Bringing employee number one on board is the first step on your path from running something that is, in effect, a form of self-employment, to becoming a fully-fledged entrepreneur.

Having staff puts you on the path towards owning a successful enterprise where revenue depends on more than your own efforts.

Hiring people is a form of investment. You spend money, you get a return. If you can find the right person or people and use them well, they should deliver a healthy return on that investment.

It's vital to get the right person, but timing that first hiring investment is also crucial. Some businesses need to have people on board from day one. It isn't practical to open, say, a café in a busy part of town without help. Other companies can wait until there are enough clients to justify the extra expense or when there is enough cash coming in to pay the wage bill.

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For many small business owners, knowing when to make that investment is a difficult decision. Yet there are some signs that tell you it's time to hire:

First, are you missing opportunities because you don't have enough people to take them?
If you turn down or otherwise miss a lucrative sale because you don't have the capacity to cope, then it's time to think about getting help. If you're lucky and can act fast, you may not miss that opportunity.

Even if everything is working fine, you may be able to expand your business and seize fresh opportunities if you have more hands onboard to deal with the extra workload.
Second, you find yourself wasting valuable time on essential tasks that don't bring in revenue.

It could be you are regularly up all night dealing with paperwork. Or you may feel inundated answering calls or responding to emails. There is so much of this kind of toil that you don't have enough time or energy left to do the revenue-generating work or track down new customers. This is a clear sign you need help to delegate these essential yet less profitable tasks while you get on with making money.

Remember you are a business owner. You need time to manage the business. That is a job in its own right. It is the most important job of all. There's a common saying in the entrepreneurial world that it is more important to work on the business than in the business.

Another way of looking at this is from a practical financial point of view. If, say, you have a consulting business that can sell your time at $250 an hour, you are throwing money away when you do work that you can delegate to someone earning $25 or even $50 an hour.

The classic mistake small business owners make is leaving the high-value hard work to wither on the vine because it's easy to whip though all those easy yet urgent looking tasks.

Third, you have a customer service problem.

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Are you getting complaints from customers about late delivery, basic things going wrong or occasional poor quality when you've always been first rate in the past? These are clear signs you don't have the resources to deal with customer service. Keeping customers happy is too important to put on the back burner.

Fourth, you're overworked to the point of exhaustion.

Running your own business is exhilarating. It is hard work. You knew that when you signed up for the challenge.

Yet there's a world of difference between hard work and being consistently overworked. You'll be stressed, you'll find yourself missing details and nuances in your work and out of work relationships might be fraying.

None of this is good for the long-term health of your business. For that matter, none of this is good for your long-term health and if that's damaged it won't help your business. Get some help and recharge your batteries, there's a long haul in front of you and you don't want to burn out before take-off.

Every business is different, every industry is different, every start-up owner is different, but some combination of these four basis warning signs will tell you it's time to hire.

An aspect of this that's easy to overlook is those early-stage hires don't necessarily need to be full time jobs. A large number of people don't want full time work. If you run a bakery, you might want counter staff during the busy times of the day. Help doesn't have to come in 40 hour a week packages.