The business owner’s challenge: Building a top-notch team

Nothing accelerates growth like excellent team members. I’m not kidding. I’ve seen business owners struggle to grow their business for years, until they finally get fed up and hire better team members and, bam! their company grows. Are you tolerating mediocre talent on your team, or do you hold off hiring employees because you don’t believe you can get good people? Either way, that decision is holding your company back. I’m 100% sure of it.

building a team

When I see a business owner hire better, it signals a shift in the confidence of the business owner (and the clients see it too). When you hire people who bring their own skills–who aren’t just young, energetic “arms and legs”– you know it’s time to get serious! Their salaries are higher; they expect more. Hiring better forces you to up your game.

What does it mean to “hire better”?

Small businesses are littered with young talented folks, who have no experience and no track record, or corporate cast-offs who, for many reasons, just don’t fit in big organizations. To hire better means to reach beyond that immediate pool of talent to find really great people with the experience and discipline your company needs. It means finding people who don’t just accept tasks, but accept responsibility for whole areas of your business. Not a bookkeeper, but a financial manager. Not someone who executes; but someone who thinks, and innovates, and gets results.

To find that better talent requires a different hiring discipline, and a different set of expectations from the start. It means that you have to give up control — but not to just anyone. You’re giving up control to someone you respect (who might do an even better job than you do).

But how can we afford to hire a top-notch team?

Ok, so you don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay out in salary; and you don’t have corporate benefits. That doesn’t mean you can’t recruit top-talent. In fact, folks that are looking for that kind of salary and benefits aren’t the ideal employee for your small company!

Instead you are looking for folks who want to make a difference.

Maybe this seems too obvious. But if you are really driven to make a difference, then corporate life is torture. The meetings, the committees, the fear and groupthink make really innovative, impactful actions almost impossible. You want to find the folks who can’t stand that.

The offer that you are making is different. It’s not, work for 30 years and retire with a pension. It’s more like:

“Come here where we can talk about something in the morning, implement it by the afternoon, and evaluate the results by the weekend. You want to make a difference? This is the place.”

But a job like that isn’t easy. It means you get your hands dirty. You get involved in things you never thought you would. You are learning new things all the time, but some of those things aren’t so glamorous. You get to make a difference; and you also get to make your own copies…

By telling the whole story–the opportunity and the challenges–you can attract people who want that and will drive your business forward.

Top team members need to be led, not managed

If that’s the “deal” you are offering, then you can’t try to control their every move. Top-notch people who want to make a difference need a different kind of boss. They need a leader; who defines the goals and boundaries, insures that there are resources to do a great job, and measures and rewards success. That leader doesn’t watch the clock, control process, or micro-manage. They inspire, direct, and hold people accountable.

People who want to make a difference actually love accountability. They need measurement and feedback to get better and make progress. I’m not saying that you need to be hands-off; just that you need to focus more on results than on process and details.

This is difficult. We don’t want to put our business at risk from someone’s careless mistake. That’s why it’s important that we hire employees with a track record of success. This is not their first rodeo–they know what they’re doing. We need to start out with frequent check-ins where they can learn how to tap into our experience and understanding of this business to help them to achieve the big goals that we’ve set for them.

Go get ’em

Are you getting excited? Does this seem like the next step for your business? Then it’s time to start looking for those better people who will take you further. But in order to make sure that we have the right people that we can really trust, we need to commit to a slower and more deliberate hiring process.

Only when we rigorously define what we need, develop a rich pool of viable candidates who can meet that need, and then deliberately interview and compare several of them to find the best fit, can we truly start to trust that they can accept responsibility for the area of the business we are hiring employees to own.

That’s what we’re going to talk about over the next few weeks–how to find those people who can (and will) take your business further.

How to build your team organizational structure

Photo credit: Unsplash

Brad Farris

As principal advisor of Anchor Advisors, Brad Farris has experience leading businesses & business owners into new levels of growth and success. Through his work with over 100 Chicago area small businesses he has experience in guiding founders and business owners through the pitfalls and joys of growing their business. Prior to joining Anchor Advisors, Brad spent over 10 years managing business units for a family-owned conglomerate with sales of $2 million to $25 million.  When he's not working, Brad enjoys cycling, cooking and the NFL. He is married with 5 children and lives in Chicago, Illinois. Connect with him on Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn.


  1. Brad, I like this article especially: “Not a bookkeeper, but a financial manager.” What would you exchange for the title of Account Executive or business development for because those are known as sales positions? And IT?
    Thanks for the insight.

    • We want to focus on the “result” that we are looking to achieve. I like Business Development Executive better than Account Executive (AE is more of a “farming role”, BD is more of a “hunting role”.

      Same with IT, we don’t want someone to “Manage” our technology — we want to use technology to optimize our business processes and decisions. How about calling IT “Grease” — maybe too cute but you get the idea…

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