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Laura Tolhoek is the owner of Essential HR, the business she started three years ago in order to provide HR relief to small businesses. Her company provides an ultra-flexible way of managing HR so businesses can focus on their core operation and growing their business. Laura shares the best practices and tips on how to hire and fire digital agency employees. She covers everything from creating your employer brand to the details of the offer letter and how to protect yourself when letting someone go.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Building an employer brand is as important as your agency brand. The employer brand is the reputation your agency has as a workplace. It defines the experience you're giving your employees before they even come on board.
  2. An interview guide helps guide your internal process. An effective interview guide maintains consistency throughout the interview process as well as helps narrow down who and what you're looking for in the position.
  3. A well-written offer letter is essential. The offer letter outlines policies, sets expectations, and even lays out how the end will go. This protects your agency from any potential misunderstanding or potential liability down the road.

Sponsors and Resources

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47 Laura Talhoek

Jason: [00:00:00] On this episode, I talk with an HR agency about what's the importance about building your employer brand? What's the importance of the offer letter and how it can actually protect your agency later on. And also making sure you follow a process in your interview process, which, I just said process a couple of times, but that's okay.

I think you're really going to like this episode, especially if you're in a growth phase and you're bringing on more team members. So let's get into it.

Hey, Laura, welcome to the show.

Laura: [00:00:36] Thank you so much for having me.

Jason: [00:00:37] Yeah. I'm excited to have you on. So tell us who you are and what do you do?

Laura: [00:00:42] Yeah, so my name is Laura Tolhoek. I am the owner of EssentialHR and EssentialHR is a business that was created to help small business owners with their HR systems and structures.

So a lot of times when you're growing a business, You would really benefit from the help of a professional person who understands the legal, the risk side of things, as well as best practices. But you often don't need somebody who's there full time. So we come in and we help small business owners with those small retainers and HR projects where they could use an HR professional but don't want to have one on their team full-time.

Jason: [00:01:15] Awesome. What's your theory of wind to bring someone in full-time? What's the employee count?

Laura: [00:01:22] You know what I would say about 50, you could use somebody, you know, at a moderate level. I don't think you need, you know, the, the pinnacle director of HR. But you could use somebody, certainly, because at that point you already have someone in admin doing a lot of your recruitment things.

You probably have somebody in admin doing payroll. And if you bring all of those things together to one, one system, it might be a little bit easier.

Jason: [00:01:48] I always looked at a lot of our HR people also did recruiting as well. Not just, you know what I used to think when I would go back and I'd be like, oh, HR is just making sure I don't get sued.

Making sure people don't get hurt. Like I didn't really look at it as making sure employee retention's there, you know, recruiting new talents. So I don't have to interview all these people and just try to keep up with the amount of business coming to us. So do you feel the same way, like HR is more than just pushing paperwork?

Laura: [00:02:20] Well, of course, yeah. I'm actually not a huge fan of the paperwork side of things. And automation is a big part of what I like to implement, but there's so many facets of HR. You know, you have the benefits side, the compensation side. Are we paying our people appropriately? Is there other things we could do, you know, for a smaller boutique operation, you know, maybe the top salary isn't what's there.

What else can we provide in order to build that culture? So we're not competing on price alone? Recruitment, obviously health and safety onboarding, and bringing on new team members. And just the general upkeep of employee engagement is a lot of what we do with our clients and what I did previously in my former life within operations.

Jason: [00:03:03] I gotcha. Why is it important for employers to kind of build their employer brand before they go into, you know, kind of scaling their agency?

Laura: [00:03:13] So employer brand, we obviously all know what branding is and we put a lot of effort and a lot of time into making sure our branding is on, on par, and on spot.

But what sometimes we don't think about is what is our employer brand? So if you think of those big companies, you know, the Targets, the McDonald's, the Southwest Airlines, and you kind of think immediately, you know what their brand is. You know, what to expect as a customer and so on and so forth, but then when you think about your, like, what do you think about when you think about Target as an employer?

Or what about McDonald's as an employer and those are the employer brands. So what is the employee experience or what do you think of when you think of them as an employer?

