Blog Business Teams and Hiring

How to Build an A-Player Team From Your Very First Hire

When we first started out, like most solopreneurs, it was just me and my wife, in our living room, with a $450 laptop.

Every evening, we’d put on a movie or find a TV show to watch and sit for hours stuffing envelopes, packing up DVDs, hand-writing shipping labels and getting all of our products ready to ship.

Then one of us would take these 4-5 postal crates full of stuff and wait in line, in front of some very annoyed customers, to ship everything out.

Sound familiar?

I still remember those early days of the business when it was just the two of us, building everything from scratch. And we managed to go from $0 to $25,000 per month all on our own.

Until 2011, when we realized that we needed help. It was time to hire our first full-time team member.

Since then we have grown to 18 full-time team members. And while scaling up my team, I learned a lot about how to find and hire A-players.

To build a sustainable business, you need a team.

Not only is it impossible, once you get to a certain level, to do everything yourself, but you really don’t want to. Ideally, you want to get to a point where you can be as minimally involved as possible, and the business will run itself because of the team you’ve put in place.

But if you’re just getting started, that first hire can seem pretty daunting.

Who to Hire First…and Why

Now what’s interesting is most people tend to think that their first hire should be a tech person, maybe a graphic designer, perhaps a copywriter. But for me, the first person I hired was an A-list assistant.

For most of us, there are a multitude of administrative tasks that take up a lot of time but don’t fall into just one category. Things like scheduling appointments, uploading things to WordPress, transcribing or reviewing audio files, etc. And all of these small tasks can add up over time. You shouldn’t be doing them.

When I hired my first assistant, it transformed my business, because overnight I was able to remove myself from all of those time-consuming administrative tasks, which enabled me to focus on my zone of genius.

Why Hire?

In fact, one of my biggest regrets is that I waited so long to hire an assistant, because my business could have grown so much faster if I had.

Now, as your business grows, you will obviously need to hire many different roles, but for many people, the most effective first hire is an A-list assistant.

Where to find these “A-Players”

Believe it or not, there are A-Players hiding in surprising places. I found my assistant Kimberly on Craigslist. And while it’s true that you’ll get all sorts of people who are struggling to find a job, who will apply for almost any position under the sun even if they’re not qualified…you CAN find amazing people, IF you know how to properly screen and find the A-players.

If you’re hiring for a more specialized role, a good place to start is asking for recommendations. There are posts all the time in my Next Level Group Mastermind from people asking for recommendations for a graphic designer, tech wizard, copywriter, and more. If you can get recommendations, go for them. But just because someone comes recommended doesn’t mean you should neglect a solid hiring process, what I like to call…

The Hurdle-a-thon Process

I am so grateful to have a team of A-players who are committed to the business and what we’re building. And that didn’t happen by accident.

Every team member I hire has to pass what I call the “Hurdle-a-thon.”

I first learned about this strategy from Noah Kagan (of Appsumo fame) and Neville Medhora. Since then, after some adaptations and much trial and error, it’s evolved into the process below:

There are three main elements to this process:

  1. The Typing Test
  2. The Multi-step Assignment
  3. The Deadline Test

I’d like to break down each of these elements in detail so that you can apply them to your own hiring process.

Hurdle #1: The Typing Test

The Hurdle: Go to a specific website that calculates online typing speed and take the typing speed test found there. I give them a link and the instructions are simple: paste the URL for your typing speed results in the space below.

The Why: This seemingly simple assignment allows me to have an objective measurement of ability for all of the applicants. I’m also testing how well someone can follow directions, since I ask them to post a LINK to their results. If someone posts “79 WPM,” I know they haven’t followed the instructions to the letter. I’m specifically asking for someone to type in the URL with the screenshot of their results from this specific test.

Now assuming they have passed that first hurdle and they’ve actually done it correctly, I will review the results. If their typing speed is slow, generally that’s a leading indicator that their work pace is also slow. If someone types 40 words a minute, it tells me that they might not be able to keep up with the pace at which our company moves.

But what I’m most interested in is the combination of someone’s score and the number of mistakes they’ve made. I know that if someone types 65 WPM with 4 mistakes, they took the test ONCE. But if someone has 90 WPM and no mistakes, I know they took the test 5 or 6 or 7 times, to give me their absolute best result. And that’s the kind of person I’m looking for. I am looking for someone who never settles for anything less than the best, that has high expectations of themselves.

Now, these 3 things tell me a lot about a potential candidate, just from one simple test. And once I’ve narrowed down the field with the typing test, along comes the next hurdle:

Hurdle #2: The Multi-Step Assignment

The Hurdle: This hurdle has multiple steps:

  1. Download a video from a link.
  2. Upload the video to YouTube
  3. Create a new WordPress post on any blog
  4. Title the post “Ryan Video”
  5. Write a 100 word blog post summarizing the video
  6. Insert the YouTube Video into the post
  7. Copy the URL and paste it in the space below in the application.

The Why: I want to know if someone can do the type of work that I’m doing. Can they follow directions exactly? That shows me that they’re less likely to make sloppy mistakes (“Ryan Video” not “Ryan’s Video”). Can they interpret what I’m saying, summarize it, and then write a blog post? That shows me the level of their thinking and writing ability.

Many of the people that I’m targeting will have never done this kind of task before, so I’m also checking their ability to think on their feet and do the research needed to figure something out on their own.

And once they’ve passed this hurdle successfully, I turn the screws and add some extra pressure with…

Hurdle #3: The Deadline Fax Test

The Hurdle: Hand-write a response to a given question and fax it within 24 hours.

Here’s the question: “I’m looking for someone who’s hopefully going to be on my team for the next 5-10 years. What is it going to take for you to want to be in that kind of position?”

The Why: There are four main reasons I use this hurdle:

  1. It lets me see how well someone works under pressure with a tight deadline, and how they might cope with pressure and deadlines in my business.
  2. I specifically ask for a fax because it’s not something most people do every day, and not everyone has access to a fax machine. I want to see if they can they solve logistical problems under tight deadlines. Since our business exists mainly in the digital world, I want to see how well they can deal with the physical world outside the computer screen as well, whether it means running to Kinko’s or finding a friend with a fax machine.
  3. You can tell a lot about a person by their handwriting. That’s why I ask for a handwritten response, so that I can do an analysis and learn more about them.
  4. The question itself will give me a lot of insight to the kind of salary and job expectations the person has. If what they’re expecting is completely unaligned with what I can offer, I’ll also know that right up front.

The “Hurdle-A-Thon” Process

Yes, it’s a lot of hoops to jump through. And that’s a good thing. Because you don’t really want to interview 100 candidates for a position. By the time you get to a face-to-face or a phone interview, you want to have the field narrowed down to 2-3 top candidates. Believe me, it’s worth it.

And once you start using this process, or some version of it, when you hire team members, you’ll know that the people that you do interview are the top 5% that really want to work with you (otherwise they wouldn’t have passed the hurdles!)

I’d love to hear from you about where you are in the process. If you have a team, what’s the most challenging part about hiring new team members? Do you use a “hurdle-a-thon? What’s the biggest lesson from this post that you’d like to implement? And if you don’t have a team yet, what’s your biggest takeaway for when you do decide to hire? Leave a comment below and let me know!

Peace out,