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Ambitious Lifestyle Business Podcast #012

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ALB#012 – Bloody Staff! – Finding them, Hiring them, Keeping them, Firing them 

Hiring your first member of staff is the leverage you need to stop owning a job, and start owning a business. In this episode, we’ll dive into how to recruit good members of staff (tip: you won’t find them at the Jobcentre!), how to go through the recruitment process effectively so that you weed out the crap, leaving yourself with the best of the best.

What do you do once you’ve got a good member of staff? We look at how to actually KEEP them, and perhaps surprisingly, “pay them more money” doesn’t get mentioned once.

But everyone’s got some horror stories about hiring staff gone wrong, and we’re no exception – there’s a good 20 people who have worked for us over the last 17 years, who no longer do – some left, some were made redundant, and one or two were sacked – if you’re worried about firing employees, then this episode is worth a listen just for our war stories and tips on how to get rid of bad employees from your small business.

Podcast Transcription

Below is the transcription of our podcast for you to read through if you prefer:

John: Hey everybody. Welcome to Episode 12 of The Big Idea Podcast. John here, as always, alongside Jason.

Jason: Hello, John. [crosstalk 00:00:10]

John: We’re here once again to talk to you this week about staff. We’re looking at how to find them, how to hire them-

Jason: And how to fire them.

John: Well, and also how to keep them. If you get a good one, we don’t just want to fire them. We would actually like to keep some of our good staff. I make that distinction between good staff, because why do you need good staff? Well, to me they are the leverage that you’ll need, as a small business owner, if you’re going to stop owning a job. One of the-

Jason: Owning a job?

John: Owning a job. Yes.

Jason: Okay.

John: Because, in my opinion, if you are the only person in your business, you don’t actually have a business, you have a job. You just own that job. You can’t fire yourself. Well, you could, if you really wanted to, but in my mind you own a job. When you take on your first member of staff, I think you stop owning a job, and you start owning a business.

One of the things I always recommend to people who are just starting out in their business career read is “The E Myth” by Michael Gerber. He talks in there about making that transition from being, I think it’s an engineer, isn’t it?

Jason: Technician, I think.

John: Technician, oh yeah.

Jason: Technician.

John: He talks about people set up a business, making cupcakes for example, and they do very well at making cupcakes. When you start off, you do everything yourself, and you get some success. You end up in a place whereby you’re very, very busy, and you’re making okay money, and the business is doing all right, but you are working those 100 hour weeks because you’re doing everything yourself. It’s then, how do you get that transition from jack-of-all-trades to actually letting go and letting someone else come into the business?

I’m not going to dissect that book completely, other than it is recommended reading for anybody who wants to actually make that transition. Particularly, if you’re bootstrapping a business, and you’re not taking on loads of investment, it’s very easy, and actually makes sense, to do everything yourself in the early days. But as you grow, it makes less sense to be jack-of-all-trades, master of none. You need to stop believing, and I know this will be a line that many, many people out there listening will be saying is, “Well, nobody can do it better than I can.”

The question is, “No one can do what better than you?” It may be your specific trade, i.e. the making of the cupcakes, that can’t be done better than you, but what about the buying of supplies? What about the dealing with the admin? What about the marketing? What about the selling?

Jason: Serving the customers, yeah.

John: Exactly. Is it true that nobody can do it better than you, or is it just that, “I haven’t looked, and I just want to do it myself.” Because you can get people in who specialise at each role for, in many, many cases, a lot less than you’d pay yourself.

I’m going to use the example here of one of our clients, who shall remain nameless, but she knows who she is. She billed her time out at 90 pounds an hour, but she’s doing her own admin. She works from home, and she spends a lot of time cleaning her own house. We had a conversation along these lines of, “Well, look, you need to bring your first member of staff in. It’s time.” She was very reticent to do that, “Well, I’m not sure if I’m ready for that. I’m not sure if I can afford to do that.” We had a little bit to and a fro, and I asked her the question, “Well, would you pay someone 90 pounds an hour to push a Hoover around your house or to do some paperwork?” She went, “No, of course I wouldn’t.”

I said, “Well, that’s what your doing now. You’re paying yourself 90 pounds an hour, or effectively, you’re not billing any client for that hour. If you’re spending an hour doing admin, that’s an hour you could have billed at 90 pounds. Instead, you’ve chosen to do admin, which you could have got someone in for 10 pounds an hour, 15 pounds an hour, who loves to do admin, who loves the paperwork, and then go earn 90 quid for that one hour.”

Jason: Not forgetting that you might not be actually doing your billable 90 pounds an hour at that stage. You could be getting more business in, which actually brings in a lot more than your 90 pounds an hour, so it’s not just about replacing your time kind of thing. You’re actually finding the time to do better stuff.

