4 January 2024

Surround yourself with stars: why building the right team is critical to growth

At a glance

  • Building the right team can play a big part in your business’s growth, but that’s not always easy.
  • Using freelancers, who fill the skills and knowledge gaps that you don’t have yourself, can help you make the first steps in this direction.
  • It’s also vital to have the right external experts in place, such as an accountant and financial adviser, who understand your business and help you achieve your goals.

For Reece Donnelly, small-business owner and recent contestant on TV’s The Apprentice, building an effective team has played a big part in his success, helping him to hit £1 million turnover after six years of trading.

The founder of Theatre School of Scotland, Reece says recruiting and developing a cast of skilled employees has allowed him to take on a CEO role at the firm. But he emphasises that employed staff are usually just one part of a good start-up ensemble – freelancers and third-party experts play leading roles too.

“I’ve been the one-man band and, trust me, employing staff will help elevate your business to the next level,” says Reece, who took part in the 2023 series of the BBC’s long-running show and has become one of its most successful non-winners.

“But if employing people seems daunting, try freelancers as a trial,” he suggests. “That has been the making of my business. We had lots of downtime in the earlier days as we used to run during school term time. Employing freelancers allowed us to have a trial run for one term. Now, most of those freelancers make up our full-time roles. They grew with us.”

Finding the right financial advisers and accountants is also critical. Reece recommends looking for people who are willing to learn your business and help grow it with you. “For me, a profit-and-loss sheet is always going to be in fashion,” he continues. “It’s so important, we wouldn’t risk not having this led by external professionals. They set the foundations of the business and you can then run with the framework.”

How to identify skills gaps

Theatre School of Scotland still uses freelancers for web design, HR and other roles. And Reece says he has learned always to hire people who bring something different to what you already have.

This requires an honest review of your existing team’s skills and knowledge, and identifying any shortfalls.

Andrew Shepperd, Director and co-founder of consultancy Entrepreneurs Hub, says: “Self-awareness is critical. Many businesspeople haven’t worked through the vulnerability that allows you to own up to key incompetencies and identify ‘superskills’. Until you become aware of them, these blind spots will restrict your performance.”

He defines superskills as capabilities that people appreciate and you are naturally good at so you don’t think about them or realise how able you are. But they are high-impact and extremely valuable to the business.

At Theatre School of Scotland, senior management try to identify skills gaps in all levels of the organisation at their 12-week business reviews.

“For example, we recently hired an external HR company to work with us on a retainer, as that role was taking around one-and-a-half days a week between my role and our Deputy Principal,” says Reece. “We’re currently at capacity, so we decided to allocate marketing budget to this. It’s all about spinning plates and figuring out what to feed at each point of the year. You need to be adaptable and ready to move quickly.”

He explains that these quarterly reviews are a simple discussion, and he makes sure everyone knows it’s an open conversation.

It can also help to seek feedback from former colleagues, customers and other business partners. “I always ask employees: if they had a magic wand, what would they change in their week?” says Reece. “Then we see how we can work towards that, within reason. You find out so much about employees’ ideal situations during these chats.”

Take care, however, to link any hires and training with your business plan. Also keep in mind that sometimes you may need to fund a role before it’s needed so you’re ready for any jump in demand.

How to build your team

Your first hire is often your most important, so recruit carefully and get the best you can afford.

Start by reviewing your network of existing contacts, then ask your friends and business contacts if they know anyone. Joining local business-network groups can help in this area too.

Do the same for any freelancers and external experts you need. “Ask them to pitch for a tender; never be afraid to ask someone to showcase why they would be good for your business,” says Reece.

For employees, you could consider offering share options as an affordable way to attract talent and keep them engaged.

Andrew advises: “A wrong hire makes more work than an empty seat. Don’t rush to fill positions. Use psychometric tests to highlight or confirm your own personal strengths and weaknesses, then apply that discipline to other team members and new hires as well.” 

Using external experts

Third-party experts, such as lawyers, accountants and financial advisers, have experience and networks that can help you accelerate and manage your growth. They will also help you spot and avoid risks and errors. 

Andrew recommends this ‘basket of Cs’ to guide your selection:
•    commercial: they’re priced realistically for what you can afford
•    credible: what they propose makes sense 
•    competence: they’re experienced in working with similar businesses 
•    case studies: get examples and references of similar work and companies they’ve helped
•    commonality: they have similar values to you
•    chemistry: you get on together.

How we can help

Keeping tabs on your personal finances and goals is essential as you grow your business. A knowledgeable and well-connected financial adviser can, therefore, become an essential part of your team. We can connect you with other professionals, such as tax and business advisers, and help you build and execute your financial plans as you grow.

SJP Approved 15/12/2023

By Matthew Forbes