So you may think, well, I'm just eight people. Why do I need to worry about my employer brand compared to McDonald's and target? Let me tell you, you are competing for the same talent.

So just because you're eight people and they may be 800 at one site doesn't mean that you can't compete for that same talent. So I'll, I'll give you an example. I have a client and they were competing for a fresh out of university graduate. And the things that made the difference at the end of the day, because she offered her the job and the young lady said, I just, I have one other interview I want to take.

And she's like, it just won't feel right unless I, you know, follow through and take this other interview. And that was on a Monday and by Monday afternoon, right after lunch, she emailed, she's like, I'm accepting the job going through the other interview only solidified what I thought was the right decision, which is going with you guys.

And that comes from the employer brand, which is the experience that you're giving clients as customers and your employees before they even start coming on board. So there's a lot of things that go into employer brand. It could be just first understanding who you are as an employer. If you can put into words who you are as an employer, you can start explaining that in your copy and you can start standing firm in that when you advertise your job postings.

So that's why I say level one, you got to know who you are as an employer.

Jason: [00:05:18] One of the exercises we make people do in our Agency Playbook is be like, how do you want your internal team to view the brand? It's not all about outside. I even remember too, like even in our interview process, we would make it kind of, I think at first started, it was just fun for me.

Um, but then I think it was the conversational starter. So a lot of times when they would have the first interview with me, I would walk into like with my full race gear, from the race caron. I had a tutu on over jeans, one time seeing if like, would they want to take pictures with me? Are they going to share it socially?

Like just to see how people react or are they just going to ignore it? And like if they just ignore it and don't mention like the big elephant in the room, like there's no way I want them working for me.

Laura: [00:06:10] Well, and that goes into your culture of candor, you know. Do you want people to talk or do you want them to just say, Nope, this is the way we're going. We're going forward. No questions asked. And a lot of that works right into who you are as an employer.

Jason: [00:06:28] Is it important to have like an interview guide? Like I see a lot of times people are all over the place in interviews. So what are you talking about? Like with an interview guide?

Laura: [00:06:39] Right. So let's go back to the elephant, you know, the tutu over top of the race car gear. So if that is something that's important to you to understand how people are going to react in unusual situations, we need to make that consistent within how you're hiring. Because if you do that for one person, but don't do it for all three that you're interviewing all of a sudden, you have a disjointed view of your candidates.

So the first thing that the interview guide helps with obviously is consistency. The second thing is going to help you with is really narrow down what it is that you're looking for in your role. So if you're looking to hire flexible and adaptable people, or perhaps you're looking for a part-time role.

So for example, we only hire part-time as part of our culture and our practices. And the reason for that is I believe very strongly and having a workforce that is passionate on, on a multitude of levels. So whether that be family, whether that be, you know, rescuing animals, whether that be building your side business.

We want to make sure that that time is available for our team. So when we hire and we're looking for that adaptability and that flexibility, there are certain questions that we ask. Because what we don't want is somebody to come on board who actually wants a full-time job, but it's just taking the part-time work until they can get there.

And that's, in all honesty, it's happened before. And I'm sure anybody who's looked at that has seen that happen as well. All of a sudden, you know, four weeks in and the full-time gig shows up and the person who apparently only wanted part-time has gone. So how do we really dig into those questions?

And, that all comes from the interview guide.

Jason: [00:08:16] Gotcha. Very cool. And what's, let's say they pass the test. They tweeted about the tutu. You know, they ask questions, all this what's important about an offer letter?

Laura: [00:08:28] So gone are the days where you can shake somebody's hand and. Hire them and move forward.

And it's unfortunate because a lot of people build that environment of trust and they build that, you know, idea of just a very informal atmosphere and they don't want the heavy paperwork. But as an employer, you have the responsibility to protect your business. And you also have the responsibility to be clear and upfront with the person you're hiring.

And that offer letter is going to do both. It's going to explain the vacation, the salary, the hours of work. You know, what, if it wasn't clear that, you know, you have a 48-hour workweek and they thought it was 35, that's going to be a big misunderstanding upfront.