John: Exactly, and one of my mentors always used to say to me, “Are you doing the 150 pounds an hour tasks, or are you doing the 5 pound an hour jobs?” Just taking a moment to actually think through that, and think actually, “Yeah. What should I be doing?”

Jason: It’s one of the key things that you really hated wasn’t it?

John: The bookkeeping.

Jason: The bookkeeping. You really, really detested it. I always remember two days of every month.

John: Otherwise, I’d go through this thing of, I knew it was coming where I’ve got to do the quarterly management accounts, at say the end of March. They’ve got to be in by the 17th of March, so guess what day I would be doing the accounts? It would be the 16th and 17th of March, and it would take me two whole days. Every quarter I would not do anything else in the business, so effectively, growing the business just stopped for two days so that I could sift through paperwork and put it into excel, and work out VAT 00:05:51, and what column things are going to go in. I absolutely detested it. Then, yeah, one of my mentors said to me, “Well, why are you doing that?” I said, “Well, no one else can do this. Only I can do it.”

He said, “No. What a load of rubbish.” He said, “A bookkeeper can do bookkeeping. Yeah, you may need to spend half a day with them, or a day with them, the first time you engage them, just to actually train them in how you work. Other than that, they love to do this thing. This is nirvana for them.”

It used to take me two days every quarter. It now takes a bookkeeper maybe an hour, two hours a month, costs me 50 quid. They send me an email saying, “Hi John. I’ve gone through the accounts. I’ve got five queries. What’s this? What’s that? What’s that?” I spend now ten minutes a month looking at the bookkeeping for the stuff that no one else can do, only I can do, but I don’t find out what that is. I get an expert in who loves to do that. Say it costs me 50 quid. Now, can I earn more than 50 quid given two full days working on my business?

Jason: Hell, yes.

John: Of course I can. I’ve been in business for 17 years now. I could have stayed a one-man band all that time, but if I’d done that, I wouldn’t have anywhere near the wealth I’ve got now, and I wouldn’t enjoy it as much, because I would still be doing all the jobs I don’t really like doing and I’m not very good at. Now, I just employ people who love to do what I hate, and that leaves me free to do what I love doing, which is marketing, which is investing, which is growing the business. That’s the stuff that earns me more money than it would if I was doing the admin, or the bookkeeping, or the web design, or the technical coding myself. Yeah, I could learn to do that.

I think it doesn’t just apply to jobs in the business too, because again, I work from home, so I pay someone else to clean the house, to iron the clothes, to wash my cars, to mow the lawn, to do all the DIY. Then I invest that time, that I’m not doing these tasks, I invest that time back into the business, which pays for them to do that.

I end up, then I’ve got a cleaner house. I’ve got freshly pressed clothes. I’ve got professionally valeted car. I’ve got [stripes 00:08:28] in my lawn, and DIY that actually stays standing for longer than three weeks. All for less money than by doing it myself. I used to cut my own grass, and it used to take me an hour and a half. Now I got a guy who comes in every two weeks, or every week in the summer, 15 minutes, he’s done, and there’s stripes, and it is perfect. Whilst he’s doing that, I’m sitting in my office planning marketing campaigns, which are more than paying for him to do that, particularly if it would take me an hour and a half.

That’s why you need to get good staff. Let’s look at where to find them.

Jason: Okay.

John: Or, specifically, I think let’s start with where not to find staff. Again this, a little caveat here, this is all stuff from our experience, so you may have found an absolute superstar in one of these places, but predominantly, generally, broad rush-

Jason: We haven’t.

John: It hasn’t worked for us. First place we would no longer find staff is the job centre, because that was our first port of call, wasn’t it? When we started hiring?

Jason: Absolutely, yeah.

John: We kind of … I used to work in the job centre, back when I was a civil servant, so it was natural for me to think, “Right. Where do I find people to work for me? Of course. The job centre.” It strikes me now that the kind of people who go to the job centre looking for jobs are people who don’t currently have jobs and are struggling to find jobs.

Jason: Or have to go to the job centre in order to get-

John: To satisfy their benefits.

Jason: To satisfy their benefit, yeah.

John: I see it now as people who the general jobs market don’t want. You may get lucky and find an absolutely gem there, but of all the people who work for us now, not a single one of them came from out of the job centre. Whereas, when we first did our massive expansion, 90% of them were from the job centre, and they went back there again three years later.

Number two, friends and family. Again, it’s an easy place to find staff, because, “I know someone.” I can only think of one here. In fact, no, that’s not even friends and family. That’s friends of friends. Because, the thing with friends and family is, it’s easy to hire them. It’s really hard to manage them. You try giving a disciplinary to your niece or your nephew.

Jason: Or your wife.

John: Or your wife. Yeah. Exactly, yeah. You try telling them, “I’m sorry, but that wasn’t good enough.” And you try sacking them. Bloody tough. Friends of friends, that’s another place not to look. Sometimes this can work out, and the gentleman sat to my right was hired as a friend of a friend, but I think that that is the exception rather than the rule.

