magazine | Apr 1, 2022 |
How to dip your toe into a full-time hire with part-time help

Hiring a new employee is always something of a leap of faith for entrepreneurs, and it often takes a few trips to the edge of the cliff to make sure you’re ready to jump. A way to make the plunge a little less scary? Hiring help on a part-time basis.

Your business is growing. You’re excited to make your first hire. You know exactly what responsibilities you’re looking to hand off, you’ve put up a job posting, and you even have a few exciting applicants waiting in the wings. Then you take a quick look at your books and it hits you: Wait, I’m going to be paying out this salary—never mind benefits—every month? Cue record scratch.

“You don’t want to be in a position where you’re working to pay for the assistant,” says New York–based designer Mikel Welch. “My advice is to start out by hiring part-time help.”

Hiring an employee on a part-time basis is a time-honored method of taking it slow. Both you and the new hire can suss out if it’s a fit without a contract or commitment, and the financial burden is far less onerous. It’s a particularly useful strategy in interior design, where the work can be subjective and a little vibey, and a good fit is more than just a list of skills on a resume.

Elizabeth Lawrence, partner at New York–based Bunny Williams Inc., often tries out junior-level employees on a part-time basis for three- to six-month trial periods. The key, she says, is to be open about expectations from the get-go. “I say, ‘Listen, let’s try this for three months,’” she explains. “It’s a great way for us to see if it works and for them to see if they like it. And if it’s not meant to be, I try to help them find another position—you can serve a little bit as a mentor, and if there is a parting of ways, it’s amicable.”

Really, the only downside of hiring part-time help is that, in a red-hot labor market, you might not be able to. That’s especially true for senior roles. Applicants have a lot of leverage at the moment, and even candidates with only a few years of experience under their belts might not be willing to hop on board for anything less than a full-time commitment with benefits and perks. “Everyone is really busy in the residential space, in particular, and their firms are expanding, getting new projects,” says Billy Clark, founder of talent acquisition firm Billy Clark Creative Management. “The market [right now] is very competitive, and very much candidate driven, as opposed to employer driven, meaning there’s more demand from employers looking to hire than
there is available talent.”

However, as technology has made it easier for people to work from anywhere, and COVID has made it normal, it’s likely that the future of design will involve a lot more part-time, contract-based work. Labor is getting more fungible—an arrangement that often works for both bosses and employees. “I’ve found it beneficial to hire contract employees where I can give them more hours when I’m busy,” says Welch. “In this day and age, oftentimes people don’t want to solely work for one person.”

Homepage photo: Welch designed this living room for the Kips Bay Decorator Show House in Palm Beach in 2021 | Nickolas Sargent

This article originally appeared in Spring 2022 issue of Business of Home. Subscribe or become a BOH Insider for more.

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