How Do You Grow Before You Grow?

Courtesy of Fashion-Incubator

By Two Sarahs in Detroit have started a contracting facility. They write describing frustration and growing pains. One of the Sarahs says:

I wanted to write about my new business concerns. We are fortunate to have clients from day one and a steady stream of inquiries, and some generous press! Julian is shouldering the brunt of pattern making, stitching, sample sewing and cutting, I take care of the admin., promotions and some funding. Not to mention running my own clothing line and making sure it is produced, marketed, and distributed! Thankfully I have other Sarah so we can switch hit.

We need to hire more stitchers. We need to make the work flow. At the same time, Julian would be training, taking time away from his other valuable duties. Not everyone that comes through the door works out, so there is that distraction, but we have to make time to assess their skill level.

We can’t even take on all the work that is coming in yet and certainly don’t want to cast the net for more. The money coming in doesn’t quite match with the costs, yet. Making me cautious about hiring on. But the work can’t cover the costs because we can’t take more work until we have a skilled team. How much can one man [or one Sarah] do?!

What comes first: hiring more workers and paying them to train for speed and accuracy and then accept the jobs? Writing that out makes it seem so obvious that I didn’t want to throw in the “or vice-versa”. But how do you pay them? I’ve been told you take out loans to buy equipment, not to pay the bills or payroll. But what about training, getting everyone on the same page? Just a cost of doing business? Trying to see what my local/state government does for small business. I subscribe to the “ready, fire, aim” school. “

Ok, as for the big picture, will the business be able to sustain itself and make money in the coming years? Will people’s needs for sewing diminish? Do I need to sew restaurant linens and auto upholstery to stay in the black? Maybe these are bigger questions than can be answered. How do you grow before you grow???

The last part first. One thing my ex managed to drill into my thick skull was that no matter what, no matter how competitive your industry, there is always room for somebody good. I don’t believe the need will diminish anytime soon. We have a real shortage of good contracting facilities willing to take on smaller lots. The problem I see is that as shops grow, the larger the lots that they want so we’re constantly needing small shops to feed the demand.

About hiring, paying and training. We had a whole discussion on interns (and associated costs). I came on record at that time saying I couldn’t really afford to train anyone intern or otherwise because it’d pull me from whatever I was already doing. In the Sarahs case, if they got training on their own that’d be optimal. Let’s assume you could train somebody before hiring them officially, I wouldn’t do it, I couldn’t afford the loss of my time. Of course that’s not to say they couldn’t leave otherwise but I’d have more chances at retaining them if I were paying them which gets me to my second point. If you’ve hired them, you have to pay them for the time they spend training.

Regarding training funds, some economically depressed areas (where the Sarahs live) have city, county or state money available. The local SBA or SBDC would know about that.

About having work to keep them busy or to train them on, it’d be great if you had just that perfect contract. Easy enough to expand their range of skills but not so tricky they’d mess it up to the extent it couldn’t be repaired. The other thing of course is to bring people in slowly. I’d advertise for someone who’d been a sewing line supervisor or factory sample maker. Once you had that person up to speed, you could add a second worker and spread the training duties with the first staffer. Also, you’d organize the work so the second worker got the easier part of the bundle.

Eric says that legally, you can’t test a worker for their suitability for the job until after you’ve hired them. Technically, if a blind paraplegic says he can climb poles, you can’t ask him to prove it until after you hire him. Since he has HR out the ying-yang and a union shop, I’m sure he’s right but I don’t think everybody knows this. One way or another, I wouldn’t hire somebody I couldn’t give a sewing test to, so I guess I’ll never hire anybody straight up and legal-like making me open to a law suit.