Speaker 3: I’ve always been the exception.

John: You just don’t listen to the rules, that’s all. That’s more like it. [crosstalk 00:11:51]

Jason: Absolutely.

Speaker 3: I make my own rules.

John: See previous comment about hard to manage and impossible sack. You know, “I’ve tried four times now. He just, he refuses to go. We haven’t paid him since 2009.”

Jason: It’s awkward, isn’t it? It’s awkward-

John: It is.

Jason: [crosstalk 00:12:12] friendships ruined relationships with, you know, it’s just really difficult. And for some people, it can work, but in our experience it’s difficult. If you can avoid that lump of hot coal, then that’s one that you could probably do best with avoiding.

John: It is definitely, because if your friend recommends someone, and they turn out to be awful, you don’t want to then go back to said friend, and say, “Oh, yeah. Thanks for sending me that. Bloody hell.”

Where can you find good staff? Well, I think the best way to find good staff is to create a place that’s so amazing to work at that people find you and approach you, asking to work for you. That’s kind of a little bit cliché. That’s the whole Apple thing of, “Oh, just create a wonderful workplace,” but actually, we’ve done this, and we had a period between 2006 and 2013, where we just … Which was about about I think in the [Fear 00:13:08] Episode a few weeks ago, about we didn’t hire anybody. We were absolutely petrified of employing people.

We ended up then with Joe, who’s one of our tipsters now on our sports betting website. He’d done a little bit of outsourced work for us, and he said, “I want to work for you guys.” He must have approached us about three times over the course of about six to nine months, almost begging to work for us. We thought, “No. We don’t hire people. We’ll give you a little bit of freelance work, you know, see if you can finish more work.”

I think eventually he just asks, for like the fifth time, and I was going to Birmingham for the weekend, and I said to him, “I’m going to Birmingham for the football. You live in Norwich. Let’s meet up in Birmingham. Let’s have a chat.” He came to Birmingham. He came on the train. Three hour journey from Norwich. Three hour journey from Plymouth for me. We met up. We had a chat. We said, “Okay, let’s do this.” But we created that place that he had a little taste of, because he’d come and worked as a third party, that was so good he thought, “This is where I want to work.” And word does spread like that, particularly with good members of staff, that actually, “Oh, you want to work for these guys, because they are brilliant.”

Freelancers, Outsource Partners, PeoplePerHour, Upworks, stuff like that. Those are the places that you can actually go out and try-

Jason: Try before you buy.

John: Yeah, it is. Find someone who’s good. If that person isn’t good, then try someone else. Often with these sites, there’s a review system in place anyway, so you can see what people have said about them, “Well, actually they work hard,” or “They don’t quite follow instructions properly,” or, “They don’t respond to emails in a timely fashion.” See if they’ll fit into your business. Literally, hire them for a job first, and then see if they’re available for the job.

Jason: Also, they may work out better that way, to be honest. That could be first steps to employing somebody is to outsource it. It helps you figure out who you need, as well, and for what roles.

John: Definitely, because somebody who will think, “How can I commit to full-time member of staff, a full-time salary?” The answer is, you don’t. Start out by outsourcing. Start by taking on a [VA 00:15:29], and saying, “I’ve got some admin, an hour a day, six hours a week. Half a day a month.” Get a VA in. Sorry, for those listeners that don’t know what a VA is, a VA is a virtual assistant, so it’s like a personal assistant, but they don’t come and sit in your office. Literally, they could be in Singapore, Hong Kong, ours are in Manchester. Literally, they will pick up the hours as and when you need them. You don’t need to worry about paying their salary for 14 hours a week. If you only need them for an hour a week, you only pay for an hour a week. Obviously, you pay more per hour for that. If you want a full-time admin person, it’s probably not the best thing, but if you haven’t got that full-time need, that’s a really good way of doing it.

Your network is another one. I’m getting heavily into networking at the moment-

Jason: You are at the minute, aren’t you?

John: I think that you invest in your network, the more you’ve got this pool of people who are available should you need a copywriter, a marketer, a designer, an admin person, a techie. You’re going to get no shortage of good recommendations. Again, look at the difference there between friends of friends, which is, “I know somebody,” versus a network, “I know somebody really good. I know the best person for that.” Because your friends would say, “Oh, I know somebody who does that.” I want someone who’s good at it. Not just someone that does it.

Jason: “And they’ve done this for me, and here, you can look at their work, and you can see what they’re up to. And they’re reasonably priced and fit in with my business very well, and they’re accommodating,” or whatever.

