We have Amy Gabriel of Lippy Clip back with us again today. She just has so much wisdom to share with us! Today we are going to talk about the ins and outs of hiring help in our business. If you’ve ever hired even a virtual assistant for a small job, then you know how challenging it can be to lead another person. For me personally, it’s one of the hardest parts of being a business owner.
Press play on the podcast player below to listen to the full interview.
Growing Her Business One Hire at a Time
When Amy started her business, she was running everything herself with a little help from her husband when he wasn’t busy with school. She never intended to have a team but sales were going so well with her business that she just couldn’t keep up with everything.
“I texted a friend one day and I said, ‘Do you know anybody who might be looking for some simple part-time work?’ She said, ‘Yes, my sister-in-law is looking for work.’ She had just had a baby but was looking for a way just to make a little extra money. That was my very first hire. She came with a recommendation of a good friend and she still works for us today, actually.
“When she first came, she would come over and help me package up products. Just to have someone to step in and do those simple, repetitive tasks was a huge help. It helped me so much just to know that I didn't have that particular task looming over me that day. I knew I could hand that off completely and fully to her and she still works for us today.
“So it started with her and then in 2015, I hired my first seamstress. That was a big jump for me. I was really scared to teach anybody how to sew the Libby clip and I was really nervous about bringing somebody else in. It's scary to share your baby! Just like when you're a new mom and you take your baby to daycare or you send your baby off to kindergarten for the first time, you're trusting someone else to take care of something that you've loved and nurtured for all this time and I kind of felt the same way about this. So it was a growing process for me but I hired our first seamstress in 2015 and she also still works for us today.
“She already knew how to sew. I now require all my seamstresses to be proficient and to provide their own equipment. So she was already a proficient seamstress and I just walked her through the steps of how we sew the Lippy Clips. She also still works for us today.
“It's been one person at a time, one hire at a time. When I hire someone new, I will sit with them and walk through the whole process. We talk a lot about the business. I help them understand why it's so important that every single Lippy Clip looks the same, that it's stitched in the right place, the same way that we all do it because it all needs to look identical. That's really important to me and I explain to them why that's important from a brand standpoint as well as from a customer satisfaction standpoint. I've been really, really blessed with all the women that I've been able to hire and that help us produce and package our products.”
Think About Which Tasks Will Grow Your Business and How To Strategically Delegate Some of Them
Sometimes handmade business owners feel like they are maxed out on orders because there are only so many products they can make in a given day so their business growth stops at that point. They're not realizing that you really can hire talented help to continue to make more of your products.
Even if your particular product is so specialized or artistic that no one else can make the actual product, you can still find help with packaging, product photos, social media, or shipping just to name a few.
Amy says, “Think about the things that are taking a lot of your time and things that you are doing repetitively and see how you could get help in those areas. For me that was sewing. I was spending a lot of time in those early days sewing and shipping and I knew that I could grow the business more and be more strategic with my time if I could train someone to help me with these repetitive tasks.
“So that's how I've balanced what I've chosen to hire out for and what I've chosen to keep on my own plate. I've looked at the whole spectrum of tasks that need to be accomplished in order for this business to run smoothly and figured out which ones can I assign to other people.”
Hire Under a Trial Period
It can be stressful to trust your business to other people. You want to know that they are meeting your standards and are a good fit for your business.
“When I hire people I tell them that they're on a 90-day trial. That gives me time to really evaluate the quality of their work, whether it's sewing or packaging, or whatever they're doing. It gives me time to give them feedback. It also gives them the freedom that if it's not a good fit for them, they can walk away in 90 days or less, and say this just didn't work out. And if it's not a good fit for me, I can say the same.
“The 90-day trial has really served us well. It's worked out with almost everybody that we've hired, but it has given us this little bit of breathing room and extra grace in that first 90 days to tweak things, to change things, and to freely accept constructive criticism. And that's been really, really beneficial to us.”
In addition to starting new hires under a 90-day trial period, Amy also gives them practice materials so they can refine their techniques and be sure they have mastered the process before they start working on actual products.
Amy wants her new hires to be successful and to be happy.
“Giving them the practice, giving them the freedom to have that 90-day window, helping them to know that this position is meant to be a blessing to their family is important. This is something that's supposed to bless their family with extra income and give them extra work. If it does that great, but if it's not a good fit for you, it's okay. We can walk away and still be friends; we can still be cordial. There's no hard feelings.”
