How to Hire Help for Your Business:
A lot of companies in the estate sale industry are family owned and operated, or are run by those who have come to the business through a family establishment - their parents did estate sales or handled auctions or antiques and they learned the business from the family. They also rely on their own families for the work. Or close personal friends.
About 10 months before I launched my business, we had moved literally across the country - from Pennsylvania to California. And I had no family or friends here. My husband had relocated for work and I had absolutely zero connections to count on for help.
I had to hire quickly after opening, I no idea how long it would take to land my first client. But I filed my DBA in Mid-March and my first estate sale was in May. The first two people to call me about sales both hired me.
It is possible to run an estate sale company single handedly, there are peoples who do all of the set up and pricing and marketing on their own. And there are also people who just do this as a family business, so the structure is very informal; maybe two husband and wife teams who run a company together, they take a 40% commission and each couple gets half of that, for example.
I had a new baby at home and a busy husband with a new job. There was no way I would be able to do the work that needed to be done alone.
I had to hire helpers immediately in order to handle my first sale. My first sale was small but I was taking care of my 8 month old daughter, and I had no helpers.
Advertise Your Position & Network to Find Potential Candidates:
So I put ads on Craigslist and LinkedIn and in the newspaper to find candidates. Now that I know people in my area, I usually don’t have to rely on a Craigslist ad for help. I can let people in my professional network know I am hiring: other business owners, or friends I know through social groups.
My job description covered all the things I was sure I needed - someone who could move furniture, unpack things, clean and merchandise vintage goods, and I needed someone who was just looking for temporary and part time work.
I had two sales booked when I made my first hire. I had no idea if those would be my only two sales or not.
I wrote my basic job description, I asked for a resume and a letter of interest. Even though good writing skills are not required for the work the person was doing, I wanted someone who would come across as a professional, I did not want a temporary/day labor atmosphere at my sale.
Mistakes I Made Hiring Help for My Estate Sale Business-
- One of my first hires was someone who stated that they had experience helping friends and family with conducting estate sales. I thought that was great, I met with her on site as I was setting up my second sale. I hired her on the spot. That turned out to be a huge mistake because she was actually looking to open her own company. I knew right away - she would always ask questions about where my leads came from, what my contracts said, what my plans were for the things that didn’t sell at the sale. None of this was part of her job description, as soon as I could I stopped using her. You can create a non-competition agreement and probably run these potential competitors off, but screening them out during the interview process when possible is what I do now in addition to having the agreement.
- Another challenge that I faced was people who were pursing jobs not because they wanted to do actual work, but who just wanted to be able to buy the things in my sale before the public. Antique dealers, vendors at antique malls and even collectors would apply to work with me. A lot of people think that working for a small business is not going to be a real job or that it is going to be more fun than a real job.
- Don’t hire a customer, if it doesn’t work out, you lost a customer. And if you are a start up every customer really does count.
- I set up payroll with a local accountant that was not available to help me when I had questions or needed changes made. I actually closed the bank account that the payroll service she established for me was connected to because I wasn’t hearing back from her and I had to make changes to my staff. Well, then all of my automatic deductions were not being made and the Economic Development Agency sent me notices saying I was behind on due taxes.
- Don’t let your staff gang up on you, if you hire one person and like them, it might seem logical that their mom or another friend of theirs will be a great addition when you want to expand. But if let one of the friends go, the other friend is probably going to now be a soured member of your team. They can bring down morale for the whole group - or they might quit on the spot and now you have two staff members to replace at the same time creating even more stress than just one replacement.
Following the rules:
- I didn’t meet with a business attorney until I had already been using workers, if I were to do it again, I would hire one to talk about the kinds of workers you will use, and to set up a contract agreement for people if you are going to use temporary 1099 workers. And even if they are contract workers, if you pay someone more than $600 you have to report their earnings. So treat every new hire as if they are going to reach that number, if the person doesn’t want to give you their SS info or Driver’s License, etc, they are not a worker you want involvement with at all.
- And then when you know you need regular help, definitely get your worker’s compensation, payroll service and w-2 workers. An attorney will help keep you out of trouble. Some of the workers I have had knew more about employment laws than I did - such as overtime requirements, etc. That’s not a good situation.
- If I tried to do the payroll forms and tax deduction myself, I would be wasting a lot of my time on something I don’t understand and I would probably make a lot of errors, so be honest about your abilities here. As a small business start up, my first instinct is always to learn what is involved and to try to do something on my own but really, outsourcing payroll services is probably something you will be best off doing. Being new to my area, I really made a mistake with the first accountant I had used for my payroll set up and it took me a year and a half before I had the right system in place for the type of business I have.
