You are in for a treat. One of the hardest parts of starting a company is hiring employees. This is true for all industries, and it is something that most SEO start-ups need help with (I know I do.) Richard Baxter is the owner of SEO Gadget, one of the most respected SEO companies in the world. In the past two years, he has taken his company from a £0/a year blog, to a multi-million £/a year company. I had the honor of interviewing Richard about how he made the leap to hire his first employe, and about what role His company’s culture has played in their growth.
How To Hire Great Employees: Interview With Richard Baxter:
Q: Your company has experienced amazing growth in the past few years. Can you share with us how long your company has existed, and how long you waited until you hired your first employee?
A: I formed SEOgadget LTD (like an LLC in the US) in September 2009 and prior to this, I’d been working on it as a part time project (blogging and consulting). Up until around September I’d been a Head of SEO at a travel company. I’d had pipedreams about going solo for a long time but hadn’t quite taken the leap, that is until I handed in my notice in my full time Job. The original plan was to go full time in solo consulting from that September, but my soon-to-be ex Employer gave me an opportunity to work in the US for a while as part of a part time contract for 3 months. On that note, I became fully solo in January 2010.
Things grew from there, albeit at the pace one person can handle. I ended up working from my spare room for 6 months before I decided to get some shared office space. I think I decided (more or less) on the day I arrived in that office that I needed to hire, and so, the job ad, blog post and tweets were sent!
Q: Most new SEO companies start as a one-man show and it can be scary hiring your first employee. When you took that initial leap, were you nervous?
A: Definitely. All the advice in the world won’t prepare you to actually do these things. I have a lot of people asking for advice; “when should I do X?” and “I’ve been thinking about starting Y, can I ask a few questions?”.
The bottom line is this: just do it. Of course it’s easy for me to say this, because I did, and I have! But I promise, you can too Tweet
– nervousness, hesitance, second guessing yourself are all natural behaviors and rightly so – a new venture is not to be taken lightly. You can make it work if you think first, plan a little (not too much) and go for it.
Q: I read through the “Stuff That Isn’t Work” section on your job board. I love when companies go above and beyond to take care of their employees. Can you explain how this effects the culture of your company?
A: The culture of our company has really evolved, especially as new people have come on board and taken what we’ve got and developed it a little further. Culture isn’t something you can craft overnight, I think it evolves when the environment, the platform and the people suit the task in hand. Generally (when we’re hiring), the cultural fit questions have become more and more important as we’ve evolved. I just know in my heart that if I bring smart, bright, friendly individuals into the team, the chances are our culture will become stronger and more defined as a result. Looking back I realize I had no idea whatsoever about this at the beginning. I definitely made a few mistakes along the way but I’m feeling quite clear we’ve got a great environment and excellent people.
Something that has *really* opened my eyes in the last few weeks – the move to our new office has changed things dramatically. I put a lot of effort into making sure our new office was a really nice environment to work in. That objective (aside from a few remaining teething problems) has definitely been achieved – the company feel (our dynamic, mood) is now quite different to the one we had even 3 weeks ago. That’s an astounding development and I’ve really learned that location is just as important as the package, support, training, days out, free food, conferencing and all of the other things we do for our team.
Q:Inbound Marketing is such a huge industry now, and it includes SEO, Social, Web Development, Graphic Design, PR… etc. How did you decide who to hire first? Did you look for someone with a broad skill-set, or did you hire someone with a focused skill-set?
A: That’s a great question. Initially (for the first 3 or 4 hires), I looked at the work I was most commonly engaged in. At the time of my first hire, I was up to my next in technical audits, keyword research, IA and consulting. The consulting was arguably the highest value work I could have been doing but the need for near constant data collection, analysis, auditing was starting to slow me up. The technical project work however was a core revenue driver for the business, so I had to find a good SEO to take that work off my hands. This was Daniel Butler – a great, great SEO – his work has contributed in a fundamental way since that time. Hiring management and support roles were arguably the biggest leaps to take. That moment that you realize you can’t do everything and that you need other people to take charge of elements of the company. As soon as you’ve hired management, you’re building structure. Then, it gets exciting!
Q:Finally, the question we all knew was coming: Is there something specific you look for in potential hires? Are there any secret tactics that you use to sort through your job applicants?
A: We’re learning every day. The guys that do the first round of interviews with newcomers are exuding confidence that we’ve got our hiring process down. That’s good – but it has taken work to get here. When I’m interviewing, I’m generally focused on understanding an individual’s motivation. Why are they here? What do they want from their careers? What are they capable of in the long term? Generally I like to see evidence of a highly proactive approach to learning and career development – one of my favorite “types” of people are the problem solvers, particularly the ones that “just do” and learn what they need on the fly to get the job done. For me it’s attitude and aptitude, not experience specifically in SEO. Really good people could learn SEO in a day! I spent some time talking with my good Friend Will Critchlow about what makes people successful. It’s a very difficult criteria to measure! Funny thing about success is you have to want to be that person, and strive for it in every waking hour. Some people just don’t seem to get that, and they’re the ones I try to avoid.
Richard Baxter is the founder of SEOgadget.co.uk, an SEO agency specializing in large site architecture, conversion rate optimization (CRO), keyword research, technical SEO, infographics, content development and most of all, link building in competitive industries…