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Updated: Nov 13, 2015
Do you tend to work out more leading up to the holidays, in anticipation of extra servings of mashed potatoes, honeyed ham, and sugar cookies? As a business owner, you should take a page out of your own cardio playbook and make sure you have a robust hiring strategy in place to beef up your team in preparation for busy season, too.
Our suggestion? Adopt the “Hollywood model”: assemble a small, smart team of temporary or contracted seasonal employees to meet your unique demands for busy season, and disband when the holidays come to an end. Focusing on lean, efficient teams can help you maintain cash flow and promote top-line growth, especially when you consider the increasing costs of full-time staff (like healthcare, disability insurance, and vacation time)!
Before following our seven steps to hiring seasonal employees, review your finances to see if a small business loan could help fund the team you need to jingle bell-rock your sales goals this year.
What are the different seasonal employee roles you might need to staff up for? Common holiday “gaps” could include serving customers on the sales floor, managing merchandising and receiving, responding to customers enquiries online or via phone, or managing and fulfilling orders in distribution centers.
Pro tip: don’t limit your planning to “day-of” situations! Plan ahead for the holiday rush by determining what marketing, design, or technical expertise you could use to make sure your website and marketing campaigns are up to snuff, too.
This is not your grandparents’ job market: it’s easier than ever before to hire high-quality, professional seasonal employees like web designers, marketing managers, and accountants on an independent contractor basis.
For example, according to the National Retail Federation, online sales in particular are predicted to surge this year. Would it benefit your sales to hire a website developer on a one-time project basis to make sure your ecommerce abilities are up to par on the back-end? Consumers are more savvy (and mobile) than ever before: it’s weird not to have a website and no longer acceptable to have a basic one either. On the other hand, maybe it would behoove you to hire a part-time social media specialist throughout the holiday season to utilize your social media platforms to engage online shoppers and drive foot traffic to your storefront. What skill set would make the biggest impact for your business?
If you’re looking to plump up certain areas of your staff on a temporary basis for the holidays, keep track of how those skill sets benefit your business: if you decide a certain role is particularly valuable in an evergreen way, you can always hire for that position full-time after the holidays!
So now that you know the type of seasonal employee(s) that you’ll need, how exactly do you find them? The first step: rethink your preconceptions about what work actually needs to be performed onsite with you! Roles traditionally performed in person, like administrative support, bookkeeping, or public relations, can now be completed remotely with ease.
If the work you want to accomplish can be performed remotely (think: website updates, marketing copy, etc.), you can find professional freelancers via online platforms like Thumbtack or Upwork — or send targeted messages to people whose profiles appeal to you on LinkedIn. If you’ll need folks onsite, post ads on your local Craigslist page and in your local paper, or reach out for referrals from friends, family, and industry colleagues on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Pro tip: If you know what projects you want to complete, but are struggling to find the right individual on your own, specialized online “marketplaces” like our partner 99designs can help! With price points designed for small businesses like yours, 99designs can help you tackle your holiday needs for marketing/advertising, web design, packaging and labels, and more.
When you find some folks who are intelligent, hardworking, and excited to be onboard with your business for the season, there are two major steps you may need to consider before signing any offer letters.
First, it might be wise to acquaint yourself with state and federal fair hiring practices and job discrimination laws – and know how to implement them. For example, to comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, have policies in place that clearly define and prohibit racist, sexist or other impermissible types of discrimination and unlawful harassment in the workplace, among other things. If you have questions about any employment laws related to seasonal employees, make sure you talk to a lawyer.
Second, make sure you’re correctly classifying your seasonal employees according to state and federal laws (think: part-time vs. full-time, or contractor vs. employee). For example, you can’t treat a worker like an independent contractor for tax purposes, and then use that person like a full-time employee in practice. You could end up being held liable for payroll taxes down the road if you’ve misclassified any workers. It’s best to cover all your bases with your financial advisor first to assess what your needs are.
Before you let any new seasonal employees lift even one jolly finger, make sure to get all employment agreements in writing! A lack of written contracts, including Work for Hire or Consulting agreement forms, is a common small business mistake, and a little effort upfront can save you a lot of holiday-related headaches later. Specify the terms and conditions of their employment with an Employment Offer Letter that confirms their position, title, start date, salary, benefits, specified probationary period, a statement of the at-will nature of employment, etc. Don’t forget to differentiate between a full-time employee and an independent contractor!
If your business has any vital intellectual property (like a signature recipe, product design, or other trade secret), considering asking your temporary employees sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) to protect your proprietary information. An NDA is a legally binding contract that carefully outlines and defines any information you do not want your employees to share with a third party. If your employee breaches the NDA, you can take legal action in court.
Tip: when drafting your contracts for temporary employees, don’t forget about the days after the holidays! In addition to the typical rush to return or exchange items, the day after Christmas is now the second busiest in-store shopping day of the year. Check out [our partner] LegalZoom for all the easy and affordable contracts you need to get through the season, including an NDA!
After you’ve signed the dotted line on your new seasonal employees’ contracts, an employee handbook is a useful tool to help guide them through the busiest of days – and set clear expectations for the professional relationship! Any good handbook should cover benefits provided to your workers, company policies (ex. social media rules to prevent bad branding!), and reporting structures so there isn’t any room for confusion.
This time of year, make sure to add a special section solely dedicated to holiday survival: include a step-by-step guide for customer dispute resolution, as well as a breakdown of any seasonal promotions, sales, and gift/returns policies. For better or for worse, shopper stress can run high during the holiday season – so make sure you set your team up for success.
The good news: the economy is doing better, and unemployment rates are falling. The bummer news? That means you’ll face steeper competition in hiring quality employees – even on a seasonal basis! Treating all team members – including seasonal employees — like full-time, valuable team members goes a long way in encouraging productivity, so brainstorm ways that you can stand out as an employer and inject some holiday spirit into those extra-long shifts.
Some ideas could include paying getting each seasonal employee a thoughtful gift, closing operations on public holidays so they can be with their families, and considering your very best performers for full-time employment after the holiday rush passes.
Paige Smith is a Content Marketing Writer and Senior Contributing Writer at Funding Circle. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and specializes in writing about the intersection of business, finance, and tech. Paige has written for a number of B2B industry leaders, including fintech companies, small business lenders, and business credit resource sites.