Recruiting new team members and ensuring they have meaningful careers has been made more challenging with our work and personal lives becoming more and more digital. I started my bookkeeping practice My Books Online as a purely online firm even before the pandemic changed our working world.
In that time, I’ve been attracting and retaining talent to my firm in a purely digital way and I’ve learned a range of lessons as my firm has grown which I can pass on to you as you look to do the same.
Talent needs to be at the heart of your firm
For me, having the right talent needs to be at the heart of your firm. If you don’t have the right team, your firm is never going to be the best it can be. And you’re never going to be able to provide the best service and outcome for your clients either.
Your team is the biggest driver of the business and if they’re not the right fit, don’t work well together or are generally unhappy, the rest of the business is going to suffer. You’re then going to pass on that negativity to your clients and they’ll also suffer as a result.
Having the right team in place is even more crucial when you’re working virtually as you don’t have the benefit of daily feedback. When someone walks through the door, their demeanour is a big indication of how they’re feeling. You don’t have those visual cues when working remotely.
Be open about how your firm interacts digitally
I try to create an environment where my colleagues can be forthcoming with how they feel, ask questions and feel they’re being looked after. To do this, you need to attract the right talent to your firm. Despite having the right technical skills, they might not yet have the ability or confidence to speak up in a digital environment and they could start to feel isolated.
It’s important to be open about how your firm works during the recruitment process. You also need to figure out someone’s personality style and don’t be afraid to ask them direct questions about how they would handle certain situations remotely.
My aim is to find a cohesive fit between the team. In the early days, I made the mistake of taking for granted how someone would fit into our firm remotely. Their natural disposition wasn’t to interact unless somebody interacted with them first and they didn’t reach out when they encountered a problem. This ultimately leads to them feeling isolated, potentially giving them thoughts about leaving.
I now include the full spectrum of the role with candidates to ensure that neither my time recruiting nor their time applying is wasted. The goal is to set a candidate up for success in a role they can thrive in.
Give new starters the knowledge to succeed
A big part of attracting talent remotely is showing how you’ll be there for them in those first few months.
We’ve got a knowledge bank where we keep resources, training videos and manuals which helps new starters to settle in. Not only does it give them the information they need but it also tracks the historical questions others in the firm have asked.
This is an important part of showing new starters that it’s okay not to have all of the answers straight away and that we’ve all been in the same position at some point. In turn, this helps to retain bookkeepers remotely as they feel supported – especially important when they’ve just joined.
I also encourage asking questions in our digital communication channels, and when people ask a question, someone usually answers very quickly. Even if that’s a response to say that they don’t know!
Again, I think it can be quite reassuring to new starters when experienced members of the team are honest about not knowing something or are even asking questions themselves. It shows that you don’t need all the answers, you just need to know someone that does, and that speaking up with questions sooner rather than later is actively encouraged.
Take the process one step at a time
Recruitment can be a bit daunting, especially the first time round. It all comes down to making sure you don’t get overwhelmed by the process and trusting your judgement. Take it one step at a time.
Ultimately, anybody that you’re recruiting is human – the same as you. The very fact that you’re employing them means that you are in a position of experience. You’re bringing them on board and you’re going to give them a great working experience.
Don’t forget that it’s also your firm to run as you please. If you want a more formal manager-employee relationship or would prefer a more relaxed ‘flat’ structure, you need to be open about that as you only want to recruit those who enjoy that way of working.
Be confident in yourself and your values, and hire people who will fit with and complement those. This way, you’re doing what’s right by you and you can be confident in attracting and retaining the right people.
About Ellie Appleby
Ellie Appleby is an ICB certified bookkeeper and founder of My Books Online, a completely cloud-based bookkeeping practice. Ellie’s team consists of six bookkeeping experts who are based in various locations across the UK.