5 Signs It's Time To Hire

Last Updated Jan 26, 2011 8:22 AM EST

The economy is recovering and a new survey of businesses finds that 42 percent plan to hire in the next six months. But many employers are still gun-shy about adding headcount. When is it time to hire? Here are a few signs:
  1. Sales are growing like crazy. Seems obvious, but sometimes business is so good that you have to hire to catch up. New York City-based ZocDoc.com, an online service for scheduling doctor appointments, has been entering new cities and now has 250,000 patients scheduling appointments each month. This requires people. Lots of people. "Every single person at ZocDoc could have a team of three people supporting them,” says CEO Cyrus Massoumi. "That's how busy we are.” So they're basically hiring "every single good person who comes to us. We literally just stockpile them because we'll need them soon.”
  2. You're deep in the weeds. It's a Catch-22. When you start a business, you have to do everything. But the business won't grow if you keep doing everything. Rich Arzaga of California-based Cornerstone Wealth Management realized he was spending 80% of his time on operational work, and very little on "what I enjoy doing most and do best.” He ran the numbers and decided that if he spent a few hours a week finding new clients, he could pay the salary of an operations person. Likewise, Stephanie Scott Harbour, who runs the New York office of Mom Corps, a job placement service, looked at her time and realized "there were not enough hours in the day to get everything done that needed to get done to propel the business forward.” So she asked what she could outsource, and wound up hiring both administrative and recruitment help.
  3. Your people are swamped. Mike Silverman runs Pacific Technologies, an IT consultancy that works with the public sector. "We manage our workloads very closely,” he says. His professional staff shoots for a 44-hour workweek, with roughly 65-70% utilization. When this starts creeping up over 80%, "then they're working 50 hour weeks, and it's time to hire somebody, because we're making a lot of money, but they're not very happy.”
  4. Your people don't have the skills. This is a tricky one. Just because you're entering a new business area or are launching a new product doesn't mean you have to hire. Lynn Fernbaugh, a human resource manager for Your People Professionals, a California-based professional employer organization, advises small businesses. She's been seeing "A more conservative approach to bringing on new people,” she says, with employers asking if they can fill a gap with technology or by streamlining lower-value work so existing employees can take on stretch assignments. She tells people to ask "Job descriptions aside, what are the skills that we already have on board?” But sometimes you just can't fill a gap with the people you have. And so you need to find someone new.
  5. You smell opportunity. Sometimes it's smart to go against the crowd. Dave Lassman is the VP of operations at Leed's, a Pittsburgh-area company which makes promotional products (think conference swag). During the recession, "we looked at our market, at our competitors, and said we have some opportunity to take some market share,” he says. So they hired people in product development while everyone else was doing layoffs. As a result, during the recovery, sales have been "higher than we expected and more than the industry average.”
Hiring is always a leap of faith. But from conversations with business owners and department managers, I can also say this: it feels awesome to create opportunities for people who will then make money for you.

"It's absolutely amazing,” says Jess Brondo, who owns The Edge, an educational consulting company. After doing most of the back office work herself for years, she finally hired an office manager who's been doing "such a great job. It's really been a great lesson. When you give someone the tools and train them properly on what works for you, they can do just as good a job as you,” she says. Plus, she's "giving me the time to focus on other things.”

When have you decided it's time to grow?
Photo courtesy flickr user, betsyweber