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Last Update: Wednesday June 23, 2021

Key Idea: Hire The Best People

The team at Dawn Sign Press is a mixture of deaf and hearing people who all love American Sign Language.  They taught us that ASL is not about signing every word.

Key Question:


Joe admitted that he would like it if everyone at DawnSign Press was deaf. However, he decided he needed to hire the person most qualified for the job he needs to fill. This means that there are a few employees at DawnSign who are hearing and that includes the customer service representatives who take the inbound calls from customers.

Q: How does a small business owner recruit the best people?

A: First, set your standards very high. Smart, talented people want to work with other smart, talented people and the smaller the business the more important this is.

Second, offer a bureaucracy-free workplace! A top salesman for a huge company was hired by a small business owner because the owner promised a cell phone with unlimited minutes. It is hard to imagine the rules, regulations and restrictions big business places on employees. Do keep in mind that many people who work in big business are successful because the company as a whole is successful. In a start-up you must be able to function without a staff of employees and you must have a bias for action. You can't sit around thinking about doing something, you have to do it. In a start-up, creativity, drive and motivation are essential which means people from big companies are not the best fit.

Third, hire people you know or people who know someone you know. Gary Walls, founder of Trailblazer foods, hired guys who played for him when he was a high school football coach. He he knew the players who showed up and worked hard to develop their skills and those were the individuals he hired to help him build the company. He also hired a CPA who was in his sister's Sunday School class.

Fourth, encourage employees to recruit their friends. Kathleen Barnes and Judy Cannon of Meetings America started with a couple of their own friends running their city tours. Those tour guides recruited their friends. Keep in mind that this will only happen when the company is a place where people want to come to work.

Fifth, hire your friends. David Arnold, founder of the King Company found his two top executives at the Little League field. As neighbors and men who had sons playing baseball together, David discovered they had a great deal in common. These common interests make it easy to work together. The culture of fitness and athletics is obvious at The King Company as here is a basketball hoop and weights we found on the warehouse floor.

Sixth, hire your family. This works great for many but there are pitfalls. Good people run in families so if you have the work ethic, there's a good chance that your siblings and cousins and aunts and uncles do too. The business with many family members represents a classic slice of the small business scene. Peter Drucker warned that a lazy family member should be paid to stay away from a company. This is a warning then that if you hire family members, they have to work harder and longer than others to earn respect.

Think about it

How can you attract the best people to come to work for you?

Clip from: Dawn Sign Press: The Pain of Starting

Joe Dannis, California's Small Business Person of the Year

San Diego: What are the most commonly used languages in the USA? Answer: English, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, Hindi, French, German, then ASL. Yes, ASL. American Sign Language.

No less than 500,000 and as many as 2.5 million people use ASL every day. In this episode of the show language is subtlety transformed into hand, finger, body and facial combinations.

Take away any one of the basic senses and deep-seated creative power within the human mind is enlivened and focused interiority awakens. With today's micro-technologies, the deaf and blind are teaching us all about subtleties within language and our skills to communicate it. Here we meet extraordinary people in the midst of a revolution.

Joe Dannis is an advocate for American Sign Language. The Small Business Person of the Year from the State of California, Joe Dannis started DawnSignPress in 1979. He has always been out on the edge... being the first to advocate something new. Joe and his team publish materials to teach sign language for the deaf. Although he publishes videos and books for both children and adults, his biggest customers are schools and universities that offer courses in American Sign Language (ASL).

Today you'll meet Joe Dannis. He is one tough businessman, but he remembers nine very lonely years in the beginning. If he had to do it all over again, he probably would not. Learn from someone who has been over the hot coals and whose wisdom runs deep.

Go to all the key ideas and videos...

Dawn Sign Press

Joe Dannis, Founder

6130 Nancy Ridge Drive
San Diego, CA 92121

Visit our web site:

Office: 8586250600

Business Classification:

Year Founded: 1979

Hire The Best People

HATTIE: (Voiceover) Yun Li is DawnSign's video editor.

How is Joe different from other bosses you've had?

YUN LI: (Through Interpreter) He's deaf. In communications every day, I can express the same goals, the same feelings, the same dreams. We know what deaf people need. We work together because we know, basically, what ASL means to the two of us.

HATTIE: Thank you.

Is it real important to you to hire as many deaf employees as you can, and only use the hearing persons to sort of take care of telephones and that kind of thing?

JOE: Well, I hate to say it, but in the past, having fluent signers that have a good attitude, that work in the deaf field, that was important to me. But I couldn't find people who were skilled if I looked at it that way. So I realized that I can't hire a deaf artist and settle for less quality. I would prefer--and sometimes I'm stuck hiring a deaf artist--a hearing artist that meets our quality, and I pay to get the job well-done. So over the years, as I try to upgrade the quality of my staff, I'm being forced to hire the best person for the job, rather than look at `Is he deaf?' But, of course, hiring a hearing person, that person must be willing to learn sign, must have a good attitude, and if that person has the skills I want, I will waive the requirements for sign.

Now I'm getting better workers, I'm getting more production, I'm getting better-skilled people, and some people criticize me for not hiring deaf people. They say, `You should hire deaf people for this.' But the quality suffers.

HATTIE: You said there are about one million Americans who live like you do, in a deaf world. Do you feel left out, or do you feel you're in a special group?

JOE: Myself, as a hard-of-hearing person, yes, I live in two worlds. I live in a hearing world and a deaf world. I have hearing friends and deaf friends.

I can joke and tease with my hearing friends and I can joke and tease my deaf people. I can tease with my hearing friends about deaf jokes, and they don't know what I'm talking about, so sometimes my hearing friends think I'm weird. And the deaf people that I talk to, they're like, `Oh, cool, hearing slang,' but they don't understand it. So it's kind of hard for me to keep the two worlds separate. But I went into Gallaudet University, and that's where I realized I can live in both. I don't have to be in one world. I can live in both worlds. So ever since then, I live in both worlds, with the understanding that my hearing friends sign.


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