How to identify who to hire to level up for growth

A startup’s hiring process is part of its brand. Get it wrong, and it can damage your brand. Get it right, and it can propel your growth.

Whether you hire internal talent or external support from freelancers or agencies, it’s hard to know how to identify the gaps that need filling before you have a strategy in place. But how do you create a strategy without the expertise on board to help first - what comes first?

Bad hiring practices in startups are, unfortunately, infamous. From hiring three roles under one job title, to putting candidates and freelancers through costly and time-consuming tests, startups can no longer use the fact they’re a bootstrapped startup as an excuse. Not only do they get a bad reputation in general, but the talented candidates they really need to hire actively avoid them. With talent acquisition and strategic marketing key to go-to-market and growth strategies, what’s going wrong, and how can they fix it?

When startups begin interviewing before they really know what they want, they inevitably waste time - theirs, the agencies or freelancers being interviewed - and often burn bridges. Getting freelancers to submit work for free because you haven’t figured out your hiring process is bad business. It looks like you’re trying to scrape work for free and you’ll quickly find yourself getting called out for it. In fact, this happened even more publicly with an American marketer, who publicly called out a brand for using their ideas from a pitch without hiring them for the work. The same company also came under fire in May 2019 after Manifest marketing boss Alex Myers tweeted that BrewDog had used their creative concept for Punk IPA but had not paid them for it.

Regardless of intent, perception matters. How a startup hires is often their first foray into public relations. How they hire has a direct impact on how they’re perceived.

The appearance of mining for ideas typically happens because the brand in question isn’t clear on what it is they really want or need; all they know is they need help. Using people’s ideas during an interview process to spark creativity isn’t just unethical, it’s bad planning. Brands rarely set out to steal ideas; instead, the brief is invariably fleshed out during the process, using candidates’ and prospective agencies’ ideas to steer the creative direction.

Similarly, startups are often known to advertise for a new role with a job description that encompasses three roles in one. However, rather than a nefarious attempt to squeeze as much value as possible out of an employee, this arises due to a lack of understanding of the role itself and is indicative of not understanding the priorities within that sector. But again, founders face a catch 22. They’re not an expert in the subject, hence they’re hiring for the role.

For this reason, trust matters more than ever. Speaking to a hub of professionals who can steer you towards people they trust saves time, money and reputation. It can also help to guide the brief, if one doesn’t exist yet. The key factor here is transparency, on both sides. The founder is clear on not yet having a defined brief - or perhaps even budget - and the dialogue isn’t treated like an interview or pitch. Instead, it goes back to basics: relationship-building and asking questions. This is at the core of the Spreckley Startup Growth Hub, which came about as a solution to this exact problem: founders not knowing where to start with marketing or who to hire first, and every marketer or PR is in full sales mode from step one. Ultimately no one wins, because founders waste time and money, and the people hired (whether in house, freelance or agency side) are not set up for success. Once a startup has the key leadership in place: CEO, CTO, CFO, marketing and PR are essential for the next level of growth. This might look like a CMO hire, or a CMO consultancy, or even an integrated PR and digital content strategy. Or it might look like a Head of Comms in-house hire. Every startup’s needs will differ depending on where they are in their own growth journeys, and what the obstacles might be in their journey to the next stage of growth: whether a go-to-market strategy or the next funding round.

Some best practices to put in place immediately might include:

  • Define your own goals and think about your business plan first. This one sounds obvious, but everything else stems from having a clear vision. No one else can define your reason to exist, your vision.
  • Get a short-term strategist to help hire long term. Do you need a full time C-suite or could you hire a CMO consultant for example, who could deliver the strategy you need to then execute with partners. After all, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
  • Speak to a generalist, before you hire the specialists - or at least to an integrated team. It’s hard to know where to start and interviewing different consultants, agencies and candidates can drain time and therefore resources (and money). Being able to speak to one point of contact with a bank of resources can better guide where to start with marketing for example.
  • Understand your next stage of growth, and make sure your next hire does too: are you looking at a go to market strategy or a growth strategy? Are you looking to level up with a next round of fundraising, or do you need to fundamentally drive revenue through customer acquisition? This will all play into the strategy that defines what skills you need to fill. Have you fallen in love with the solution, or the problem? (to borrow from Uri Levine).