John: You get the honest one of, “Yeah, but also you need to be careful about this, because you need to be absolutely specific in the brief, because otherwise they’ll go off on a tangent.” You will get the negatives, because nobody’s perfect, you need to know, “Well, actually, can I work with this person?” All right, there are some positives or some negatives, but you’ll hear the negatives. The friend of a friend would go, “You’ll love Jason. He’s brilliant. He’s perfect. You’ll absolutely love him,” whereas actually, a network will say, “You’ll love Jason, but …”

Jason: Who wouldn’t, exactly?

John: Recruitment agencies. That’s another place we’ve gone.

Jason: Yeah. They all get a bit of bad press, don’t they, recruitment agencies?

John: They do. I think that’s mainly because they’re always on the phone to people, promising to fill jobs. I think if you find a good recruitment agency, again, ask your network for recommendations. We’ve used temp agencies in the past. Absolutely useless. Complete waste of time, because what will they send you? They will send you a body. “Oh, yeah. We’ve got somebody who can type, somebody who is capable of picking up a telephone.” Sorry, but we want a little bit more than that. You do have to pay more for a good agency, but if you get a really good one, they’re not just going to go through the motions of posting on the jobs boards.

Ideally, what they’ll do, is they’ll do some pre-filtering. When we’ve done any of our campaigns, we’ve gone at them and said, “Right.” We’ve spoken to the agency. We’ve told them the type of person we want, the job role. They’ve then crafted the job listing. They’ve then taken all the applications in. They’ve sifted through all the CVs. They’ve then given us a short list, and said, “Look, here’s 10 people.” So 184 applied for the job, but we haven’t had to sift through all those CVs. They’ve gone through. They’ve filtered the 184 down to, say, 30. They’ve then done an initial telephone interview with those 30. They’ve then ruled 20 of them out, and said, “Right. Here’s the short list of 10. Let us know who you would like to speak to.”

We then look at the 10 people, say, “Oh yeah. That’s not bad.” Because the agency have had a little chat with these people, they can actually tell you a little bit about them apart from the bullshit that’s written on the CV. If you’ve ever watched the interview stage of The Apprentice, where they rip apart the CV and say, “Oh, what’s this? You say you led the team. How big was that team then?” “Oh, it was just me actually.” The CV is a work of fiction, and what a good recruitment agency will do is help you see through that CV, as to “What is the person actually like?” “How are they going to fit into your culture?” “Are they going to fit into your culture?”

Another place we haven’t specifically used ourselves, but I’ve seen used elsewhere, is Facebook ads. I think that’s really good for headhunting, because quite often you want someone, and again, a recruitment agency will help you with this, you want someone who’s perhaps already working for someone else in your sector. So, perhaps maybe even your competitor. But, if you use Facebook ads, you can actually drill down the type of person you want. You can even target a specific person, if you knew enough about them, to actually say, “Well, I know the person I want, but he works for this guy. He’d be perfect for me.” Well, I’ll tell you what, if you do the targeting, you know, a little bit of Facebook stalking-

Jason: Because, what better place to find out a bit more about them before you even make that conversation, or [crosstalk 00:20:48].

John: Set up the ads. I mean, literally, Innocent Smoothies did this brilliantly. They needed to do a campaign, and they were looking at certain buyers who lived within, I think, it was a three mile radius. What they did is, they looked at these buyers: A, they targeted them on social media, so they were able to drill down, and so their adverts appeared all over social media, but then they bought billboards along these people’s commute. They worked out, “Well, if they’re going from this area of London, they’re going to drive along here” … This is how they got … These people would go into their offices, and they would see three billboard ads for Innocent Smoothies. They’d open up their Facebook page, it would be all over Facebook. They’d then get retargeting happening, so it would be following them around wherever they went. “I tell you what. These guys are everywhere.” They’re not everywhere, but they just laser targeted on that person.

Jason: Right.

John: You can drill down to a specific person, or you can just say, “Well, actually, I want someone who’s done work for this employer in the past.” Actually, yeah, if they like that employee’s page or specific page or group in that sector, you can target that. This kind of leads into putting together a whole marketing campaign. So, the traditional building a list, only the list here is the people who you’d like to work for you. Send them some sales letters, and former leaflets, postcards, Facebook retargeting, you know, literally put together a whole campaign. Lots of follow-ups. Lots of touches. Innocent did that really, really well. It ended up getting … they were actually targeting buyers within the supermarket to get them into, but it works just as well for employees.

Jason: This is really good, because there’s lots of industries which are saturated with workers and things like that. I’m thinking maybe care or something like that, but there’s lots and lots of care agencies employing thousands of people to go and look after people, isn’t there? But to employ somebody to join your care agency or your care programme, how do you attract the right kind of person? It’s not the 17, 18 year olds that are leaving school that you’re wanting to perhaps have a day. You want somebody who’s got real world experiences. It’s really easy to perhaps use Facebook, and then perhaps put a campaign together in terms to recruit, as opposed to necessarily selling them somebody-

John: Yeah, you could do it.

