• Julie Ethan

Dreaming about hiring an assistant?

Updated: Feb 11, 2019

Imagine all the tasks you could pass off to an assistant—if only, you dared to hire one.

Make A Wish...Make A List

First, make the list you’ve been dreaming about—all the things an assistant could do to make your life easier. Then see if any patterns emerge. Are there categories of tasks that fit under the umbrella of administrative skills? Do the tasks require specific types of skills? What are they? When you finish categorizing your list, you’ll find you’ve created many of the line items of a job description.

Trial Run

Before I sold my residential painting company, in the early days of operation, I made that list. And I decided we needed a 'runner' to drive materials and supplies to our job sites, such were the steady requests for extra paint and forgotten sundries. But I wasn’t sure about several things. So I posted the question to an online forum asking for advice about the daily schedule, the job description and the wage requirement for a runner.

The responses I received included a five page job description for an apprentice painter and numerous admonishments regarding the prudence of advance planning in order to avoid needing a runner, as well as, one semi-helpful response from a shop that had a warehouse to store supplies—not entirely apropos to my situation. Then a friend in the business called. I answered the phone in my usual manner. “Signet Painting, this is Julie.”

“You need a runner,” came the voice on the other end of the line.

“Steve? You read my post on the forum!”

“How many painters ya got?”


“What are you even asking for? You could afford a runner with 16 painters.”

“I know. But Steve, what if someone out there finds out I hired a runner and I get a fine from the ‘lack-of-planning-ahead-police’, or I get prosecuted on charges of inadequate checklists, or something.”

“Get a runner.”

“Thanks, Steve. It’s nice to know somebody understands.”

We decided to pay mileage and require the runner to use their own vehicle, plus they’d get wages—the only question remained: Could we keep a runner busy 40 hours a week?

Then something unexpected happened. The college kids were returning home for the summer and among them was a young woman I had known for years. Before I knew it, we had our runner.

Not only were we off-and-running, we had the luxury of assigning our runner multiple computer projects due to her high aptitude for all things tech related. She installed hardware, software and single-handedly improved our website. She created PowerPoint presentations for our safety policies and assisted with phone screening of potential new job applicants. She only averaged 24 hours a week, mostly because I couldn’t keep enough projects in front of her to consume her time.

Did we I need a runner? Not as much as we originally thought. Here’s what we found out:

  • Our runner started her day at 8:30 AM by checking in with the field superintendent. This forced the field workers to begin thinking ahead. And they started listing items that could be delivered by the paint store for a 7 AM delivery the following day, instead of putting miles on our runner’s car.

  • Our runner could help out in a pinch with basic job site cleanup, which was great, and then left the field by 2 PM each day to come back to the office for “tech” tasks.

  • Hiring a college student worked well for the summer, but then we face the question of whether to continue the position for the rest of the year. All in all, the experience was beneficial and educational to our company.

We discovered we didn't have a full-time position for a runner. And we also discovered that by creating a system of checking in with the field, we eliminated many of the missing supplies.

If you’ve been dreaming about hiring an assistant, make a list of all the things your assistant could do for you. As a growth and hiring guru for my clients, I make sure their wish list is thoroughly vetted for systems and processes that could streamline their work with and without outside help. And sometimes it takes a 3rd party eye to really make the most efficient decision. While Steve encouraged me to hire, I discovered my real needs were much more than the wish list indicated. In reality, I had admin and tech needs I hadn't realized until the right person to do those tasks serendipitously came along. Have you heard of the 80-15-5 rule? There seem to be many applications. As applied to the small business owner, it means 80% of the things you do, could be done by someone else; 15% would require training or special skills, and 5% of the things you do—only you can do. This means interns and specialty field experts might save you money and meet some of your needs.

In the meantime, don’t stop dreaming—make a list.





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