You meet a lot of great people -- and potentially great employees -- doing business. But until you're fully ready to engage them in a job, those great finds could end up doing more harm than good.
I have a few friends who always have said, "If you meet someone and they're good, even if you don't have a position for them or work for them right away, hire them."
I absolutely do not believe in this "cart before the horse" theory for a few reasons. For example, why would you hire a salesperson if you don't have anything to sell yet?
If your company makes or develops anything, there is usually a timeline that tells you the type of people you need to hire. You might hire researchers that help you define your product or market first. Then you might hire product designers and developers to make the product. After you define a timeline on when the product will be ready to market, you should have pegged when you need to start marketing. Then you need salespeople and business development staff to sell the product.
When I started my technology company, I did the initial research myself. When I found out there was a huge underserved market I went after an obvious type of co-founder: an engineer who could develop the product.
My first real hire was a customer service person three months before we launched the product. Side benefit? He tested and tested our product before it was released, so we could identify and fix bugs. It turned out to be a great decision. My mistake? My next hire was a salesperson -- two months before the product was released. Right person, wrong time. It was too early.
The salesperson was frustrated the product wasn't where it needed to be and, as a result, there was conflict. I should have done more seeding of the product to customers to help get it to a better place with customer feedback, then start the selling process.
Here are some potential downsides of hiring someone too soon:
1. They sit around draining resources (cash), which in the end will get to you emotionally. Don't hate the player; hate the coach who brought the player on.
2. They de-motivate the rest of the team who might be working hard. The engineer who is developing the product for a marketing person to market doesn't want to watch the marketing person shopping online all day.
3. They get de-motivated. If you hired them, they should be good. And if they're good at what they do, they're going to want to jump in and make a difference. If they've been wasting time for a month, by the time the product is ready, they may have lost the head of steam you wanted them to have when you need them to have it.
Everyone wants a winning team right out of the gate, but in most cases there isn't just one gate to go through. And a specific type of person is needed at each and every gate. Make sure you hire when you need to and not too soon. You could end up doing more damage than good.
JANINE POPICK is the CEO and founder of VerticalResponse (a Deluxe company), a leading provider of self-service email and event marketing, online surveys, social media, and direct mail solutions. The company was ranked No. 2,802 on the 2012 Inc. 5000. @janinepopick