Jason: [crosstalk 00:23:09] Because you are selling yourself as an employer. You’ll selling them your company, and you’re selling them your work ethos really.

John: Definitely. If you put together a quick two minute YouTube video on what it’s like to work in your place, or do some testimonials from existing members of staff, put that on a Facebook ad, you’re again showcasing the “It’s a great place to work, here” to the laser-targeted community of list of people I want to work for me. That’s fine. You then need to hire them, so get them along to an interview.

Jason: Just before we get to hiring them, I was going to suggest about knowing who you want to hire, your role in getting your role right? I know we’ve got that right, now. How did we go about that, because when we first stepped into the world employing people, we got it terribly wrong, I think.

John: Yeah. No, we did. Absolutely. I think our first half a day or day we spent at the job centre hiring people, we went in with the intention of hiring one person for one role.

Jason: To do a little bit of admin for us.

John: Yeah.

Jason: We saw six people on that day?

John: Mm-hmm (affirmative), and we hired how many of them?

Jason: Four.

John: Yeah.

Jason: Yeah. Hired four of them, because they were really good people. They sounded really good, and their CVs were really good. Having the interview with them, and they were asked to do a piece of work as well, which they could have it brought in and “Oh, actually, these are really good. We can find a role for them. They could be part of our organisation. That would work.”

John: Definitely. I think, again, we made it far too easy for them, in just, “Yeah. Walk up to the job centre. If you’re a nice person, we’ll find a job for you. We’ll find something for you to do.” What we do now, is we put barriers in people’s way, to actually stop them to even getting there. So yeah, let’s make it a three-hour drive, so we’ve interviewed, I’ll say, Joe lived in Norwich, so we interviewed him in Birmingham. We have one guy who lived in Essex, so we interviewed him in Cheltenham. Again, drive across the country at your own expense. Perhaps, there might be an overnight you stay, again at your own expense.

If the first question someone asks you is, “Do you pay bus fare,” they’re unlikely to be the superstar employee you’re looking for. Rob’s probably a good example as well. Rob was living in London, and, “Come on down to Plymouth for an interview.” It’s, was it four hours, on the train? I mean, we didn’t do this with Rob, but make it a 7:30 a.m. start. Don’t give them directions to the office. It’s like, “Can you not use Google?” We did do something like that, actually, because we had a [hot-desking 00:25:54] type office, didn’t we, that we used?

Jason: Oh, right, yeah.

John: We struggled to find it, so we were doing the interview, and we struggled to find where this building was, so we thought, “Brilliant. This is like an initiative test. If you can find the building and find your way in, you’ve almost passed the test. You’ve got the job. Again, if you’re a nice person, we’ll find something for you to do.”

Jason: Yeah, yeah.

John: Again, give them a task, and this is one thing, I think, that has worked really, really well for us. Give them something they’re going to be doing in the role. Rob, we knew he was going to do marketing, copywriting, so we said to him, “Write some copy for us.” We did that to everyone that came along for this role, and we had some varying quality. We had some wonderful essays, which wouldn’t have sold a thing, and we had some who I would question whether English was even their second language, let alone their first one.

Jason: Yet, we still took Rob on.

John: I mean, we did that at the job centre one, and I clearly remember, we set them a task, because at the time we were doing net-free stuff. It was a freebie site, so we had it was like a directory, and what we were going to do is say, “Right.” We gave people a list, and we got a 500-word description of a product, and we said “What we need to do is turn this into a 100-word description.” That was kind of where we were with the website, was we had short, concise descriptions. Really descriptive copy that highlighted the benefits. I remember giving it to everyone, and we were quite impressed with lots of them, well four of them, we took them on. One of the two we didn’t, couldn’t even the follow the “in 100 words or less” instruction, and turned it into 1000 words, didn’t he? It was like, “Whoa. You’ve been sat out there for 10 minutes, but you’ve done three [pages of A4 00:27:37] here. Completely not what we’re looking for. You can’t follow instructions. Thanks a lot. See you later.”

Jason: Again, it was to do a task. How much do they want to put effort into getting the job, as well as making … If they can’t do that, then how much they need to find out about you. If it’s about your business that you’re asking them to do, then they’ve got to do a bit of research. They’ve got to see what they’re going to be expected to do. If they do then come and travel three hours to come and see you, then you know they’re actually in wanting of the job. It’s not just a day out for them, or ticking a box for the job centre, or whatever.

John: Yeah, exactly. I know someone who, literally, he gets all the staff in, 7:30 in the morning, lines them all up, and says, “Right. Tell me one thing about my business.” Just points at the first person, “Tell me one thing about my business.” “Uh” “Right. Thank you for coming. I’ll see you later.” And he’d literally just, “Dismissed.” “Right, next. Tell me one thing.” “Oh, well, um, you’ve got free racing tips.” “Cool, right. Go and sit down. Have a seat. Right, next person.” “Um. You’ve got free [inaudible 00:28:32] tips.” “Yes, that’s right. Go and sit. Have a seat. Next one.” “Um. You’ve got free race tips.” “Yeah. He said that. Something else.” “Uh” “Thanks for coming. See you later.”