Benefits of Hiring Staff:
- Your work/life balance improves. Hiring staff has led me to the point where I can now spend weekends with my family even if we have an estate sale going on. My staff can be there running the sale. At first I always did the cash handling and I was at every sale. Now, I have staff that can run a sale for me. This has allowed me to conduct sales where I am just on site to price and market for two days.
- Your personal hourly pay rate goes up. Now, for a sale, I may not even have done the initial consult, at one recent sale, after I tallied all of my expenses (everything from ads, payroll, gas, credit card processing, supplies) and factored in my personal time involved for that one sale, I had made over $400 an hour on my personal time.
- Once you have the right people who you can train them and let work unsupervised, this is allows you to do two things: 1 to focus on doing the higher paying projects that really do require your complete attention. For me this has allowed me to take more estate appraisal work. This has also allowed me to spend time on expanding and diversification of my business. If all of my time were spent personally at estate sales, I could not offer business to business estate sale coaching services because I would be too busy trying to unpack boxes in a client’s garage, which is work that someone else can easily be trained to do.
If you are ready to hire help, here is what I recommend:
- What tasks do you really need to do yourself? What can you train someone else to do?
- Define your ideal candidate and write a job description.
- Consider the types of people you want working for you and find out how to get to that group - do you need to advertise or can you network to fill the spot?
- Set up policies that will help you avoid hiring the folks who are not going to do real work for you. Maybe they want to learn your industry, they want to get access to the goods you have, I don’t know what other types of companies face here, but I suspect it is something every business faces.
- Calculate how many hours of work you need per week - do you have real full time work for one person, or would you be best starting with two or three part time or temporary workers. Don’t promise anyone work you can’t give them, just tell them what you really have available. Start on a trial basis.
- Get a basic employee handbook put together, I used NOLO to do mine.
- Meet with an attorney, I had a hard time finding a lawyer who will help the business owner, there are tons of lawyers out there looking to work for people who are going to say you did something wrong to them as an employer.
- Get your paperwork on your hires done properly, if someone doesn’t want to fill out the w-9 or w-2 or won’t bring you a copy of their driver’s license, there is a reason, move on.
- Don’t be self-conscious about using workers, just let your client know who will be working at their job and what role they have and what role you have. People do not actually expect you as a professional to do all of the work yourself!
Avoiding these hiring mistakes:
Now I have established a policy - nobody buys from my sales before the public, not me and not my employees. This is also very popular with my clients who hire me because they know I am not trying to buy their things for my own collections or selling it to my friends, staff or family for below market value as favors.
But many interviews suddenly turn around as soon as the candidate finds out that they won’t have special access to the inventory we sell. So think about your industry and identify the types of people you don’t want working for you - then establish your policies that will protect you. The candidates who are only interested in working for me for access to the goods quickly drop out as soon as they find out that no such access is going to be available.
I now use a national pay company now and most of my staff are W-2 employees with worker’s compensation. When I started my first hires were temporary 1099 workers and I came to that honestly because I really had no idea how much work I was going to have for them so a contract basis was legit and fine for those first few months.
My apprehensions about hiring were mainly focused on finding people who would be trustworthy. At this point, I have a team of very loyal and trust worthy people. Of course, I have had to let people go knowing that they were stealing from my clients. Firing people is never fun, but the first time I had to do it, I prepared and I found out that it was not as hard as I thought it would be and my company was much better off for having done it. So whenever it is needed, I handle it.
Hiring staff has led me to the point where I can now spend weekends with my family even if we have an estate sale going on. My staff can be there running the sale. When I first started I knew I needed helpers to be there during the sale, but I did the cash handling and I was at every sale. Now, I have staff that can run a sale for me. This has allowed me to conduct sales where I am just on site to price and market for two days. I may not even have done the initial consult, at one recent sale, after I tallied all of my expenses and my personal time involved for that one sale, I had made over $400 an hour on my personal time.
You can really move ahead if you are wiling to take the time to find the right people, to train them and then let them have some degree of control over things that you might once have thought only you could do.
This is allowing me to focus on doing the things that I really am the only person in my organization to be able to do - like more appraisal jobs, and business to business coaching. If all of my time were spent personally at estate sales, I could not diversify my business the way I have.