How Can a Startup Choose Which Role to Hire for?

How can a startup choose which role to hire for, when they can only afford one role but have multiple hiring needs?

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1. Identify the most immediate impact

To decide which role to prioritize in a startup with limited hiring capacity, focus on identifying the most immediate and impactful need. Evaluate your current business challenges and determine which area, if improved, would drive the most significant growth or remove a critical bottleneck.

Consider roles that can deliver quick wins and have the flexibility to take on various responsibilities as the startup evolves. Opt for a candidate with a diverse skill set and a proactive mindset, who can contribute to multiple functions and adapt to changing priorities as your business grows.

Jon Clark, Moving Traffic Media, LLC

2. Avoid hiring administrative help

Many entrepreneurs and small business owners make the mistake of hiring a receptionist or administrative professional early in their startup phase. Your first hire—and your second and third hire—should be for roles that are focused exclusively on revenue generation. You need money, not organization. For B2B, hire sales people to help you get more leads and to cultivate more opportunities.

Don’t worry so much about execution. Get the sale and then figure out how to deliver on it. If you own a service business, develop a training program, then hire staff to deliver your services.

From day one of your startup, set a plan to transition from the one doing all the work to the one who manages all the work. Once you have a team of professionals working for you—selling for you or delivering your services—then you can hire admin personnel to help you keep it in order.

Thomas Minieri, Lemonade Maker®

3. Hire what you’re the worst at

Hire away something you’re worst at. Focusing on your strengths (and by extension having other folks focus on theirs) will help you grow faster, and ultimately be in a position to hire that next team member faster.

Taylor Sloane, HelpDocs

4. Look for people who love the startup hustle

My advice is to look for folks who love the startup hustle and are up for anything. Go for a hire who’s like a Swiss Army knife. This should be a multi-passionate person who can handle different tasks, be it marketing, sales, operations—you name it.

Hiring a versatile employee means you’re getting several challenges addressed at once. Plus, they can adapt as your startup grows and changes. This hire will obviously be more costly but think of it as investing in flexibility and innovation.

Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS

5. Find people who can wear multiple hats

Startups will have to be transparent to their potential candidates on how the role will require wearing multiple hats. Being up front and honest is crucial as certain candidates thrive under this type of pressure and look forward to the challenges that rise ahead will others like to work with a very focused task list.

Jordan Edelson, Appetizer Mobile LLC

Hiring first employee
photo credit: Kindel Media / Pexels

6. Identify the most critical problem

When you can only afford one role but have multiple hiring needs, start off by identifying the most critical problem you need to solve right now. You should know the most pressing issue that has the most significant impact on your short-term and long-term goals. After that, assess your team’s skillset to explore the skill gap. You need to identify the skills you currently lack that can help you cater to the most critical problem at hand. Next, hire someone who can not only solve the immediate problem but also help you unlock future growth opportunities.

Onboarding someone who can grow with the company and adapt to changing needs is ideal.

Stephanie Wells, Formidable Forms

7. Value a willingness to help wherever they are needed

In my opinion, startups need to hire the person that delivers the most immediate benefit but also has a desire and willingness to help out wherever they are needed. If applicants know you’re a startup and you make clear you’re at ‘the all hands to the pump’ stage of development, there should be no illusions about what’s involved. You’re obviously hiring for a purpose, whether that’s to complete a product, market it, manage production or something specific.

Hire for that, but hire someone willing to help out in other areas too. Startups provide a unique challenge to staff, but also unique rewards. As long as the applicant knows what they are getting into, they should be able to contribute much more than just what their role requires.

Abhijeet Kaldate, Astra WordPress Theme

8. Consider contractors or freelancers as an alternative

From my experience leading a lean startup, I strongly recommend focusing on contracting freelancers or consultants instead of committing to a single full-time hire when resources are limited. Bringing on freelance talent through platforms like Upwork or Freelancer allows you to flexibly address multiple functional needs without the substantial financial burden of a full-time salary, benefits, and associated overhead costs. This agile approach enables you to scale your operations up or down seamlessly based on your company’s immediate priorities and project demands.

Sourcing skilled experts for specific short-term engagements ensures you always have the right people for the right tasks, maximizing your startup’s productivity and runway.

Blair Williams, MemberPress

9. What gives you the biggest ROI?

There are two key things to consider: First, you need to figure out which role will give you the biggest ROI and an immediate return. In the early days, one might often hire people based on their potential to achieve long-term goals. But when cash is tight, you need immediate impact.

I like to hire people in the beginning who can deliver results quickly. This might not always be the most strategic role (like a Chief Operating Officer). It could be a marketing or sales resource. The more free time they can give you to focus on other stuff, the better. Once you have more time, you can focus on strategy and fill those key strategic roles.

Optimizing for a role that can get you immediate results allows you to evaluate whether you’re spending too much cash or getting a good return on investment for that employee.

Krish Chopra, NPHub