Every business has to start somewhere; and in screen printing, that’s often with a single person who wears all the hats, from that of manager and marketer to artist, screen maker, printer and folder. This is not unique to screen print shops, and it’s something that typically just happens as a hobby or sideline evolves into a full-time concern.

Oftentimes, it’s also a matter of economic necessity, at least starting out. The problem is that as a business grows, so does the amount of work that needs to be done and the time it takes to do it. At some point, there are just too many balls for one individual to juggle, and eventually, you’re going to start dropping some of them—hopefully none that lose you customers.

It’s hard to face the reality that you can’t do everything yourself, because your business is your baby. But if you want it to continue to grow and be successful, you have to have help.

The real goal of transitioning from a one-man show is not simply reducing task overload.

It’s about determining what you want your business to look like in five and 10 years and making it happen. Even though you’re doing everything yourself now, it’s a good time to compartmentalize your shop functions and figure out a strategy for turning over tasks.

Hiring for Growth

There are different ways of approaching this. One is to assess your own strengths (or weaknesses) and look for someone to complement them or fill in the gaps. Another is to look at the areas where there tends to be bottlenecks. You also might evaluate what direction your business is going what type of additional work it will generate.

Available talent can factor in. If there’s someone out there who can do something you’re good at as well (or possibly better), thus freeing you up to focus on another key area, hiring him or her can be a smart move. The best direction to take will be different for every shop; but these are all things to consider.

Whichever way you go, it’s important to give your new backup the space to do the job so it ceases to be yours, which is really your goal. It helps both you and the employee. After all, there are a lot of technological solutions for remembering things and prioritizing tasks, but nothing takes the place of having another human take ownership over those areas. That’s where the greatest savings in time and hassles are achieved.

When I hired someone to take over art prep in my company, it wasn’t because I needed it done better or faster, it was so I could focus on selling and production. That then evolved into my next hire, which was adding a person to be 100 percent devoted to production.

Neither one of those hires meant that I was giving up control of my business or the quality and integrity of my products. It just meant that I wasn’t the sole person in charge of those particular pieces of the operation. And that allowed me to manage things at a higher level from an overall perspective.

Finding the Help You Need

When you’re bringing someone in, it is typically to fill a need or take something off your plate. In general, you want to find someone whose background is in that area. But sometimes after talking with a candidate, you realize that he or she also is good or better at something else that can benefit your business.

And that causes you to rethink your hiring strategy and weigh how the individual could best contribute to your goals. Getting to know potential employees so you can put them in positions where they can shine is worth the time and effort.

Some points to consider:

Highly trained people come at a cost. And in screen printing, like most fields, while there are a lot of people who can do a credible job, a truly talented producer is hard to find, expensive when you do, and very valuable; so you want to pay him or her well. If you’re a business owner, this type of person can be the difference between being able to take a week of vacation with your family or putting it off until next year—again.

That said, while hiring talent is a real thing, not every area in your shop has to have the most amazing (and highly paid) producer.

If you have one person who’s operating at that level and can lead a team, make sure he’s appropriately compensated. But there are other areas in your business that may not need an A-grade achiever. A B- or C-level worker, who is supported with solid systems and procedures, can be cost-effective. And sometimes that person improves because he or she is given a shot at advancement.

Skill sets can cross over types of businesses. Depending on the job, industry experience isn’t necessarily a prerequisite. While an individual may not have a background in screen printing, it may not matter for a position in social media marketing, for example. And someone with strong skills can put them to work for your business while expanding his or her experience. Even if the employee eventually moves on, it can be a win-win that benefits you both.

The best hire may not be a “mini you.” Just because somebody doesn’t do something exactly the way you do doesn’t mean it’s not as good. In fact, it may be better. If things are going smoothly, you’re getting the quality and output required, and your customers are satisfied, don’t let your ego get in the way.

On another note, it’s easy to become antiquated. With new technology and techniques constantly emerging, it may not take long. Think about it. You gave the position to someone because you didn’t have time to do it yourself. Ergo, there’s a good chance you didn’t have time to stay on top of all the advances for performing that process.

