I currently own three small businesses, have three full-time employees between them, and manage an additional 14 independent contractors -- my associate photographers for MJP, album designers for Align, and photo booth attendants for Rendezbooth. It's a lot, but I didn't get to this point overnight. I started small by hiring my first part-time office assistant in 2005, just one year after I had gone full time in my photography business. Jamie was the first of 7 office managers I have hired and trained for MJP since then, so I've had a good bit of experience searching for employees who are the right fit and I've learned A TON along the way. Since I know so many creatives with home businesses struggle in this area, I thought I'd share some of what I've learned and a few tips for finding the right Office Manager for your at home business.

1 -- Define what you are looking for.
This might seem obvious, but defining what you're looking for in an employee is critical, and goes deeper than education and work experience. For me, I've found it important to look for someone with specific character and intent over someone with specific experience and knowledge. I can teach someone with a creative eye how to color correct in Lightroom, but I can't teach work ethic and loyalty. A person of character is worth their weight in gold. And I also know that for me, it is very valuable to find someone who does not have ambitions to become an entrepreneur and is happy to work with me for the long-term. I don't want to be looking for and training a new office manager every year, so I always look for someone who is more settled in their life and isn't viewing the opportunity I'm providing them as a step to get where they REALLY want to be. For me this has been the most important, yet trickiest part of finding someone who is a good fit.

2 -- Share what you are looking for.
For us creatives, the biggest conundrum in an employee search is that our network is highly saturated with those who are either doing, or want to be doing what we do. It's not that hard to find someone who wants to learn from us and see the behind-the-scenes of our business. The problem is finding someone who isn't just going to up and leave with their newfound knowledge and skills to start their own endeavor. For this reason, it isn't that helpful to share a job opening through our social media channels. When we do, we'll likely get many eager applicants who are all wrong for the job. To avoid this pitfall, I make sure to explicitly state on the job description that I am NOT looking for a photographer or someone who has aspirations to start their own business. I'm happy to coach people who fall into this camp, but they are not a good fit as an employee.

As for where to post a job opening, I've had some luck posting to my personal Facebook page. You never know who might be looking for work, or which of your friends may know someone who is. But the best results I've found are from simply sharing what I am looking for with everyone I meet with or come in contact with (peers outside the industry have been particularly helpful). Referrals from people I know have yielded much better results than posting to job sites and sifting through endless resumes. This, combined with keeping my ears open and praying for God to bring me the right person have led me to the right fit numerous times.

3 -- Do an interview AND a trial period.
You can only find out so much from an interview. Ask lots of meaningful questions to find out where the applicant is in their life journey and how they see this position fitting into it. Make sure you like them. Learn about their communication style and how they typically resolve conflict. And then if you feel comfortable moving forward, talk with them about doing a 2-4 week paid trial. This trial period is two-sided. It is not only a chance for you to see how they pick up on training and how quickly they take to new skills, but it allows them to see what working for you would be like and if it's something they want to do long-term. If you both go into the trial period knowing it's ok to back out in the end, you have a much better chance of finding a right fit. And making sure the job is a good fit for them is JUST as critical as it is for making sure they're a good fit for your business. If it doesn't fit in their life long-term, you're going to find yourself right back at square one looking for a new office manager sooner than you'd like. When I was hiring my current Office Manager over two years ago, I went through three trial periods with three other applicants who didn't work out for various reasons before I found Alaine. This process was lengthy and somewhat frustrating, but I'm SO glad I stuck it out and took my time to find the right person because the last two years have been headache-free and so productive.

4 -- Ask for a verbal agreement.
When you reach the end of the trial period, have an intentional conversation with the applicant to make sure you both feel good about moving forward. If you do, ask your new employee for a verbal agreement that they will be willing to stay on in the position for at least two years. I am actually very up front with this requirement when I meet with potential applicants, even before the trial period. Since I will be investing a healthy amount of training in them, it is important to me that they stick around long enough to make that investment worthwhile. It just isn't effective for me to be training a new person every year. At the end of the trial period, an applicant should have a good enough idea of the culture of the work place and what they can expect from the job to be able to make a verbal commitment of this kind. Obviously, life is not predictable, so unforeseen circumstances such as a move out of state, or change in their family make-up could cause them to be unable to keep this commitment, but the idea is to make sure that they plan to stick around barring any of these unforeseen circumstances.

Many solo entrepreneurs I know are scared to bring someone on and to have the added responsibility of paying them. And this is completely understandable. I have felt that fear a number of times in my journey. But the best thing you can do is to start slow, then grow. Start by bringing someone on part-time to do the one or two tasks that are the most trainable and suck the most time out of your life. Then add additional duties over time. As your employee's responsibilities increase, raise their pay. Grow into it over time.

I remember six years ago when I made the leap to bringing my part-time office manager on full-time. It was SCARY. But I looked at my goals and identified five big things I wanted to accomplish. I figured I could do one or two of them that year at the rate I was going. Once I brought my office manager up to full-time, I was able to get all five goals accomplished within a few months, and a number of them added additional streams of income. That's how you grow. You take the leap sooner than you might think you're ready, and you harness "the fear" to make sure you are doing the things that you need to do in your business to grow the bottom line. It's always going to be scary to bring someone else on and pay a salary, but it's necessary for growth. The idea is that you can pay them $10/15/20 per hour and you can go make $50 or $100 per hour. Make sure you are delegating definable and trainable tasks increasingly over time, and then spend your time doing the things only you can do with a focus on creating new income. (Click here to read about the 20 things I outsource, and to see a list of tasks that my current office manager covers.)

I hope you found this post helpful! Guys -- you can do this!! When I was starting out I never would have imagined that I'd be where I'm at today, managing the teams I have. I feel SO blessed to have such incredible people working with me ... and I've found each one using the steps I've shared with you above. My journey has not been without mistakes and losses. I've had many. But thankfully they have served to help me learn and grow along this crazy, challenging, exhilarating journey. I hope the lessons I've learned help YOU, as well!

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How to Find the Right Office Manager for your At Home Business
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