Building a great team is crucial to ensuring the success and sustainability of any startup venture. But, there are potential pitfalls to consider, and there’s little room for error if an employee constitutes 25% or even more of your workforce at an early stage company.

While the to-do list of an entrepreneur is endless, it’s important to find ample time for the hiring process in order to identify smart, hard-working candidates whose values align with the workplace culture that you’re working to create.

The most important step before the hiring process even begins, however, is to clearly articulate a plan for what your business is and where it is going. Establish an overall strategy, and a detailed plan for executing against that strategy. Only from there can you determine your human capital needs, and truly build a team that will achieve success.

In my 25 years as an entrepreneur, I’ve put into place some great teams at companies including Lycos, NameMedia, currently at Swap.com in my role as CEO. I also act as a mentor to many Boston-area entrepreneurs and recently shared the following tips at a presentation for MassChallenge, the world’s largest startup competition where some incredible innovation is being unleashed. I share these top tips for hiring that I’ve learned along the way with you here:

Top 5 Hiring Tips for Start-Ups

1. Planning is Essential – You need to know why you are hiring. Every successful venture has a strategy, or a strategic direction that provides focus, and a work plan for how they will execute against this strategy. You must lay the groundwork with this comprehensive road map before any resource planning can occur.

2. There’s No “I” in Entrepreneur – You might be the entrepreneur, but you’re not omniscient. Be sure to engage your existing team in establishing the strategy and road map. Smart people like to be part of the planning process, and share in the results of learning. And do not fall into the trap that you need to “know” everything – that’s what why you hire world-class talent.

3. Organize Around the Road Map – When determining the talent and skill sets needed to executive your work plan, think about immediate and near-term needs, and prioritize accordingly. Don’t be stymied by building Rome now, but you do have to think about today and tomorrow.

4. Establish a Set of Core Values –  Every entrepreneur has a unique set of beliefs, and you want to make sure your team shares those beliefs – not just your initial team, but each and every staff member added as you grow. These values will guide and sustain the company.

5. Checking References Is Critical – Ask for references and call them – this is critical to verifying the candidate’s claims regarding their experience and work ethic. Use Facebook, LinkedIn, and other web-based tools to get a full 360 degree view on your candidates. And, hire through trusted social networks when you can in order to mitigate risk.

Jeff Bennett is the CEO of Swap.com, an award-winning website where 1 million members swap stuff they have for all the items they want. You can read Jeff’s blog on entrepreneurship and innovation at http://www.jeffbennett.com.

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