Jason: That’s a good bit of filtering, isn’t it.

John: Literally, if they can’t be asked to spend five minutes on Google finding out a little bit about the company, then how much preparation work are they going to put into pulling a marketing campaign together? Dealing with customers? I mean, if you’ve already got existing staff, another thing we like to do is get them to do a quick five-minute undercover interview.

Jason: “Come on, mate. I’ll make you a cup of tea.”

John: Exactly, yeah. It’s kind of, “You waiting to go in? Oh, where you from?” You know, just literally have a chat with them, not about what you’re going to bring to the role or whatever. Just find out what sort of person they are and how are they going to fit in. It’s the old analogy about football, they’ve got to fit into the dressing room. You don’t want characters in there who are going to be disruptive to the team ethos, because quite often, as business terms, we’ll go, “Oh my god, this guy’s brilliant. He’s got this qualification. He’s got experience of work in it. He’s a fantastic salesman.” But you know what, he may not work well with others, and when you put him in the team, they may go, “We hate this guy.” Then, before you know it, they’re quitting.

All of this, though, is designed to evaluate their attitude rather than their aptitude. Unless you’re hiring a doctor, or a lawyer, or somebody who needs to have a certain level of qualification, when we look at the CVs, I pretty much ignore the bit that says “qualifications,” you know. I maybe look at like, “Do they have a decent grasp of [math 00:30:14] and English, you know, C or above at GCSE, maths and English weren’t good.” Tick that box. “Do they have any relevant experience?” For some roles, that’s important. For others, perhaps not so much. “Do they have the right attitude to be able to learn the rest?” That’s key for me. Attitude over aptitude every time.

There’s a final question that I love to do. I don’t know if we did this at the last one. We might have done, actually. It’s a question that is designed to solicit the skeletons from the closet.

Jason: Ah, yes.

John: We’ve all heard horror stories about people who’ve taken staff on, only to find out that they’ve actually got a conviction for stealing, or they’re, “Oh, I’m actually pregnant, and I’m three months gone, and yes, I probably should have told you, but hey, I’m off on maternity leave now,” or “Yeah, this was only ever a stopgap really, but off I go travelling.”

The way to do this is, you get to the very end of the interview, all right? You’ve gone through the whole, “Where have you done? What’s your experience? What would you do in this situation?” You’ve gone through the piece of work that you’ve asked them to do. You’ve asked them, “Do you have any more questions? Anything you’d like to ask me?” They then give their pre-prepared answer for that, because everyone asks that question.

Then you ask the question that most people don’t ask, and this has to be done in the right way. It’s got to be like, “Cool. So any other questions, Jase [inaudible 00:31:52]? Thanks for coming. Oh, just one thing before we go,” and you must then get your little hushed tone out, so that they know this is very serious, and you eyeball them, say, “Jase. Is there anything else that you think I should know about you?”

Jason: Ah.

John: “Because I’m going to find out sooner or later. If I offer you the role, it’s a lot easier if I find out now, so is there anything else that you’d like to tell me that I need to know about yourself?” I’ve heard of people disclosing pregnancies, bankruptcies, criminal records, the desire to emigrate, illnesses. You name it. You know, “I do like sleeping with my coworkers.” “Oh, do you? Well, okay.” But you know, you almost get like an interrogator, because they’ve gone all nice in front of you like, “Oh, good. The interview’s over,” and then, “Yeah, but is there anything else that I need to know about you?” “Oh, yeah. I’ve better tell him, haven’t I? Because he’s going to find out.”

It’s almost like, “Bloody hell. I think I’ve got the job, but I need to disclose that thing, or I’m not going to get the job, or I’m not going to keep it, because he specifically asked me.” There’s certain things you’re not allowed to ask in an interview, but “Is there anything you think I should know?” That almost implies, “I know. I do. I know. You can either tell me, or you can walk out the door and not get the job.”

Jason: We’ve got them then. How are we going to keep them?

John: I read a book last year by Daniel Pink called Drive. It was all about motivation in the 21st century. It talked about how we always used to use the carrot and stick approach to motivate staff to do what we want to do. He said that doesn’t work in the 21st century. What staff want now is to be self motivated. They want autonomy. Most of all, they want to enjoy the work, so give them the freedom to work in their role, in their tasks, on their jobs. Don’t give them all the shit jobs that no one else wants. Someone’s got to do that, but give it to someone that actually enjoys doing that. I’m not suggesting that the workplace is all ping-pong tables and bean bags, because it’s not. We’re here to make money. We’re here to make sales. But, what do people love about their job that they can do? Give them the autonomy to actually grow within a role.

