For small businesses and startups, every hire counts — especially in the marketing department, where you may need to stretch your dollar further. We asked 11 founders how they assess potential marketing hires — and whether it’s ever beneficial to seek specialists over generalists.
The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.
1. Specialists and Generalists Are Both Valuable
One of my mentors, Marshall Thurber, said, "You want to look comprehensively and act specifically." In other words, you need someone who has a generalized knowledge base and understands what's working within several media, technologies and industries. Then, he or she can use that information to create and test against existing marketing controls. This is how breakthroughs happen.
Hiring a full-time generalist to leverage your platform is one of the most efficient moves you can make as a startup, but only if you have enough work to keep them at capacity. If you’re outsourcing smaller jobs, then specialists are more ideal.
Marketing tactics are just that—tactics. With the rapidly evolving state of online marketing, an expert's knowledge can quickly become obsolete. A good generalist with a solid foundation and understanding of strategy will be able to quickly pick up any new tactic or channel that comes along.
If we are talking startup, a marketing generalist is the way to go. For a smaller team, every employee is key to the operation and often needs to wear different hats and cover a lot of ground. There is no room for someone who can only contribute to one specific area. We see more value in a marketing professional who can cover several bases, so our vote goes to the generalist.
6. Generalists Can Contribute to Different Parts of the Business
As a startup, you want to have a team of generalists who will be able to contribute in different parts of the business. Until you are at the size where people can fit in well-defined roles, generalists will help you grow and define such positions for the next wave of hires!
I look first and foremost to hire a great problem solver because marketing is a continuously evolving problem. The world is not static, so a marketing tactic that brings in millions of users one quarter might go completely bust in the next. A good problem solver will be able to come up with new solutions that adapt to a rapidly changing environment.
We started with hiring generalists who could do "everything" within the company. We're now getting to the point where we start to hire more specific positions as we need them handled. Somebody who just does split tests can have a full-time job if you have enough traffic. Basically, I'd first hire generalists who can manage employees, and then I'd hire specialists who the generalists manage.
I am a marketing generalist who needs specialists. If it was the other way around, we'd probably hire differently. Without having at least two generalists to vet each other, a marketing department will become stale with that single perspective. Specialists challenge generalists' thinking even further; the goal is to anticipate the customer's needs, and it takes a village.
I absolutely prefer to work with specialists over generalists, but I generally can't keep a specialist busy all the time. Because of that, I look for specialists willing to work on contract, such as freelancers and consultants. That way, I always have access to the skill set I need right now, and I can get top-notch help as an added benefit.
You can train people for a job, but you can't change their basic drives and personalities. First, find people you want to work with. Look for general characteristics such as writing skills, listening skills, self-motivation, self-confidence, attention to detail, excellent work ethic and their overall ability. Then, shape and mold them into people who fit your needs.