For a small business, employing a friend or someone you already know might seem perfect sense. You already know and trust them, which are important factors. Plenty of high-achieving business owners have done this successfully, including Richard Branson, who surrounds himself with friends and family members in his companies.
Hold an interview
However, even if you know who you want, it’s always worth holding a proper interview. It’s a chance for the two of you to focus completely on how the job might work, whether their skills are right, and whether your and their working styles are compatible.
Working together will throw up different challenges to your current relationship. The skills and qualities you know in a friendship, or non-work relationship, may be quite different to those you need now. What’s more, if things go wrong, you risk damaging a personal relationship as well as your business. It’s worth being at least as thorough as you would be if you were employing someone you didn’t know.
I recommend taking at least an hour to have an in-depth conversation, with a proper agenda, as well as taking time to check skills.
Check technical/practical skills
Make certain they can do what you need them to do. It will be much more awkward to discover later that someone can’t use a computer programme in the way you need, or that they don’t have the attention to detail you’d assumed they had. The only way to be sure is to test it by asking them to do a sample piece of work. If it feels awkward, imagine how much trickier it will be if you discover it after you’ve started working together.
How motivated are they?
What do they want from the job? Are they driven by the same things you are? What will keep them happy and motivated? Don’t rely on friendship or goodwill: those things can quickly go sour.
How will they cope when things go wrong?
It’s particularly useful to talk over how someone would deal with problems. For instance, if you’re employing someone in a client-facing role, how would they deal with someone being aggressive towards them? What would happen if they didn’t like the way you did something?
How will you both deal with negative feedback?
Will you be able to be honest with them? Will they be able to be honest with you?
What support will they need?
If someone doesn’t have certain skills, are they things you can train them in? If not, how will you deal with the gap?
Understand daily working practices
Make sure you’ve been clear about what’s involved and what you need. If you need a quick turnaround on work, for instance, or to be available by phone in the evenings, be sure that the person you want is clear about it.
Use a contract
No matter who you’re working with, you should agree the terms in writing. If you’re in the UK, you can find guidance on the government website . Especially if you’re going to employ a friend or a member of your family, don’t risk spoiling a relationship through a misunderstanding.
Don’t risk important relationships
It’s easier to replace a member of staff than a friend. If a relationship is important to you in your personal life, consider what would happen if you worked together and it went wrong, or it changed your relationship for the worse. Sometimes it’s worth taking the harder short-term decision to benefit you in the long run.
So by all means employ a friend if he or she is the right person. But if not, you’ll be doing you both a favour by finding the person who really can help you move your business forwards in the way you want.