchase orders are created to make sure production goes smoothly
  • Bookkeeping/Accounting who can handle all customer invoicing and accounts receivable as well as receiving vendor bills and accounts payable
These roles quickly pay for themselves if you are able to leverage the time for you or your team to be able to sell more. Do some simple math – if one of these roles costs approximately $50K including benefits, vacation etc., then all you need to be able to bring in is an additional $10K/mth in sales. The hiring of any of these roles should easily be able to free up enough time to achieve that.Building and Scaling a Sales TeamNow that you have a good model going – customers who buy what you’re selling and a brand with purpose – it’s time to scale the sales team.There are two approaches you can take to this:
  • Farmer model– take the Account Coordinator role you hired and when they’ve had a year or two experience, promote them to an Account Manager role where they can manage a portfolio of clients. This allows you to hive off from your portfolio some of the smaller accounts that have room to grow that you don’t have time for.  This frees you up to bring in more opportunities and results in solid organic growth from the existing client base.
  • Hunter Model – if what you need is more sales fast and you don’t have the patience to grow in a more organic fashion, you can bring in a Hunter who’s responsibility it is to bring in new business. This is a very different skillset from a Farmer, so be sure you are looking for the right thing.  
Hiring a Hunter in the promotional industry is difficult – hiring from another Distributor rarely works as they come to you with the baggage of how a different Distributor runs their business. If the other Distributor has done a good job of building their brand, their clients should want to stay with that brand, not follow the individual salesperson. If someone promises to bring a book of business to you, you should be skeptical about the success of retaining all of that revenue. It also sets up the potential that they will do the same thing to you one day.To help you have a better understanding of how these new roles will fit into your business and what they will be responsible for, we’ve developed a skills matrix you can view.

Mastering the Hiring Process

Hiring sounds easy, so why is it so hard to find the right person? Hiring failure usually happens as a result of one of 3 things:
  1. The wrong job description
  2. The wrong interviewing techniques
  3. The wrong onboarding process
So let’s talk about how to get these things right so you can avoid these potential pitfalls.
  1. The Job Description
When crafting a job description, be clear on what the skills are the person needs to be successful. Identify what skills are non-negotiable and what are things you can teach with the right attitude.The biggest mistake we see is people making roles too general.  If the job is too broad, it is not as clear what the specific skills are the person needs to be successful. For example, if you are hiring a Production and Administration role, the person needs to thrive off working a check list and derive satisfaction from that. They don’t mind working in an environment where their interaction is primarily virtual, so be sure not to hire a major extrovert who gets their energy from face-to-face interaction like a sales person does. Craft the description carefully so you attract the right kind of person. Lastly, remember that a job description is also a sales pitch for why a candidate would want to work for you, so be sure to include in there why your company is great.
  1. The Interview
Before you even determine to interview a candidate, save yourself some time by doing an initial assessment as to whether they will be worth interviewing. There are great tools out there like ClearFit that ask a questionnaire upfront which scores the candidate’s appropriateness for the role. Or create a simple questionnaire yourself and send it to candidates to complete. (View our sample questionnaire)Once you have narrowed down the pool and made sure you are bringing in the right candidates, prepare the right questions in advance. The reason why many interviews fail to assess whether the person is right for the job is because the interviewer asks rote, predictable questions that the interviewee has prepared for. In addition, they are often questions that don’t really get to the skills the person will need for the job.If you’re hiring a sales person, be sure to include in the interview process an opportunity for the person to sell you something. If you are interviewing for an administrative role, ask for examples of how they have maintained order in chaos in previous roles, or demonstrated resourcefulness. After they have given you an example, ask for another one so you can get beyond a pat answer.
  1. The Onboarding Process
You’ve successfully hired the right person and now it’s time to onboard them. Too many small businesses throw people into the fire and assume they will just learn on the job. Not only does this not set the person up for success, but it creates the risk they will leave. A new employee makes a decision in the first 6 weeks whether or not they are going to stay with a company, so that initial time period is critical to ensuring they want to stay.No matter how small you are, set up a formal training schedule for the first week of them starting. Create a manual they can refer to, even if that manual is only a page or two, it helps document process and gets you thinking about how to transfer knowledge that is in your head. Check in regularly to see how they’re doing and identify gaps where your training may have missed.