I love that Amy does this. It can be so helpful to have a super clear trial period because I think, in a lot of cases, you can tell if it's going to be a good fit within those first couple of months. You're also setting the expectation from the beginning that this is going to be a learning process and you will be giving them feedback on things that will need improvement. That's really important when you have a business and you have a certain standard of performance that you expect.
What Amy Looks For When Hiring
Amy has been fortunate that most of her hires make it past the first ninety days happy to continue but sometimes it doesn’t work out.
“Usually, it's a mutual thing and most of the time, it doesn't have anything to do with the quality of work. They decided they just didn't like it because it was boring. I get it – it's not meant for everybody to sew the same thing over and over and over again. Some people don't like sitting at the sewing machine that long, or sometimes their children needed more than they thought they did at that time, and life circumstances just changed. So the majority of the time so far, it's been a pretty mutual decision. I’m grateful that it's been fairly easy for us to just come to terms with the fact that this wasn't gonna work out.
“When I do hire someone new, I usually look for people who are very self-motivated and who are looking for a little bit extra money to pay for different things, whether it's kids’ sports lessons, date nights with their husband, or a family vacation they want to go on. I'm looking for people who have motivation and goals because those are the women that I've found work the hardest, and learn the quickest. I pay per finished piece that's sellable. I find that the women who have those ongoing goals tied to their earnings are the women that have stuck with me the longest. They've realized what motivates them to keep going and they enjoy that extra income and the extra cushion in their budget. And I'm grateful for the products they produce.”
LippyClip currently employs nine team members – five of them are seamstresses and four of them do other things like package products, PR, or help with the organization of spreadsheets and things like that. All of them are 1099 contractors.
Amy sees her seamstresses about once a week when they drop off finished products and pick up more raw supplies. The other tasks are handled mostly via email so she rarely sees those people in person. Because Amy lives in a large city, she hasn’t had any trouble finding enough local help to sew her LippyClips. She also finds her seamstresses by word-of-mouth.
“Right now we have a waiting list of people. If we grow more, and I need to hire another seamstress, I already have a list of two or three names that are local here just because they've heard about us from our current seamstresses.”
(My interview with Shunta Grant talks a lot more about the process of finding and hiring people outside your local area to sew products so if that’s your situation, you should go check out Episode 202!)
Amy recommends thinking about your next hire as far in advance as possible.
“When you start building a team, you should think ‘What's my next hire?” I always try to anticipate what my next hire will be and start thinking about who that's going to be before I need them. So I knew for three or four months before I hired our most recent seamstress, I knew I was going to ask this particular woman who had been recommended. I don't ever want to hire someone and then have to back out of it because of low sales volume on my end. I always want to be sure that we're ready for it but I also always want to anticipate what are we going to need next.”
Tips For Keeping Your Team Members Motivated
We want to be sure our team members feel appreciated and motivated to continue to work hard for us.
“When I get a new person on my team I send them a Google form that I made called Team LippyClip Favorite Things. It just asks them simple things like When's your birthday? What are your favorite colors? What's your favorite restaurant, and just various things like that. So when we hit a big sales goal, or it's their birthday, or just because I want to do something special, I pull up that list, and I get them something from their list that's their favorite. It feels good to honor them with something I know they’ll like. This is just another example of anticipating something I’m going to need before I need it.”
Amy also has an annual family barbeque at her house with the team members and their families which is a nice way to hang out together outside of work.
Another perk of the job that Amy offers is LippyClips to share. If a seamstress comes across a particular pattern that would be perfect for a friend or family member, Amy lets them keep it. She won’t pay them to sew it since they’re giving it away but she’ll let them use the materials free of charge. At Christmas time she also allows her employees to buy LippyClips at wholesale pricing to give as gifts.
“When I first got married, my husband worked at Starbucks. I don't know if this is still true, because this was 15 years ago, but every time he would work a shift, he got a free drink. He could make whatever drink he wanted. He made it and he got to drink it. And I always thought that was so cool because they want their employees to love their product. And I want the people who sew for me and the people who work for me to love the LippyClip. I want them to be our biggest cheerleaders. Why wouldn't they give a LippyClip to their friend or their family member that they need to get a git for? It should be their first go-to. So I want to always encourage and instill in them a mentality that yes, this needs to be your number one go-to not just because you work for me, but because it's awesome. And because it's a great gift idea. And because I want you to love it as much as I do.”
Hiring Can Help Your Business But It Brings Other Challenges Too
Finding help with the day-to-day tasks in your business is great! You are able to scale up your business while also focusing more on the tasks that only you can do. Hiring also brings a few challenges that you may not expect.
