How To Build Your Team — The Master & Apprentice Growth Model

In most small businesses and start ups, once you’ve tapped into a great problem to solve and people start buying, you are instantly overwhelmed by what you have to do on a daily basis. That’s where you hope that hiring a team will solve all your problems.

But too often, it doesn’t. The problems only compound and it feels like the stress level in your life tripled.

When this happens most people retreat; scale back down; and admit defeat. But you don’t have to do that. With a little help from the ways of the Jedi, you’ll be able to handle the growth that comes.

Handling mountains of work is pretty anxiety inducing. It’s hard to keep track of everything and its hard to do what you have to do and get other people to do what you need them to do.

I remember on one occasion when I was only a few years into my first business another business owner in my field came to my shop for help. He was overwhelmed; had more work than what he knew what to do with; and he knew that I had a good sized team. He asked if he could borrow some of my team to help him get through a few jobs. I asked him how many jobs he had in queue. He said he had about 3 jobs confirmed and was waiting to hear back on a few others. I didn’t want to come off as dismissive or boastful so I kept to myself the 30 jobs I had in my own queue and offered a little bit of encouragement and said as gently as I could that we probably couldn’t help. I don’t know that he took my rejection as gentle but that was my intention.

Unlike him, I was not worried about the 30 jobs in my queue and I could have taken on his jobs if his customers weren’t promised the moon. The reason was I had a team that was trained just as the Jedi train their padawans and I had a playbook to follow.

Here is how I structure my teams like the Jedi and the Sith to grow the company without a ton of headache. This works for any service based company that has to manage the sale of the product/service and has to deliver it all while working directly with the customer (Whether B2B or B2C).

There are two major forces in your business. The first force is what attracts and finds new work. The second is the force that produces the work. Sellers and producers. In some companies, the seller and producers can develop antagonism toward one another, like the Jedi and the Sith but as a company, the two forces have to come together to find balance in the workforce (nailed it).

The first hire for your company has to fill the yin to your yang. One has to bring the work in. The other has to do the work. That is key. They have to be two different people with exclusive responsibility to do one or the other.

To determine who is the seller and who is the producer, you have to look at what you like doing, what you’re best at, and what will bring the company the most money.

If you don’t like the sales and you care more about the product, stay in product. But don’t bring someone in who doesn’t know a lick about sales. If on the other hand you love charging out and making the sale, find someone that compliments you with knowing how to do the work AND do it better than you.

There must be the two to begin with.

The primary reason this has to be is because of the way that schedules work within the two roles. For a person involved in sales or business development, your schedule is really broken up into 1 hour increments. A really productive virtual meeting, appointment or networking lunch can make the business a lot of money. But if you are then saddled by executing on the work you sold, you won’t have time to sell. And then if you do take a sales appointment and it’s scheduled in the middle of a work period, your productivity is shot. You won’t get enough done.

The same problem is true of the producer who gets bogged down by sales appointments. They won’t ever get enough done in a day if they keep getting derailed by appointments.

Once you’ve made that first hire, now you can start to scale because each person has the ability to focus on their lane and each person can grow their team as the tasks at hand start to overwhelm their own schedule.

This is the time where it is appropriate and most cost effective to bring on someone more junior. Again, we call them apprentices.

I like bringing on apprentices because they are usually more cost effective and you have the ability to groom them into following your company’s best practices. It’s not impossible to teach an old dog a new trick, so I would never discriminate against someone just because they’ve spent a long time doing the thing you’re doing but at this early stage, you really do need to watch your labor cost and the reality is the more junior people cost less early in their careers. But anyone that is coachable and able to survive well on junior level wages is going to work well here.

You also want this junior level person to have a lot of potential for leadership. Because they are going to be the foundation for the future. They are junior, but they don’t want to be. They want opportunity for growth; and as your sales engine gets going, you’ll need to bring on more people with great growth potential.

Just like the Jedi Masters and the Sith Lords. There are always two; a master and an apprentice.

As you grow each side of the business, be calculated in how many people you take on. Make sure that every person, even you, is responsible for producing enough revenue to cover personal income needs. When you add a new person, track their productivity and tie it to revenue. Are they producing or saving more revenue than they are costing in income? In the early stages, don’t bring on pure overhead positions. Sure, there are certain needs of the business that produce non-revenue generating tasks but as much as you can, either give those non-revenue generating tasks to someone who is producing more revenue than they are spending or outsource it to a pay-as-you-go consultant that can save you money and won’t lock you into a long term commitment.

As each apprentice matures and they are able to take on more individual responsibility, you will let them go on their own and take on tasks while you train the next apprentice. When each apprentice graduates, pair them up with another producer (give that producer a promotion as a supervisor or crew leader) and let the two rock it out.

Out of your leaders, you will find one or two that are interested in training. Perfect, give them the job. Next time you bring on apprentices, pair them up with your newly promoted trainers. This will give the person who is overseeing all of the teams the opportunity to focus on building leaders.