The most important thing that an offer letter's going to do for you is, though you're in the romance stage of your relationship. And though this person could do no wrong ever, or perhaps your business is in such a good place you could never foresee the opportunity that where you might need to let somebody go. There is going to be a time where that relationship needs to come to an end. And that offer letter is going to outline how the end is going to go.

And that as an employer is the single most important part of the offer letter.

Jason: [00:09:41] Gotcha. Let's say we hired someone they've been working for us for four months and we realized this cat's not the right person for us. And, you know, we need to send them on their way. What's the best way for us to do that without putting our agency in danger.

Laura: [00:10:01] The single best way is to make sure that you have a solid offer letter four months before. That's going to be, you know, whether it's by a seasoned professional, whether it's by a lawyer providing you with that information. That's very, you know, each state probably has certain things that needs to be included. That needs to be required on the offer letter.

But that offer letter is what's going to make that four-month termination go a lot easier.

Jason: [00:10:24] Gotcha. Okay. I see a lot of times people are just like, Hey, you're gone. And they don't have, you know, whenever we were, terminating a relationship, we would always have to make sure that we had multiple people in the room. Uh, so it wasn't like, Oh, you know, well, you did this. And they're like, no, that didn't happen.

Laura: [00:10:47] We just had that last week, actually with the client who, you know, they wanted to terminate the person early, cause they always came in early. So before I even got there, cool, that works.

But I said, make sure you have someone else in the room. Well, who? Nobody's here. And I said, well, just, just make sure that there's somebody, it's all glass walls. I said just, you know, outside the office, even. And lo and behold, we did not expect this person to turn. And it was like, Oh, thank goodness somebody else was there.

You know, as just a frame of reference to say, Nope, this is exactly what went down. So yeah, definitely having that second person is important and providing the person with paperwork as well. So when they go away, they're not interpreting what you said, but they actually have it written down.

Jason: [00:11:30] Yeah. We've had people go kicking and screaming, like literally like the most calm people that you would never expect it. It was almost like going up to like this little baby Chihuahua and then this Chihuahua turning into like this Wolf, trying to like kill you. Like, literally I'm like, I did not see that one coming.

Laura: [00:11:50] And then the ones that you think in your all prepped for and, you know, perhaps even on, you know, very rare occasions, we've, you know, had the police on speed dial in case need be. Those ones are like, all right, we'll see ya.

Jason: [00:12:02] I think those are the ones that they're just used to it.

Like I've been fired from every job I've ever held. Like okay. Yep. Sign this. Okay. Here you go. I'm good. Cool. Awesome. Well, this has all been great. Um, is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Laura: [00:12:25] You know what I think at the end of the day, understanding who you are as an employer and making sure you're hiring for that, building yourself an interview guide, that's actually going to dig deep for that, and then making sure that you're protecting your business with that offer letter.

Those are the three most important things you can do as you build your team.

Jason: [00:12:43] Awesome. And, uh, where can people reach out to you guys?

Laura: [00:12:47] So you can find me at and then if you go, we have a great little five steps to finding and aligning your employer brand with your HR systems. So people can grab that there.

Jason: [00:13:03] You don't look old enough to use www that's only for old people.

Laura: [00:13:08] Well, I appreciate that. And so would the person who sells me my skincare.

Jason: [00:13:14] I always laugh when people are like www. I'm like really? Usually, my 70-year-olds always say that I'm like, no, no, no, no.

Laura: [00:13:23] Yeah. So I was talking to a friend, who's building a business and I said, well, make sure you start building your email list. And she's like, I don't check my email. I was like, and there's the generational gap.

Jason: [00:13:33] Awesome. Well, cool. Well, thanks so much for coming on the show. If you guys liked this episode and you want to know even more systems for really being able to truly scale your agency. I'm not talking about growing your agency because growing is just growing your revenue.

But if you want to know how to truly scale and what are the right systems you need to put in place, make sure you get a And that will show you all the systems that you need.

So then you can have that freedom in your agency that you always wanted rather than be that prisoner and be that toll booth owner for everyone coming to you.

So go to Until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: Whats_the_Best_Way_to_Hire_and_Fire_Digital_Agency_Employees_.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm MDT