Of all the important elements you need to run a business, what do you think is the most important? Good marketing is critical… Top-notch sales copy is key… High-quality products and/or services – definitely important… Good ideas – essential. But you can get all of these things – and more – if you have one thing.

I’m talking about good people to help build, run, and grow your business.

The thing is… it’s not all that easy to find good people. All the really smart businesspeople I know are constantly looking for superstar employees.

A few years back, I met a gentleman who had a $20,000,000 printing business. Yet he was still working 60 hours a week (or more), and wearing almost all the hats in his company. This was simply because he could not find the right people to help him run it.

Because hiring good people is one of my core competencies, I am often asked how to do it. As I said, it’s not easy. But it is extremely doable.

Finding good employees is like dating. It’s a numbers game. Unless you’re truly lucky, the first person you date doesn’t end up being your spouse. Think about all the uncomfortable dates you had to endure… the many times your heart was broken… and the frogs you had to kiss… before finding “the one.”

Finding the right employees is no different. You are going to have to kiss a few frogs before finding the superstars who can help your business grow. And if you are not prepared to do that, you will have a staff full of mediocre employees… or continuous turnover. Neither of these things is good for your customers, your one or two good employees, your reputation, or your bottom line.

To make it much easier to get past the frogs to my ideal employees, I make sure I can clearly define three things whenever I’m looking to hire someone:

– The kind of person I want
– The level of the position and, thus, the experience the person needs
– The skill set required to do the job

Knowing the Characteristics of Your Ideal Employee

Regardless of the actual position you’re filling or the skill set the employee needs to have, everyone you hire should have three important traits:

  1. A strong sense of urgency. A good employee is someone who understands that deadlines are made to be met and that speed is money. They also understand that business is business… and it is serious. You can have a lot of fun at work. But every employee needs to be well aware that your customers invest their time and money with you. That means your primary mission is for your customers to reach their goals, whatever their goals may be.
  2. A great work ethic. You want someone who shows up early and is ready to go, someone who is on time for meetings and appointments. A pattern of showing up late for anything is a sign of not caring.When I explain this to job candidates, they often ask, “What if I am just not a morning person? Couldn’t I come in late and stay later in the evening?” My answer is “Absolutely not.” Showing up early indicates eagerness. Staying late indicates disorganization.
  3. Intellect. Your ideal employee is someone with great ideas. Equally important is that the employee is not afraid to express those ideas.People are often surprised to hear that I require intellect in employees at every level of the company, not just management. Don’t forget that every single employee you have is an “ambassador” for you, a direct reflection of you. And at some time or another, they will speak to your customers, your competitors, and your industry associates.

Defining the Position You’re Trying to Fill

In addition to knowing the kind of person you’re looking for, you need to have a very good understanding of the position – and of the experience necessary to do the job properly.

I break down all positions into three categories: executer, manager, and leader.

  1. The executer is an entry-level employee. She is not responsible for strategic planning, but rather the execution of the plan. This is generally someone fresh out of school or with little or no direct experience within your niche.Some of her core responsibilities may include:

    – Setting up marketing campaigns in your system
    – Producing reports
    – Posting website copy

  2. The manager is responsible for managing processes and/or other employees. He usually has five to 10 years of direct experience within your niche. He can think strategically, teach others, and start developing big ideas.Some of his core responsibilities may include:

    – Analyzing reports, trends, and competitors
    – Product development
    – Creating partnerships and affiliate deals

  3. The leader’s primary job – 50% or more of it – encompasses meetings with staff, brainstorming, and business planning. A few examples of people in a leadership role would include marketing directors, editorial directors, and IT directors… all the way up to the CEO. The leader is someone with eight or more years of experience within your specific niche. This is someone with a proven track record of success. This is a person who can come into your organization and be up to speed and make a difference immediately.Some of the leader’s core responsibilities may include:

    – Creating a departmental or company vision
    – Contract negotiation
    – Hiring staff

Note: “Leader” may be a high-level position – but all of your employees should showcase leadership qualities.

Identifying the Skill Set Required

When people ask me to help them find a good employee, I am amazed when they aren’t really sure what they want that person to do. You can’t find the right person for a particular job if you don’t know what the job requires. For example, if you are hiring a receptionist whose main duties are to answer the phone, schedule your appointments on your Outlook calendar, and type your speeches and companywide e-mails, you would not want someone with a hard-to-understand accent who has never seen a computer.

So before you can initiate your search, you have to write a job description. If you have never done this before, start by writing down everything you think you want your new employee to do. List their responsibilities. And next to each responsibility, write down the necessary skill. Be specific.

Let’s use the example of a receptionist:

Once you know the characteristics of your ideal employee and can define the job and the skills that employee needs… you start looking.

How to Find Your Ideal Employee

The first rule of hiring is to be patient. Remember the old saying: “Hire slow and fire fast.”

Think about what executive recruiters do. They build their Rolodexes. When they call Person A with a job opportunity and Person A is not interested, they end up with three phone numbers or e-mail addresses of people Person A knows.

So the second rule of hiring is to think about all the people you know, especially when you’re looking to fill a middle- or upper-level position. If none of them are right for the job, call them anyway. They may know people who are. Keep collecting names and numbers.

If you are looking for more of an entry-level employee, advertising in a trade publication is good. But do some research first. Read the ads the publication normally prints and make your ad better. Make your position sound rewarding and exciting. If there is room for advancement, mention it.

You can also use Career Builder, Monster, eHire, and other online job search engines. Of course, you’ll probably have to sift through hundreds of applications, 99% of them useless. And you may luck out.

But you’re not going to find most of your potential superstars this way.

Even better than advertisements… and far better than online job search engines… is networking. I look for possible employees everywhere I go.

When I attend industry events (which I often do), cocktail parties are my favorite networking places. (You get a real feel for the personality and style of the people you meet.) When I speak at industry functions, I tell the audience that I am available to talk about job opportunities. I talk to other parents while attending my kids’ soccer games.

You can network ANYWHERE. Wherever there are people, there’s an opportunity. Don’t be afraid to ask your friends, colleagues, and competitors about people who might be a good fit for your company. You will be glad you did.

Remember, you don’t have to be the smartest person in the world to succeed in business. You just need to be smart enough to hire the right people to help you do it.

[Ed. Note: MaryEllen Tribby, ETR’s former publisher and CEO, followed her lifelong dream and started a new company, Working Moms Only, to help women balance work and family life. Keep an eye out for her columns in ETR on the challenges facing working moms, on marketing, business building, and more. And check out the Working Moms Only website and sign up for MaryEllen’s free e-letter here.]

Mary Ellen Tribby

MaryEllen Tribby is a business consultant and coach to entrepreneurs in the information publishing and digital marketing arena. She led Early to Rise from May 2006 to January 2010 as Publisher & CEO. She has also served as President of Weiss Research, managing divisions of Forbes, Globe Communications, Times Mirror Magazines and Crain’s New York Business. She currently heads up The CEO's Edge and WorkingMomsOnly.com.