The single biggest thing I would say I've learned during the last few years is the importance of hiring the right people and growing a great team.

An excellent book to explain this far better than I ever could is Good to Great by Jim Collins. This highlights the value in building a great team and having the right people on the bus simply can't be underestimated if you're looking to make big leaps forward.

One of my favourite quotes which I couldn’t agree with more is:

First figure out your partners, then figure out what ideas to pursue. The most important thing isn't the market you target, the product you develop or the financing, but the founding team.

Of course it's easier said than done, but I strongly believe that if you have the best team you will win. It doesn't matter what industry or sector you're in, the same principles apply across the board.

Take football as an example, here's a chart of the recent Premier League winners, alongside their wage bill (which is chosen as the most accurate measure of talent in a squad, for various reasons such as transfer fee inflation and youth team player promotion).

Looking at this, it shows that more often than not, if you've got the best team - you will win:

Which means if you're Liverpool, Spurs or Arsenal you need to hugely over-achieve with the team you've got, in order to stand any chance of competing at the very top! Plus you've got to hope that not everything clicks into place for those above you too, hoping that their talent under-achieves.

Whereas if you are Man City in 2012, you're going to have some pretty serious questions to answer if you don't win the league. Luckily for them, they did! But looking at this data, it's no coincidence either. 

So how do you become the online version of Man City?

Simple, you hire the best people. Hopefully without the multi-million pound transfer fees and £100,000+ a week salaries!

As a business owner, I think recruitment is one of the things I’ve found as the hardest challenge and steepest learning curve and it only comes with experience and learning the hard way.

For example, you need to make a few mistakes in order to figure out what it is you’re actually looking for, or sometimes more importantly, what you’re not looking for. You need to be able to spot common traits in people to find the skills which people have to not just do a good job, but to really be able to push your business forward. 

Plus you get better at spotting these signs earlier, so you start to ask better questions in interviews, potentially saving huge amounts of time further down the line.

Even then, it’s still very unlikely you’re going to have a 100% success rate but reducing the number and size of mistakes you can make is vital, as the difference between hiring good people and those who are great is huge! Good people can do a job, great people can really help to push your business forward.

What skills do you look for?

The main skills I would look for in an individual and value when building a team would be:

1. Self-Driven

Firstly, you need to be completely confident that when recruiting, these are people who you can trust to be left to do a great job.

You don’t want to have to micro-manage them (especially not long-term)because then you might as well do it yourself and you want someone who isn’t just going to come in and do a job, you want them to contribute their own concepts, share ideas and challenge you to push forward.

Productivity is extremely important to me, a hard working attitude is never a bad thing, but at the same time I couldn’t care less how long someone sits at a desk, what did they actually achieve instead?

2. Passionate  

Basing this on the experience I’ve had of working with people who have been passionate about search – they’ve all had one thing in common, they’ve been absolutely outstanding!

And looking back, these are the people who contribute the best new ideas, progress the quickest and help encourage others to learn along the way, lifting not just themselves but the whole team.

You don’t necessarily have to have experience either, of course it helps, but I would value the passion to learn and the fact that you care about what you’re doing far more highly.

3. Balance in mix of team skills

In SEO this is especially important. If you have a team of technical people, you’re going to be missing out on the creative marketing skills required to create great content and promote themselves online.

So it’s important to bear this in mind and consider how the person would fit into your team. Would they get along with people outside of work as well as in the office? Of course, if you’re professional you should be able to work with anyone – but it’s always much easier if your working with people you can get on with too.

In the online world everything changes so quickly. So there’s often a strong need to adapt and pivot your business as the market develops and the rules change. Which makes recruitment even more important.

As Jim Collins points out, if you hire great people, they can adapt to new job roles and changes. Whereas if you just hire someone to do a job, these are the people who are more likely to struggle when they have to adapt to evolving job roles.

Another great quote from Jim Collins (and there’s lots of them) is:

If I were running a company today, I would have one priority above all others: to acquire as many of the best people as I could. I'd put off everything else to fill my bus. Because things are going to come back. My flywheel is going to start to turn. And the single biggest constraint on the success of my organization is the ability to get and to hang on to enough of the right people.

There’s a high likelihood that the difference between good and great teams could be the difference between winning and losing. So I couldn’t recommend focusing on great people any more highly. 

The last piece of advice, which I would definitely give myself if I could go back, would be to force yourself to take time in hiring the right people, even if it means you have to turn down business as a result, it will definitely get you further in the long-run.

It would be great to hear what other experiences and lessons people have learned from recruiting and building a great team too, so let us know in the comments section.

Kevin Gibbons

Published 20 June, 2012 by Kevin Gibbons

Kevin Gibbons is CEO at SEO and content marketing agency BlueGlass, he can be found on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Comments (4)


Neil Jackson

A really good point made about hiring great people who can adapt to change, rather than hiring to do a job. Given the rate of change in Digital and Search, getting the right mix of team and skills is crucial but adaptability and attitude can make the difference between a good team and a great one.

about 6 years ago

Alec Sharratt

Alec Sharratt, Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai

Thanks for the insightful post. I know from working at Koozai that if it wasn't for the enthusiasm and skill of my colleagues that I never would have learned as much about digital marketing as I have. Having an environment conducive to learning and growing is vital to get the best out of people.

So many employers seem to miss this and end up trying to rule with the stick rather than the carrot and it results in a poor working environment where no-one gives their best.

about 6 years ago

Faseeh Shams

Faseeh Shams, Marketing Manager at Adthena

Alec you are very right and this post touches exactly what every organisation needs. Passionate people who love doing what they do, their passion matches with organisations / roles goals.

But my guess is in bigger organisations it must be very difficult to recruit people who match the goals of the organisation? Is passion more driven and utilized by start-ups or small organisations?

about 6 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Kevin,

Nice post. People are the most important part of any business. You need the right people to spend money wisely.

For me, cultural fit is essential. You can find the brightest mind but if they won't fit in with the other people, you will not get the most from their skills and also risk demotivating/impeding other people.

Defining a culture and then ensuring your recruitment process delivers candidates that are a close match is a real challenge. often, this gets forgotten as a company grows because focus goes into other areas.

Having a clear company vision is important because it helps you find the right talent to complement your existing team.

What have you learned about building a company culture from your start-ups?


about 6 years ago

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