A new hire isn’t just another pair of hands; he or she brings a fresh perspective and the opportunity to learn how other shops are doing things. To get the most out of your staff addition, you have to be open to new ideas and techniques.

Consider pros and cons of hiring friends and family. On the plus side, you know the people close to you, and there is the trust factor. Plus, they know you and may share your investment in the organization and be eager to help. Also, it’s generally easier to find employees from this pool. On the other side of the coin, it can be harder to take corrective action and/or train them.

Alternatively, when you bring in somebody from the outside, you’re starting your professional relationship with a clean slate. This can make it easier to acquaint him or her with your systems and shop culture, independent of pre-existing, nonwork communication dynamics.

In addition, hiring individuals from outside your circle can contribute to your company’s growth by giving you access to their business and social network. Although family can be a great solution to help get you through a rough patch, to me, there are more long-term benefits to building your team with new blood.

Narrowing Down the Possibilities

When assessing a potential employee, there are a number of things you can do to up your chances of finding a good fit. A few include

Seeing how your needs mesh. I like to ask interviewees about their preferred length work day. There are go-getters who will tell you 10 or 12 hours, and people who can only commit to eight hours because of family activities, community involvement, etc. Finding out a little about the applicant’s life can tell you a lot about the kind of person he or she is and determine what might be done in the way of hours, shifts, etc., to make a happy work pairing for you both.

Consider work styles and preferences. Get a read on the type of work situation the potential hire prefers. Is he or she more effective at a desk or on his or her feet? There’s no right or wrong answer; it’s about deciding where to put that person.

You also want to find out basic things like whether the individual is able to push or pull 50 pounds. The physical side is important when you start thinking about having to move boxes of shirts. Again, no right or wrong answer, it’s just another aid in determining job fit.

Personality is another factor to take into account. The most energetic and outgoing individuals may be fun to have around and keep things hopping, but they don’t always make the most consistent employee. Conversely, a low-key person may not bring a lot of excitement to the organization, but do better at following routines.

I generally look for someone in the middle ground. Personally, I have found athletes to be good employees because of the discipline that comes with their training. I also try to be aware of what gets a person charged up and at what point someone is in life. If, for instance, someone’s eyes really light up when talking about traveling, no matter how great the individual’s work ethic is, a five-day-a-week desk job may not be the best fit.

When interviewing, be sure to allot enough time to get a good picture of the applicant. This can be hard in 15-30 minutes. Spending a little more time over lunch or conducting multiple interviews and involving other staff members can be well worth the investment.

After You Hire

Once you’ve chosen your new team member, your approach to training will be dictated largely by your management style. I’m more into explaining and encouraging with an eye toward promoting growth and development, rather than stressing myself and the new hire out with a strict probationary policy; but that depends on you and your operation.

One concept I’ve seen that may have potential is the use of contracts, which can be renewed (or not) at the end of a stipulated period. This provides the option of moving forward as well as an ideal opportunity for evaluating the employee’s performance, discussing mutual concerns, and determining pay increases.

In shaping a position, I try to emphasize its importance to the overall operation and get across its impact on the business. This is a real thing, and you need to take it into account with respect to each and every position, no matter how low it’s perceived as being on the totem pole.

Take screen cleaning. It may be a dirty job that no one really wants to do, but more rides on screens being prepped properly than anything else. If it’s not done right, the emulsion won’t adhere. It pays to make sure everyone knows this.

The most difficult part of letting go isn’t hiring someone to take over some of your work, it’s truly backing off and letting that person succeed and make mistakes, making sure he or she is clear on the expectations and providing counseling to help develop their abilities.

 This was a constant struggle for me, particularly with respect to screen prep and imaging, which is an area I’m especially passionate about. You have to make a conscious effort not to keep checking on the person every half hour to keep an eye on mesh thickness, exposure times, etc.

There’s no doubt about it; getting and using help is hard. There are many working parts to a screen printing business, and you want to make sure everything is hitting on all cylinders. But to grow your business, you have to be able to look at yourself and say, “You know what? This is really good. This employee is doing well in this position, and I’m going to let him run with it.”

That’s a huge “let go” of your personal pride. And when you’re comfortable enough to do that, it’s like the beginning of your organization truly blossoming into a business with real growth potential.

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