Choosing Your First Hire: A Specialist or A Generalist?
The early days of any small business are a one-person ship. As a founder, you wear many caps. From the first day you start fleshing out your vision, you automatically become the customer service representative, social media manager, operations lead, financial officer, research head, marketing, sales, etc.
In the early days, this versatility can be tasking but achievable. By the not so early-days, when the sales start rolling in and your brand begins to gain headway in the eyes and ears of the consumer population, you have to lose some caps.
One of the biggest dilemmas first-time founders face is deciding who their first hire should be. A generalist or a specialist? A marketing aficionado or a jack-of-all-trades who has good experience in everything except neurosurgery and spaceship piloting?
Specialists Vs. Generalists
Specialists, as their name implies, are niche experts. They have gained thorough knowledge and experience in the subsection of their field and can be counted on to deliver excellently. Generalists, however, are jack-of-all-trades, masters of some. A generalist might have done a bit of content creation, digital marketing, graphic and video editing, gained some growth and marketing experience, decent public speaker, and even handsy with HTML code. They're handypersons and excellent right-hand teammates in an early-stage startup scenario. As a small business owner, generalists can save you resources. A team of 3 generalist-skilled individuals can multitask their way into ticking box after box on the company's to-do list. One specialist, however, can strategically reposition your business model on an advanced level. Both groups of people can have a tremendous impact on your business. But making this tough decision comes down to one thing.
At what stage is your business?
Are you at the point where as a founder, you are considering expanding your one-person crew because you need an extra hand(s) on deck? Or are you considering hiring because you want to hone in on a specific part of your business?
Here at Off/Source, for example, our team is comprised primarily of rockstar generalists. Everyone wears multiple hats, and as a B2B company offering virtual assistant services to businesses, this versatility has fast-tracked our daily operations and performance. Based on our business model and our current needs, we decided that making our first set of hires generalist-minded was what the company needed, and it's been a great decision so far.
The current stage of your company will determine your hiring decision. A mix of both skillsets is preferable; however, in any case, where you cannot afford to have both, your decision must be based on your brand's needs. Analyze your company's growth trajectory and its current peculiar needs that will enable it to move to the next level and make a hiring decision based on that.
Generalists can keep the ship smooth-sailing even in your absence, but specialists can also uncover unseen treasures during the journey. Both are must-haves for the crew in the long run, but a great first hiring decision puts the business's current and short-term goals into perspective.