Amy says, “I enjoy what I do now and I could not do this business without my team members. That being said, it is very challenging mentally, from a logistical standpoint, to keep up with the daily logistics of each team member. I have to keep up with who has what and I have to keep up with making sure they all got paid. Keeping track of all of those little things times nine people is a lot. I did not anticipate these mental challenges before I hired.”
Amy’s best advice to help with this? Hire slowly!
“We did not go from one to nine overnight by any means, because that would be so exhausting. So I've been able to slowly ramp up to our current level. It's okay now, but there are still times when I have to write everything down just because it's so much to remember.
“Before I started this business I was a pediatric nurse and I was actually the manager of an office. I look back on that time in my life and I'm so grateful for that because I had to learn how to lead a team of people there. It was obviously a very different environment but those leadership skills in that corporate work environment have carried over so much to this- more than I ever imagined. I had no idea when I was working as a nurse and leading that office that I would use those skills one day in my own business.”
It's always interesting to see how past experiences have shaped us as we grow our business today, don’t you think?
Amy says, “I never knew that I would even own a business. If you had told me 10 years ago when I was still a nurse that I would be doing this now and I would have a team bigger than I had at that office that I was leading then I don't know that I would have believed you. It's just been such a journey and such a stretching of my faith, but also my leadership skills and learning more and more about leadership and what does it take to be a good leader and a strong leader and a leader that people want to work for more than just the money?”
Tips for Training and Feedback For Your Team
This is an area I’m sure many of us struggle with. How do we patiently instruct the people we’ve hired? How do we give feedback when mistakes are made while preserving the relationship?
“I've always tried to remember that that if people can understand why they’re doing it then they're much more likely to comply. As an example of this, I'm just going to make up a situation. So I’ll explain why this LippyClip needs to be sewn with this type of needle… Well, it's because this particular material is not forgiving and if you puncture it with a needle that's bigger than needed, it's going to leave a big hole. If it leaves a big hole then the thread’s more likely to rip out and if the thread rips out then the customer’s lip balm falls out. So that's why it has to be sewn with that needle.
“If I take the time to explain all those steps, instead of just barking orders and saying ‘It has to be a smaller needle’, I find that the compliance and the understanding and their ability to remember to change to that smaller needle again and again when they have to sew that design is so much better. Giving them the reasons behind the decisions and helping them understand that eventually this LippyClip that they're sewing is going to go in a box, to a customer's mailbox. They're going to walk out to that mailbox and they're going to open something that they paid good money for and it needs to be amazing. It needs to be perfect. It needs to wow them. And if we can't do that, then we don't need to sell that one.”
When a team member is struggling to follow directions correctly, Amy has a few questions she asks herself.
“How have I not made this clear? What do I need to explain to them more so that their willingness to adjust and to do this better is going to be 100%? How do I need to get them more invested in this change or this this task that I want them to change or to adjust to make the product better?”
Did you catch that? What a mindset shift! Instead of asking how to make someone listen, we should flip the script back to ourselves to ask ourselves “How can I communicate differently? How can I show up differently? How can I make this more clear?”
Time Tracking Can Help You See When to Hire
Time management is a struggle for a lot of business-owning moms and Amy has found time tracking to be helpful. She uses Timeular which is a cube that sits on her desk and tracks how much time she spends on different tasks. When she changes task categories, she just flips the cube. Then at the end of the day, week, month, or whenever you want to check it, you can see how your work time is broken down. For example, are you spending too much time on things that aren’t really earning much money?
“I always want to make sure that I'm maximizing my time and using my time to be the most profitable, especially while my kids are at school, because those are my quiet work hours. So this little cute Timeular has helped me so much to stay on task and stay focused. If I know that this cube is tracking me, you better believe I'm gonna stay on task. It doesn't matter how many times my phone dings, I am not getting up and looking at it because my Timeular is tracking me. It’s just really helped me to be very accountable. So if you're looking for a good time management device to keep at your desk or near your phone, I highly recommend this one.”
Time tracking is helpful not just for tracking your time spent working but also helps you see areas that hiring could be helpful.
“It's been really insightful for me to see, this is where I'm spending a lot of my time. When it comes to hiring a team, it helps me see that I'm spending a lot of time doing this one task. Is this something I could teach someone else to do or is this something that only I should continue to do? So it's also really helpful when you're thinking bigger picture.
“I would say if you're not familiar at all with time blocking, I would read one of the books first, just to get familiar with time blocking and time management concepts. But this tool is really good.once you've got that idea in your head. It’s great for implementation.”
So many great insights from Amy about how to successfully hire team members to grow your business! Did you have a favorite tip?