Your first employee: An administrative assistant

By Michelle van Schouwen

Making the leap from solopreneur to employer is exciting and a bit scary. Choosing the right function for your first staff member can reduce your initial anxiety and make your work life far better going forward.

In many cases, your very first employee should be an administrative assistant.

Here’s why: You started your company because you have the core skills to get the job done, whether that involves landscaping, consulting, retail management, or healthcare. At present, your time is best used providing your core services, and the likelihood of affordably hiring someone who can do them better than you at this stage of your company’s development may be slim to nil.

However, as you continue to generate additional business, too much of your valuable workday will be spent doing support tasks that are necessary but don’t directly generate revenue. Hence, an assistant is the answer.

Some tips to make the best administrative assistant hire for your business:

[amazon_link asins=’0814438261′ template=’ProductAd’ store=’succeedingi0d-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’3ecacd95-8f3f-11e8-8015-9de620975c30′]-Define your current needs. The term “administrative assistant” can include a number of areas of support, ranging from answering calls and emails to doing billing, bookkeeping, and accounts payable; scheduling jobs or meetings; getting vendor quotes; and much more. Where are you spending time that could be delegated to an efficient support staff member?

-Consider your longer-term needs. In my experience, the best assistants often grow in the job, and can later function as financial or production managers, office managers or other expanded job functions.

-Study what you can consistently pay your assistant and check around to compare that figure with local market rates.

-If you find that the full-time salary you can afford doesn’t meet market expectations for the position you will offer, consider making the job part-time for now. Many workers appreciate “parent hours” that allow them to care for children after school, for example.

-Also check on what benefits you can (or are required to) offer, and factor those into your total costs for the assistant. Again, the benefits you offer for full-time versus part-time may differ.

[amazon_link asins=’B00OZ0KW22′ template=’ProductAd’ store=’succeedingi0d-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’4d8e19c1-8f3f-11e8-a5c2-4b6d0abb87f3′]-When you advertise your available position, be very clear about the qualifications you require. Your assistant, especially as a first employee, will become important to your company. Character and competence are equally important.

-Plan to train, and also plan to learn. If you hire an already-experienced assistant, this person will bring knowledge and processes that may improve the efficiency of your operation. Be open to that. If you hire a less seasoned person, plan to spend more time training.

-Develop your own system of “managing while letting go.” This will be the topic of my next blog post. Having an assistant (or any other employee) doesn’t change the fact that the buck stops with you. On the other hand, each person you hire should bring skills and energy to do the job well, and you should provide your employees the space to do just that.

Hiring your first employee is an important step in growing a sustainable, scalable company. Having an administrative assistant is also a big step in freeing you to do all that you do best.


Michelle van Schouwen enjoys an “Act 2” career as principal of Q5 Analytics, providing advocacy and communications for climate change mitigation and adaptation. See For the past 32 years, Michelle was president of van Schouwen Associates, LLC (vSA), a B2B marketing company. In 2017, van Schouwen Associates was acquired by Six-Point Creative Works, Inc. of Springfield, MA.



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