Part 3 of the ‘What I’ve Learned in 10 Years of Running Sprint Education’ series. Read the previous lessons here:
Lesson #1: Sack a problem customer
Lesson #2: Don’t waste time & energy on the competition
Lesson #3: Hire staff that are people you already know.
I was told on multiple occasions by different people in business to never hire friends or family members, that they would take advantage of our relationship, cause arguments, tension, and generally not work well for the company resulting in broken relationships.
I appreciate that can be very true for some people/companies, but we decided to take a gamble and ignore this advice when it came to our hiring policy. We wanted to build Sprint Education around a talented team that were hard working and loyal, but also that we could trust and knew on a deeper level than just some words on an application.
It wasn’t long before we realised many of our friends and family members had the skills and qualities we were after, so why would we bother looking further afield? My girlfriend at the time (now wife) Jackie had experience managing start-ups across Europe, and was ideal for heading up our client facing team to grow the business. Guy’s girlfriend (and now wife) Jen was a talented HTML coder who would fit perfectly into our Technical Team, and Sophie our sister we head hunted from a leading email marketing software agency where she was a professional email marketing designer. It all made perfect sense.
The staff that we have hired externally are superb too, and are as equally valuable to the company. They bring their own vast skill sets and personalities which have helped shape Sprint Education. However, many people still believe it is risky to hire friends/family, so with 12 of our current 17 staff members made up of people we knew before Sprint existed, I want to dispel this myth, or at least share the lesson I have learned, in order to show you how you can make it work for your business.
But first here is a quick overview of just a few of our staff that we knew pre-Sprint.
Employee Hire Number: #1 of 17.
Relationship: Next door neighbour from childhood, I’ve known him since he was 2 years old.
Role: Broadcasting Manager.
Traits: Loyal and more dependable than Donald Trump’s hair spray.
Darren was our first hire back in 2009. Having known him most of our lives and knowing he was hardworking with a meticulous eye for detail, plus he had recently graduated from university and was looking for a job, Darren was the perfect hire. Since then he has set a superb example on many levels, including not having a single day off sick in over 8 years!
Employee Hire Number: #2 of 17.
Relationship: My Mother.
Role: Database Manager & Accounts.
Traits: Trustworthy with bucket loads of education experience and intelligence.
In 2010 our Mum was Head of Science at a local school, but she had become weary of the constant policy changes within schools that hindered the basic principles of teaching good science to kids. So we decided to offer her a way out of teaching which she grabbed with both hands. We knew that she would bring a wealth of experience and industry knowledge to the company, plus who else could we trust more to work well for us and our company than our own Mother? Importantly she has now become the noble voice of reason within the office and supports others in the team daily.
Employee Hire Number: #5 of 17.
Relationship: Old friend that stacked shelves at Morrisons with us as teenagers.
Role: Head of Content & Client Strategy.
Traits: Talented office comedian and all round nice guy that our clients love.
When I worked with John at Morrisons as a teenager we stacked shelves down the liquor aisle together. Here I would spend much of my time telling him how one day I would run my own business and when that day came I would hire him. He said he would be happy to join me, and being a man of simple pleasures he would only request a modest hourly wage.
18 years on and John has established himself as the industry’s leading voice on edu-marketing, but more importantly he is the guy I know I can trust with managing Sprint Education when I’m not around. Our relationship goes way back to the days when we straightened bottles of ale for a living, and I learnt even then how talented, funny and intelligent he was. Why wouldn’t I hire him! (Oh, just so you know, we do now pay him a little more than minimum wage!)
The key to hiring people you know and maintaining a happy private/work relationship with them is to work with them on the level that your relationship is based. I’ll always show my Mum that extra bit of respect, whilst I might have more banter with Stuart our Campaign Manager who was previously my roommate at university, or confide in Kelly our Head of Support who was my class-mate at school from the age of 11.
By hiring friends and family, Guy and I have never felt the need to lock ourselves away in our own fancy ‘Directors’ office, it means I still pick up many of the phone calls and patch the call through like a secretary, I’ll join in with coffee making (although not as much as I should), and take the dogs out for a toilet break, but most importantly it means it keeps me working on the front-line of the business. I still engage with clients daily, hear their feedback and monitor processes and our service’s efficiency/effectiveness.
Working with friends/family has helped Sprint Education grow whilst helping me to maintain the attitude and excitement of running a start-up business. Having a ‘small business mentality’ has been pivotal to growth, and I don’t believe this can come as naturally if all staff members are sourced through external job adverts.
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