Another thing we find is the location here in Plymouth really works in our favour. Because if Rob wants to leave us and go work for one of the bookmakers, well he’s got to move to Gibraltar or Malta or Israel, or certainly London. If you want to go anywhere else, you’ve got to move several hours away. If we get a good techie here, well Facebook aren’t going to poach them. Twitter aren’t going to poach them. LinkedIn aren’t going to poach them, because we are that little bit remote. People think it works against you, because you can’t hire the good people, but take a look at Mark. He used to work for us, he set up an agency, which all the other agencies are in London. He can then attract good staff from out of Cheltenham area, and he doesn’t have to pay London prices. He very rarely loses his good members of staff to London, because actually, “Living and working in the Southwest is important to me.” We talked last week about how important location can be to people, and actually where you work is as important as what you do.

Jason: And making it in their comfort zone, because not too many people who I’ve ever talked about, moved out of their comfort zones. If you’re making it feel as if they’re in a comfort zone when they’re working for you, then there’s no chance them wanting to move on.

John: For most people, precisely. But obviously, those are the ones that you want to keep. What do we do with the ones that we don’t want to keep?

Jason: Get a hula hoop?

John: Well, yeah. What we tend to do … Well, actually, no, let’s get a little disclaimer in here first. We are not HR specialists. If you got any doubts at all whether you’re able to fire someone without ending up in a tribunal, speak to a HR specialist. We’ve dealt with one before called Jackie [Mann 00:36:40]. Jackie helped us out when we needed to let someone go. She was incredibly useful, so thoroughly recommend her. We’ll drop her link into the show notes.

If you’ve got a HR issue, and you need to get rid of someone, it’s possibly worth just having a quick chat with someone, either someone if you’ve got a HR department, or if you’re a one-man band, or a two-man band, and you’re looking to fire someone … If you’re a one-man band, you want to fire someone, it’s yourself. You are allowed to fire yourself. But, yeah, just have a chat with them.

Jason: When’s the right time?

John: To me, I think the minute you start wondering whether you should fire them, you probably should have already fired them. I think the quickest we’ve had was two months. I do know of people who’ve literally fired someone on the same day they started. Literally, walked in, and it was like, “Okay, you are not a good fit. You do not belong here.” Something’s got to go majorly wrong to get fired on your first day, hasn’t it?

Jason: It really must has.

John: I think you’ve got to be ruthless. It’s no good hoping they’ll change, or they’ll eventually come good. We talked way, way back there about compounding, about playing with these compound interest calculators. We’ll sit down with a calculator and work out where is your business going to be if you take a crap member of staff out of the business and replace them with a brilliant one. Compound that for a few years, and I think you would scare yourself stupid, because you can either have the short-term pain of having a difficult conversation with them. “I’ve got to sack somebody. I don’t like doing that.” Nobody likes sacking people, apart from Donald Trump perhaps, and Alan Sugar. But you can either have that short-term pain of having a difficult conversation, letting that person go. Or you can have the long-term pain of them being stuck in your business for years on end, dragging you down and slowing your growth.

That compounded over, and you get really bad member of staff stays for five years, that could cost you tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of pounds in sales compared to getting rid and getting a superstar in. You’ve got to be ruthless. The other thing that happens if you keep bad staff is that the good staff then resent the bad member of staff, because they don’t work as hard, they’re not as good, they’re not as friendly. They seem to get away with stuff, because, “Well, I don’t behave like that. But if I did that, I wouldn’t get away with that, I’d be sacked.” And then, before you know it, the good staff start resenting, then they start working less. They eventually leave. So, you’ve kept the bad ones-

Jason: Or even worse, they come down to the head level, [inaudible 00:39:23] the slowest one in the team kind of thing, “Well, let’s do it their way because ‘Oh, they’re doing that.’” “Oh, they’re getting breaks.” “Oh, they’re doing things that …. We can’t allow that, thank you.”

John: Exactly. When you look back to when we expanded, back in 2004, 2005, we expanded far too quickly, far too big.

Jason: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

John: We took on a load of crap staff and some good ones. But because we had so many bad people, it was a horrible place to work. The good ones are the ones that bloody left first.

Jason: Yeah.

John: That left us just with the bad ones, and then the bad situation got even worse. I remember there’s a saying, that if you wake up in the middle of the night thinking about a staff member, and you aren’t already sleeping with them, then you need to fire them.

Jason: Okay.

John: So, how to fire them? To me, it’s got to be done face to face if you can. I mean, the last ones we haven’t done face to face because one was in near to Hebrides or similar to it [crosstalk 00:40:23]. It was very hard to find. The other one was 250 miles away, so we did it over the phone. If you can, face to face. Arrange it in advance so that IT know, or number staff knows. Actually, whilst they’re in this meeting, they know what’s going to be happening in there. Access to sensitive files, etc, everything can be removed whilst they’re in there with you. Just come out with that first line, because that hardest line is always that first … The first line is always the hardest bit. “Sorry Jason, we’re going to have to let you go.”