Developing the Staff You’ve Hired

Now that you’ve successfully brought on new team members, how do you make sure they continue to learn and grow so that they stay continually engaged and develop professionally? Most small businesses have limited resources to dedicate to training and professional development, so the key is to able to take advantage of publicly available options. Regardless of role, there are a myriad of free resources available we have outlined below.A few industry specific ones are education sessions at PPAI Expo and Regional Tradeshows, ongoing webinars delivered throughout the year, and podcasts and blogs through PromoKitchen. You can also subscribe to the commonsku blog to receive educational resources for the promotional products industry.For those in sales roles, there is an endless variety of blogs and curated newsletters on the subject. A few favorites are:Eyes on Sales BrandivateThe Sales BlogFor marketers, content abounds in areas such as:Marketing ProfsHubspot Marketing BlogQuintain MarketingLastly, if you are looking to develop a manager, listen to the Manager Tools podcasts, and check out books like Daniel Pink's Drive.A heavily underutilized tool in the development of your team is pairing them up with a mentor they can learn from. This could be someone in your local network outside the industry, or leverage a program like Promo Kitchen’s Mentoring Program to pair them up with someone who has previously done their role in the industry.Another great way to ensure their success with your company and in the industry is to encourage them to join a promo products social group or network, like commonsku's free community. It's a fun and easy way for them to interact with promotional products professionals to share best practices, find great products, build closer relationships with suppliers, and learn from industry experts and peers.Regardless of the tools used, make sure when developing the staff you've hired to take an approach of continuous learning to keep your team engaged and growing.

Retaining the Employees You’ve Hired

Employee turnover is one of the most painful and costly aspects of running a small business. Every time someone walks out the door you not only lose all the training and experience invested, but you can also incur soft costs upwards of 150% of the annual salary of that role. That is time and money you can’t afford to lose. So let’s avoid that by following the 3 steps below to help make sure that amazing hire sticks with you.
  1.  Create clear expectations of what success looks and how it is measured
We’ve written a whole other post on metrics which speaks to sales metrics and business management, but sometimes the metrics are not always sales numbers. In a production role, it could be orders shipped on time, in an accounting role it could be a percentage of receivables under 60 days, in a marketing role it could be customer engagement. The metrics are specific to the role, but the important thing is taking time to define them. There is nothing that sets a new employee up for failure more than not knowing what they are being measured on.
  1.  Provide regular feedback that is both positive and constructive
Employees thrive on regular feedback – everyone loves a pat on the back. Ensure there are times where you give only positive feedback – notice the little things and highlight them so the person knows what they are doing well. When you do need to give constructive feedback, focus on what they should be doing rather than focus on what they are not doing. For example, rather than saying “you are not responding to customer’s requests quickly enough”, instead say “my expectation is that you respond to customers within x hours of a request coming in”.Feedback should happen naturally and spontaneously throughout the year. But it’s a good idea to do a formal review once a year so you can sit down and talk about what they can be working on to grow. It’s a good idea to do what is called a 360 degree feedback. This involves getting input from the people the employee works with so you can give a balanced perspective in the review.
  1.  Frequently review development goals
In a formal review, define what is required for the individual to progress to the next level, what a realistic time frame is for that, and what the plan is to support them getting there. Frequent feedback throughout the year should refer back to that plan and how they are progressing towards it.Bottom line when retaining the employees you’ve hired: over-communicate with both the new hire as well as existing team members. Spell out what success looks like and give them frequent feedback on how they’re doing. Here is a sample of a 360 feedback form.


Now that you have the knowledge and tools to help you hire, develop and retain the right employees to grow your business, you can focus on streamlining your business processes. Here are some ways commonsku can help:
  • Our Guide to Creating a Modern Office which focuses on modernizing your promotional products business
  • Our blog is full of business resources, sales and marketing tips and industry updates
  • Request a demo of commonsku’s business management software to help you save time, sell more, and simplify your processes