As a leader builder, you will have a lot of direct reports and the total number that you have reporting to you is really up to your individual capacity but as a general rule of thumb, I wouldn’t consider replacing yourself if you have fewer than 6 direct reports.

Each side of the company, sales and production, keeps growing their team in concert with the output of the other half. If sales is going great, ramp up production; if production has more capacity, ramp up sales. Communicate with each other, keeping that yin and yang partnership in tact and focus on smooth and controlled growth.

Now that we’ve looked at a handful of roles — on one hand, the sales and on the other, production — with a master and apprentice growth model, lets turn our attention to their individual positions.

For sales, you’ll either be, or have your number two play, the role of sales leader. Official title is less important here. They just need to be in charge of sales and they need to be masters of it. While marketing is an important part of business and I believe in it because I’m a marketing guy, my honest to goodness believe is that you can get really really far with just business development. That is a sales person, going out, building a network the old fashion way, and driving their own leads for business. I would do that before any other thing. The reason being is that the best marketing is informed by the problems that sales people are identifying. So start with sales. You have to know whether there is a product market fit and the best people to do that are the people who talk to the consumer every single day.

When a sales leader brings on their version of an apprentice, that individual will be tasked with some of the more repetative things that the sales leader finds themselves doing over and over again. Repetative tasks are great to pass on because they are usually easy to standardize; and if there is a standard, you can easily train it. This would include, inbound/outbound lead capture. Have the junior sales person do intake for inbound calls and help facilitate the appointment. Have them do cold outreach, door knocking, and attending events. Their goal should be to generate the sales appointment. They will attend those appointments with you as they begin the road to mastery.

Similarly, the master/apprentice relationship for production is one where the easiest to repeat tasks and the easiest to learn tasks are given to the apprentice. This makes the path to their mastery faster and less risky and it affords the master the time to do the more complicated tasks. As the apprentice masters the simple aspects of the job, they can be trained to learn the more advanced techniques. Once they have mastered everything, give them a series of solo projects to present as their master work. Have it examined and critiqued and then graduate them to the next level.

In the early stages of business, you are going to be figuring out a lot of things. On a recent podcast episode with Suhaiba Neill, we talked about the different stages of business growth. She said that in the early stages, you are just using common sense and personal experience to solve the business problems. There is a lot of trouble shooting and figuring things out as you go but because you are a capable person, you’re able to get the job done. But then, as more work gets heaped on your plate, you end up throwing more hours at the problem and eventually you’re just white knuckling your way through the work. This is a hard place to live as a professional but it’s a phase everyone goes through. Little by little, you are able to take a spare moment here and there to standardize what you’ve been doing and move it from muscle memory to a best practice or standard operating procedure.

It’s at this point where you are really able to scale your team. But you can’t do it unless you take these best practices and develop them into a playbook.

Playbooks are essential for business growth. They help you take the problems that face your business, provide a plan for how to solve the problem and outline an expected result that is measurable and achievable.

Playbooks should be accessible to everyone and made available in both digital and print format. While as a world, we need to be looking toward sustainable methods of work and digital is substantially more sustainable than printing documents, there are some instances where paper is still more flexible and more accessible to certain individuals and in certain working conditions. I say this because too many people have become reliant on finding the perfect app to solve all of their business operational problems but the reality is that sometimes apps aren’t all that necessary (and I say this as a former tech CMO). Apps aren’t always necessary. Sometimes a simple check list is all you need to perform a job the same way every time.

To figure out what plays you need to write, you start with the weakest link in your business. Every two weeks, I hold sprint review meetings with my team. A sprint is a two week period of work. You can learn more about that here in my book — Sprint. At the end of the sprint we talk about the last two weeks and we ask the question, “What is our weakest link?” We take that time to assess problems in the business. Everyone is allowed to speak. Everyone is a first class citizen in the meeting.

When a weak link is identified, we talk about what outcome we are really trying to achieve and why the problem is so severe. We talk about what will happen if we leave it as is and what we have to gain if we solve the problem today. Then we brainstorm solutions for how it should work. We reach consensus and create assignments for who will design and test the new “play.”

It’s important to make sure the play is simple to execute and that it is reportable. Don’t just create a written document that you read once and never look at again. Create a worksheet where the actions of the play have to be written and checked off. Then plan a training session with your team to go over the play, give instructions on who does what and then execute.

If you’re running a business and you feel like you don’t have the time or you just don’t know where to begin with building your team playbook, I can help you. Go to Hakes.Digital to book a 30 minute chat about getting your custom designed playbook for your company.

We’ll set up a series of sprint meetings to attack a problem you’re trying to solve; come up with a solution; and then, put together a playbook that your team can execute. We can even help you recruit and train your team so that you have time to focus on the things you want to focus on.

Go to Hakes.Digital for a free 30 minute sprint meeting.

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Torlando Hakes

Torlando Hakes

Author of Sprint | Craftsman Painter