How/When to hire your first marketing employee

I’ve heard it a million times. The growing small-company who decided it’s time to look like “a real company” therefore is thinking of hiring their first marketing employee. It usually goes two ways, either they hire a very seasoned Marketing VP type or a very Junior kid-right-out-of-school, yet the expectations are the same.

Because the general expectation is that this person will have to wear every possible hat in the Marketing world, including but not limited, to Online, Print, Strategy, PR, Packaging, Branding and PR; and all of this with no real metrics to measure it by, the poor bastard is pre-destined to fail. If you go the youngling route, you are being very unfair to the kid; yet if you go the senior route, you should be weary that he/she doesn’t realize you are setting them up for failure, which means they are senior in age but not necessarily in marketing/business experience.

By the time you decide to pull the plug (usually 6 months or so) on this new hire, you would have spent an average of $100,000 that you could have put back into the business, improve your product, or spread the wealth with those who are currently making the company grow. This is usually the best case scenario, since most will think it was the new hire’s fault, therefore will try their luck again and start a vicious cycle that will eat away your hard earned cash and sometimes grows to a full USELESS marketing department.

Here some advice on how to avoid this increasingly common Money Pit:

When to Hire?
Like with everything else in business, the time to make a change is when the need will be met, under the return of investment threshold. The problem with most growing companies is that they hire before the time is right. The NEED to grow the company calls for more marketing, and the natural reaction is to hire some sort of “marketing expert” (or at least more skilled than what the CEO/Owner thinks he/she is); that is the main mistake. The expense is never limited to the $100,000 you spend in salary, you will have the overhead of at least another $100,000, plus the budget assigned to his efforts (not always in your complete control). If that wasn’t enough, every hire tends to spend a few months (from 3 – 6) “getting up to speed”, so sadly you already spent at least $50,000 before you have a chance to realize you hired the wrong person.

Only when your services or products have reached a level or profitability where this person will bring over $30,000 a month in value you should consider hiring him. Even if you go with the Jr. route, this recent graduate needs to bring at least $10,000 a month in order to make sense.

So don’t confuse your need to grow financially with your desire to grow in numbers. That is a very common and costly mistake.

Who to hire?
I’ve been hired at the wrong time enough times to realize that there is perfect answer to this question. If you hire at the wrong time, no one will be the right fit. Keeping that in mind, you want to hire based on 2 criteria.

  1. He can do everything he needs done – This is a tricky one. Hire the Marketing VP kind and you will have someone that avoids rolling up his/her sleeves. Sometimes is pride, some other times is lack of knowledge. I have encountered too many Digital Marketing Executives that don’t know HTML, have no idea how Email Automation Works, can barely spell out SEO or SEM, and limit themselves to use the jargon when they feel it is appropriate. When you hire this guy, I can promise you, he will make the case to hire some more Jr. people to do those things he/she barely understands but read about in some blog (like this one).
  2. He matches your company’s view and culture – No, I don’t mean, he wears flannel and thick paste glasses; I mean, he has the same attitude about work that you do. If you are relaxed and base your business in social connections, a type A Engineer won’t work for you, if on the other hand you strive to be at the office by 6am and work till 9pm, the flannel kid won’t work either. There is no right or wrong, but you don’t need complimentary personalities, you need complementary skills.

How to know if it worked?
This is a lot easier than it sounds. You have 1 month, if at the end of that month, you have x amount in new pipeline (x being whatever goal you need to grow that year divided by 12), AND it is over the $50,000 or $10,000 respectively we discussed earlier…-wait, AND you get along with him/her (at least enough to work together), then you can pop open the champagne; You are a GREAT hiring manager. Everything and anything under this line will come filled with self-imposed excuses on why it will work next month, or the one after, how its not fair because he/she is a kid, etc. Make all the excuses you want, the problem is that now you can’t really get rid of them that easily and you are afraid of 1. Accepting it to yourself, and 2. Dealing the the process to fire some. I get it, it’s an awful thing to do; specially if they are a good person who need the job.

Hopefully this will give you a good idea to give your company a good look and decide if you are ready for your first marketing hire or if you should outsource some of that marketing to a local agency. If you just got funded and need to spend that money so the board doesn’t complain, go ahead and hire whomever you want, as long as you understand that you will be likely wasting that money for the first year or so. Some would say that is the price to pay for branding. If on the other hand you have to pay this hire from your own hard-earned cash, I would hold off a little longer until the value of your product can accommodate the investment of a permanent hire.

Of course by now you are thinking, “of course he would say that, he owns a marketing firm”, and though I am transparent enough to accept I would prefer you hiring my firm over anything else. Everything I have described here I’ve learned from my own experience in both sides of the equation. I have hired a marketing employee before the right time and I have been hired as a marketing executive at the wrong time. You don’t have to hire us, but I would still strongly advise you to consider a firm or some freelancers before you throw your money away if you are not ready.