Hiring and Retaining the Best Employees: A Letter to Fashion Start-Ups

retaining the best employees

Retaining the Best Employees For Your Fashion Start-up

Are you having trouble retaining the best employees for your fashion business? Do you find the hiring process daunting? One of the biggest challenges for fashion startups is finding AND keeping the right employees. As a fashion startup employee, I’ll be sharing the top ways that fashion startups fall short in their on-boarding procedures.

Remember, as a fashion startup, you can’t offer the benefits of a corporate company. How will your company add value to the lives of your employees? Do you have an incredible brand mission? Are you aiding an important cause? Your salaries are probably low and your work days are long, so keeping your employees passionate and motivated is crucial.

And the first step is building the right team.

Be Very Intentional When Vetting New Employees

Hiring right is the foundation of retaining the best employees, yet most fashion startups have no formal on-boarding processes in place. In many cases, a startup owner hires once they’re desperate for permanent help. But building your core team is a process you shouldn’t wing. Hiring, much like design execution, digital marketing, and sales strategy, are all mission-critical to your business. The process shouldn’t be rushed. So, think critically about the work culture you desire before you start reviewing applications.

My first fashion job was at a startup where I was hired after only one interview. This was beneficial for me at the time, but in hindsight, I can see where the process was rushed. The interview was super brief for a permanent hire position and my questions concerning day-to-day tasks were vaguely answered. The owners asked very little about my work style, but I presented an impressive resume and portfolio. I was hired shortly after, only to learn that the design and technical skills I demonstrated were completely irrelevant to the actual job. My title was an assistant designer but I was filling a production manager role. I was soon let go because of the difference in skill set.

High Turnover Rates are Very Costly to Start-ups

I lost a job but the company lost out as well. While I could have asked more probing questions, the company could have been more thorough on their end. High turnover rates are common and costly for startups (I was the third full-time employee to leave in less than a year). Too many employers focus on portfolio and hard skills versus personality, soft skills, and work style – which are equally important. Since the risks of getting a hire wrong are higher in startups, you should allow yourself time for thorough screening procedures.

So how can you be intentional with your hiring processes?

  • Start with honesty- it’s free. When an employee quits after a short period of time, it’s usually because they had very different expectations. Be communicative and transparent about what the job will entail – even the parts that aren’t so glamorous. Even a role with a lot of unglamorous parts won’t scare away the right candidate – especially when there’s a positive, innovative mission.
  • Contact references before you hire the person or try implementing a referral-only hiring system. Did you know that most large tech companies were built by referrals – at least for the first 100 employees?
  • Keep in mind you’re looking for qualities rather than competencies. Our founder uses personality tests when vetting new hires. Try asking more probing interview questions – don’t just rely on the resume. Probing questions allow you to see how involved the person was at previous jobs. Were they a doer or a delegator? Work style and past work environments are what you really want to consider. A corporate-type may have trouble adjusting to a startup life intertwined with lowly, humble tasks.
  • Think outside the box. Sometimes interviews themselves are not enough. Implement a case study analysis and pick their brain with scenario-based questions. This will allow you to see how someone would deal with the types of problems that happen in your business. If you present an efficiency problem and they suggest hiring another employee, then that’s probably not the person for you.

Implement Effective Systems to Promote Brand Consistency

For most entrepreneurs, their business is their baby. They are self-made and accustomed to doing things themselves. But even in the development stages, the smartest entrepreneurs plan for expansion. They utilize systems before they ever think of hiring their first employee. The beginning stage is the best time to get systems in place. Once business picks up and orders start rolling in, you’ll have less and less time for fundamental maintenance. Sadly, many business owners carry on with ineffective processes simply because that’s the way they’ve always done things. But a lack of systematized processes makes it extremely hard for future employees to work efficiently, and even harder to focus on the more important creative and analytical work. A lack of systems is a lack of organization. This can potentially create a dependent work culture, since the owner knows all the ins and outs. Even the simplest measures like tracking tools, logs, or email templates can streamline mundane tasks – allowing new employees to work more independently. Also, when your standards are made clear, consistency is easily achieved. I’ve worked in multiple startups with no reputable systems. We spent more time making up for the lack of organization rather than improving the overall business.

A business owner who doesn’t prioritize business systems ends up becoming a slave to their workload. Your time becomes filled with busy work that sucks your time and drains your mental energy.

Pros of Implementing Systems:

  • You and your employees have a greater sense of control over the workload – improving efficiency and work/life balance.
  • The streamlined approach will leave you less inclined to oversee each and every mundane process – no one likes a micro-manager.
  • Systems save your employees time – allowing more room for creativity and innovation.
  • Systems promote consistency and prevent errors and mistakes.

Specify Clear Roles: Create an Atmosphere that Allows Employees to Utilize Their Strengths

When it comes to retaining the best employees, this is crucial. The multi-faceted environment of a startup is priceless, especially for the aspiring entrepreneur types. Most startup teams are lean, allowing each employee to wear several hats. Many millennials value the cross-functional learning atmosphere, but it’s still important to specify clear roles. When the sea of responsibilities becomes too blurred, your employees will lack focus and potentially burn out from being stretched so thin.

From an entrepreneur perspective, it’s logical to keep the numbers small. You don’t have the overhead to hire a bunch of employees with neat specifications. But we’d encourage you to think twice before hiring 1-2 people to do everything. Not only is it a hindrance to your business’s growth, but it’s unsustainable for your employees. I once took a job at a fashion startup whose job description included being a sales and customers service associate, a store manager, social media manager, production assistant, assistant designer, and an event planner. While I learned a lot, my design strengths were the least utilized among the rest of the workload. Though your employees are happy to work cross-functionally, you must offer them opportunities to flourish in their natural abilities. You’ll retain a happier, healthier team that way. If one of your employees is passionate about marketing and communications, let them take the lead on a new social media strategy. Creating those opportunities will keep your employees motivated, loyal, and satisfied with their personal growth. Not to mention, each sector of your business will benefit as it’s nurtured by the employees with a paralleled skill set.

An Alternative to Hiring on a Low Budget

Consider hiring a full/part-time time assistant or two where you need the most help. Then hire contractors or freelancers for more niche roles – like branding, blogging, wholesale sales, or whatever applies to your business. This hybrid works well for small business as each sector is handled with expertise and focus. Your employees can pour their all into a more focused array of tasks, while utilizing their strengths and talents. Of course, the dynamic changes for every company. Maybe you’ve got the design down pact and need the most help with production and shipments. Or maybe you’re already partnering with a project manager and you need help with sales, e-commerce, and social media. Whatever the dynamic is, take time to identify your greatest needs and build your internal team around those duties. This will establish a better work-life balance as each part of the business is approached with adequate care and excellence.

We hope that you found this information helpful! You may be used to handling your business on your own – but when the time comes, approach the hiring process with an open mind and the proper preparation.

If you’d like specific consulting in this area, you can contact us here for a 1-on-1 consultation! 🙂 And for weekly fashion business insights join our Fearless Fashionpreneur Facebook Group. We host weekly live videos, interviews, and Q&A’s to ignite your fashionpreneur flame.

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