Hire The Children and Pay Them Well

Some pleasant benefits of hiring from the neighborhood.

Image: Joshua Ommen

A couple months ago while sitting on my couch, watching Netflix and tediously applying stickers to hundreds of products for my small e-commerce business I came to a brand new conclusion: This sucks.

This was a revelation. I have unabashedly loved every aspect of working and growing my business for the better part of a year and to find one aspect I didn’t really enjoy made me realize I was coming off a long honeymoon high with my business. I would have to figure out strategies going forward that would work for my business’s health and my own happiness in the long term.

After carefully considering my options for limiting my involvement with the tedious parts, I decided to hire help. I recalled a boy who had stopped by the house while we were moving in a few weeks prior to advertise his dog walking services. I wasn’t in need of that at the moment but I appreciated his entrepreneurial spirit and filed him away as a dog-sitting resource in the future. Remembering that experience, I walked over to his grandmothers house to introduced myself, briefly explained what I did for a living, and asked if I could hire her 12-year-old grandson for a couple hours a week after school. Zachary*, she told me, had just turned 13 and would likely be very interested in work because his dog-walking business had been slowing down.

I told her Zachary sounded perfect and if he came by after school I would show him around and see if he was still interested. I also told her I would pay him $10 an hour.

I had largely decided on $10 an hour for convenience reasons. I rarely use cash in my business and life, so $10 an hour is easy to track and calculate when I’m dealing with $20 bills from the ATM. I had briefly considered offering $5 an hour but after remembering my own babysitting wages in the early aughts were around that, I figured that due to inflation, $10 would be a safer bet.

Zachary came over after he had finished his homework that evening. I showed him the tasks I needed him to perform and he told me his dog-walking business paid $3 an hour so he was excited for the work and the pay increase. He came back the next night and got to work after showing me his latest conquest in Pokemon Go (he caught an Arcanine).

While blasting unfamiliar tween pop music from his iPhone, Zachary blew through all the tedious work I had lined up for him within 45 minutes and then took the time to clean up without being asked. I scanned his work and found it well done. I gave him a $10 and asked him to come back in a couple days when I would need more help. He politely took the money, thanked me for the work, and asked me to buy him a box cutter because it would make him more efficient.

Hiring Zachary has completely surpassed my expectations. Tedious but profitable parts of my business thatI had started to avoid are now being handled faster than before and I’ve been seeing increased sales growth because of it. I’ve also appreciated the gentle learning experience in how to best supervise an employee and what hiring someone for more substantial help could look like in the future.

I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed interacting with him on a daily basis. Middle school is rough on Zachary and occasionally he’ll confide in me on some highs and lows as he works through his inventory pile. I typically listen quietly as he tells me about subjects he’s struggling with, awkward social interactions and the teachers that seem to care more than others. Sometimes I’ll talk him through a business decision I’m mulling over. Do I spend more now to bulk purchase something at less cost per unit? Or do I buy a smaller quantity now for more cost per unit and take the money I would have spent and spend it on other aspects of the business for a better return? It’s interesting to see him consider it and ask questions. Being asked by a 13-year-old what my priorities are is a curious experience.

Hiring a neighbor kid has also been beneficial in helping me grow my community in my new home. I’m now on first name basis with many neighbors directly because of hiring him. Recently when I left for a long day trip he helped me connect with a neighbor to let my dogs out while I was away and his family made a point to invite me to their holiday party over the weekend. They were genuinely happy to see me when I arrived.

Word has started to spread about possible employment opportunities for adolescents and I have no shortage of helpers. Zachary keeps telling me he has the next perfect employee for me. I told him to keep learning his tasks well so he can teach them.

*not his real name

Meg Renninger has two dogs, two businesses, and lots of helpers. She always stops for lemonade stands.

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