Jason: No surprise there, then.

John: No. Well, it’s the fifth time you’ve heard it.

Jason: But to fair, to whoever you say that to, they will know. Unless your business has gone drastically wrong, and you’re having to let them go because you can’t afford them, but that’s the reason. If it’s because of their performance, they’ll be 100% know it’s on its way, and they’ll be surprised that it’s lasted quite so long, in most cases.

John: Yeah, it’s very rarely a surprise is it? I mean, you don’t get into a slinging match. “Well, Rob works harder.” “I work harder than Rob does,” or he said/she said. Just stick to the facts. Quite often, have a letter to hand to them, because they don’t remember a lot of what you said after, “I’m going to have to let you go.” They’ll say, “Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. What do you mean?” They won’t hear, “Well, it’s because your performance hasn’t been good enough, and we had this issue here.” No. Just stick to the facts, “Your performance wasn’t up to scrap. This is the expectation we have. This is what your level of performance has been. This is going to be your notice period. Now is your last day of work. You’re not going to work your notice period.”

We have done that before, where we’ve sacked someone, they’ve worked the notice period. I think we got lucky that we didn’t get completely screwed over that, because why would you want a fired employee working in your business?

Jason: On self-destruct [inaudible 00:42:25].

John: Yeah. They can do far more damage than the lost wages of paying them to do nothing for a weeks or a few months. They’ve gone out. You then, then and not before, so there’s no whispers about what’s happening before. Immediately after they go out, you then need to let all the other staff know that they’ve left. Don’t go into reasons, “I’ve sacked Jason because he was awful, and he was sleeping with Rob.” Let them know what the plan is-

Jason: [crosstalk 00:42:55] Vivid imagination you have there.

John: For replacing them down there. I can only work with what’s in front of me. Yeah, what’s the plan for replacing them? For covering them? Then, you need to go hire a superstar to replace them, because that is the difference. Get those bad people, get that cancer out of our business and replace it with that flood of nutrients that is a really, really good member staff. When you’ve got a superstar in place, that is when your business skyrockets. I think we’re very, very fortunate to be in the position now, where we’ve got a small team of superstars.

Jason: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

John: I think almost every single person we’ve got, without exception … I would be happy to have them in any business I’ve got.

Jason: Yeah, but I think it’s also important that you do have to go through that process sometimes of finding some of the- [crosstalk 00:43:49]

John: You’ve got to kiss a few frogs, haven’t you?

Jason: Kissing a few frogs, or a few bad apples, or however you want to kind of put it. But try them out, you’ll find a superstar, because there are loads and loads of superstars out there.

John: Yup.

Jason: Every single person is a superstar, but not necessarily for you, and right for you business, and the way it is. So, they’ll understand it, you’ll understand it, and your business will grow a lot quicker.

John: Yup. Cool. So, that is it guys. As always, if you’ve got any questions relating to staff, I know we’ve kind of whizzed through this at a fairly brisk pace. We could have probably gone well over an hour on this. Please head over to the Facebook community, which is We can continue the conversation there, so if you’ve got any questions, any concerns about hiring that first member of staff, firing that first member of staff. “Who should I take on?” “How fast should I expand?” Anything like that, we’ve got a thread going on, in there, so you can just ask away. We’re in there to help you and to talk to you.

Other than that, show notes are available on the website which is-


John: Ideal.

Jason: Where you’ll also find all of our previous episodes, all of previous videos are in there, all the links to all the platforms which you can listen to your podcast on, and show notes as well, as we’ve just said. They’re all in there too.

John: Ideal. As always guys, if you’ve enjoyed the podcast, don’t forget to leave us a nice review, five stars, or above. There aren’t above, but yeah five stars would be good on iTunes or [inaudible 00:45:20] or whatever platform you’re listening to this on right now. We’ll be back next week with another episode of The Big Idea Podcast. We shall see you then. Bye bye.

Jason: Cheers. Bye bye.

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“John and Jason have been there and done it and don’t have an ego about it like many others.

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"Two normal blokes from Plymouth" John and Jason have been working together, building businesses for over two decades!

They're the anti-gurus with a strong dislike of psuedo business psycho-babble. Their no-nonsense, straightforward approach with relateable and valuable advice has won them followers from all over the world. They've helped hundreds of business owners improve their businesses and lives.

The King of Can-do and the 'Lazy' Entrepreneur have a mountain of knowledge they're happy to share.

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The One Percent Club will show you EXACTLY how to implement these 1% gains into your business, and how they can stack up to REALLY grow your business.

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