08.16.20167 min read

3 Small Business Owners on Hiring Their First Marketing Employees

At first, owning a small business means you also own about every job there is—from operations to sales to finance to human resources to answering the phone. 

That list of jobs gradually shortens as businesses grow and owners become CEOs. But two roles tend to linger on the list, often for longer than they should. Many entrepreneurs hesitate to give up the work that publicly represents the company and brings in the revenue: marketing and sales. 

“Those are the two most important,” said Brian Young, founder and owner of Home Painters Toronto. “But if you can get those off your plate as an entrepreneur, it frees you up to do so much more in your business.” 

We asked three small business owners to reflect on what they’ve learned—and what they wish they knew earlier—about hiring their first marketing employees. 

Hiring for passion over pedigree

Brian Young, owner of Home Painters Toronto in Toronto, Canada 

Brian Young held off on hiring his first salesperson for more than 20 years, thinking no one could sell Home Painters Toronto projects as well as he could. Then, in 2014, he met someone who might come close: a sales rep for a competitor. The man’s strong sales skills got him hired—and subsequently fired, too. 

“He sold really well for us, but he ticked off a lot of employees and customers in the process,” Young said. “It was a tough decision, but I had to let him go.” 

The next time around, Young took an opposite approach by hiring a staff member with a great personality but limited sales experience—one of his painters. The employee didn’t have the sales skills to close a deal, but he loved talking to people. And, most importantly to Young, the staffer took the company’s culture to heart: He recognized that paint was part of the dream of homeownership, and he was passionate about helping customers achieve it. 

Young and his protégé worked together for more than two months, asking each other questions and talking through sales as the new rep developed a script and a style. The training paid off: In the past five months, the once-rookie rep has brought in more than $1 million in revenue—a source of pride for both the rep and for his teacher. “It’s one of my greatest accomplishments in my 28 years in business,” Young said. 

Prioritizing personality and passion over a candidate’s resume also paid off when Young posted an ad for a tech-savvy office administrator on Kijiji, a Canadian classifieds site. One candidate had a passion for learning about digital marketing and search engine optimization, but not the pedigree most would look for: At the time, he was delivering pizza for Domino’s. 

Since Young took a chance on him, Home Painters Toronto has been ranking first on Google for more than 900 local keyword searches—and the former pizza guy is now his vice president of online marketing.

The two sales and marketing hires have allowed Young to achieve more than 800 percent growth over the past five years and focus on expanding the business to Ottawa. They’ve also confirmed his new philosophy on hiring. “Hire for culture first,” Young said. “Hire for somebody who absolutely loves and is passionate about what they do.” 

Hiring for growth

Damien Sanchez, owner of DC Mosquito Squad in Sterling, Virginia. 

Since founding DC Mosquito Squad in 2007, Damien Sanchez has grown the pest-control business from a part-time gig to a company with nearly 50 employees and more than $3 million in annual revenue. 

While managing the business, Sanchez is working on acquiring new companies and already is partial owner in two other businesses. Yet despite his more-than-full workload, Sanchez has still been head of marketing for DC Mosquito Squad—with duties as large as managing a $500,000 marketing budget and as small as writing the annual catalog’s letter from the president. 

Only recently did Sanchez hire a director of marketing, realizing that he wasn’t giving the work the attention it deserved. 

“If I was working for me and reviewing the performance I was doing,” Sanchez said, “I would have fired me.” 

With Sanchez so busy, some marketing projects have been delayed by weeks, while other initiatives—like marketing to existing customers—have never taken off. 

Over the years, Sanchez tried to delegate more marketing responsibilities to employees but found himself being involved, anyway. “I just know all the different things we have going on, and I’ve been the central point of contact,” he said. “Everyone’s still used to dealing with me.” 

Recently, Sanchez found the right person, a business acquaintance, to take over his marketing duties. The new director of marketing will manage contractors for advertising and content work, plus newsletters, direct mail, market research, and more.

With the help of a leader focused on marketing strategy and execution, Sanchez hopes the company will grow by 25 percent in both 2016 and 2017. He just wishes he’d made the hire earlier. 

“We could have seen more growth,” he said. “With consistency and accountability, our marketing is going to improve dramatically.” 

Hiring learners

Hasani Pettiford, co-owner of Couples Academy in Atlanta 

The kind of marketing employees Hasani Pettiford wants to hire don’t have decades of experience. No one does when it comes to social media platforms—the main lead sources for Couples Academy, which provides coaching for couples considering divorce. 

“Marketing is changing all the time,” Pettiford said. “Those who are constantly learning become people of value, and those are the ones you want to pursue.”

For Pettiford and his wife and co-founder, Danielle, those valuable employees are his former interns—recent college graduates who are natural students of social media and eager to gain more experience. 

Couples Academy previously had mixed results in hiring freelancers for marketing projects. Some were marketing generalists who lacked specialized expertise, while others were too specialized and couldn’t help with the varied needs of a small business. 

The Pettifords found better results from a series of 90-day, unpaid internship programs, in which college students work on marketing projects involving social media, design, and content. 

“[Interns] have a desire to learn. They realize, ‘I don’t have much experience, but I want to know,’” Hasani Pettiford said. “If you’re hiring someone with years of experience, getting them on board with something new was difficult.”

The Pettifords have since hired three interns on a part-time basis, one of whom works on social media, video production, and graphic design. The marketing employee, a YouTube lifestyle “vlogger,” has taught Pettiford as much as she’s learned from him.

Couples Academy has recently produced dozens of YouTube videos, with the employee leading efforts in production, editing, and advertising (and teaching Pettiford to use his new video equipment). Thanks to her work, Pettiford receives three or four requests for an introduction call every week—making YouTube the new, No. 1 source of leads for the company. 

“No matter what we ask her to do—if she doesn’t know it, she’ll figure it out,” he said. “She produces the best work we’ve ever had of any marketing person, ever.” 

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