Building, managing, and expanding your dream team is no easy feat! Consider just some of the challenges: balancing workloads, industry seasonality, financial obligations, team morale considerations, training, updating processes, WSIB implications, payroll, office space, associated admin work – and we haven’t even started the interviewing process! Difficult? Yes. Worth it? You bet!
Though many in our industry advance their businesses from seemingly humble beginnings, at some point – whether driven by ambition or by necessity – most eventually take on the challenging, yet necessary steps toward building their elite team of associates and colleagues. Whether your business is in its growth stage or already well-established within the industry, great leaders know that building, fostering, and empowering a solid team is key to the long-term growth of any business.
Part I: The Right (or Wrong) Time to Hire
Before you go posting that job description, a little due diligence is in order.
When did you know it was time to make your first hire?
I always had the idea of expanding in the back of my mind, but a time came when I was just getting too overwhelmed with work and kept turning down business because I was booked already. Not only was it time to expand, but I was ready to expand. My assistant at the time and right-hand girl was the most obvious choice as she had shadowed and assisted me for a couple years. I asked if she would be open to taking on more responsibility and be a lead coordinator, and she enthusiastically was on board.
Because I run two companies and manage multiple side projects, I knew that a strong team was important early on. I hired my first part-time team member four years ago and my team has grown steadily since then. Each time I hired someone new it was a risk but I weighed this risk against multiple factors including finances, workload, growth, personal health and well-being. Each time I've found that even if it's a financial risk or strain to hire on someone new, it's provided me or other team members the opportunity to free up our time to continue to focus on business growth and expansion. With each staff member that comes on board, I've become increasingly proficient at defining roles, delegating and inspiring accountability.
Part II: Hiring Your First Employee
If you’re the sole employee of your business, making that first hire is particularly daunting. While it certainly feels like it, rest assured that you are not alone.
How did you prepare for your first-ever hire?
Our first hires were actually all of the photographers who were with us from day one. We started with a couple of contract photographers, who also happened to be friends. They worked with us for a number of years. They were exclusive to Purple Tree, they poured their hearts and souls into the business and they were constantly looking for other ways to contribute to the success of the company to ensure clients get the best results.
Slowly, we started to share the various responsibilities in the studio with each of the photographers (delegating is a beautiful thing). We noticed our photographers had many strengths in other areas outside of photography, so we worked with them to establish different responsibilities that would help them learn and grow, while helping Purple Tree blossom. They then became involved in editing, marketing, administration, social media, etc. At this point, it only made sense to make them full time employees - we prepared our first-hires for the job before actually hiring!
I didn't prepare for my first hire which, in hindsight, taught me so much about managing people, managing my own time and managing expectations. From starting with daily to-do lists for my first assistant to clearly defining roles so staff can work totally independently, it's been a massive learning curve for me. The most important thing I learned early is to define the teach-ables in your business, and to define your own unique abilities that drive your company. Continue to delegate your teachable tasks to new hires, therefore putting yourself in the position to focus on your unique, business growing abilities.
How did you recruit your first hire?
Our first hire started working with us on a freelance basis. The most important thing to us is the way a new staff member works with the rest of the team and how they follow instructions. If they’re capable of these things then we can train them, guide them, and show them the ropes. As our business grows, so does our team, at which point we always prefer promoting from within and hire our part-time staff as full time employees.
Bringing on our first employee was a scary leap for sure, but the company was growing quickly and we needed the help! We looked to past relationships built from working with other companies to fill the role. It was comforting to have a strong past working relationship with that individual before bringing them on board.
What are the best ways to find the right candidate?
Finding the right candidate can be tough, and your first choices may not always work out. When it’s time to hire, we typically look for students coming out of school (Sheridan and Humber specifically for photography) or we post on social media or the Canada Job Bank.
Nothing beats getting to know a person over time, and therefore we primarily hire for junior positions and promote from within. In our studio, our artists start as assistants before becoming second photographers. From there, they will become a lead photographer once they’ve put in the time and I’ve gotten to know them well enough.
We use a variety of methods to find the best candidate. Online through sites like Indeed, through word of mouth via our existing staff, and by asking other vendors. The industry, while big and diverse in many ways, is also small in that most people know one another. So when someone is looking to fill a position, its quite often that someone you know in the business can recommend a good candidate for the role.
While a glowing resumé and cover letter are surely impressive, in the events industry it’s not enough to indicate qualifications. To ensure things run smoothly when finding a new candidate, we like to conduct a “trial period”. This could include an internship period for young adults or students, or it could mean hiring someone for a few shifts to see how it goes. If all goes well this intern will become an employee, or the part-time staff member will be employed regularly! This also eliminates the concern of hiring someone too quickly and realizing that they may not be the right fit for the company and need to be let go shortly after.
What attributes do you look for in a new hire?
We look for someone who is genuine and passionate about the wedding industry - someone who is motivated, energetic, and dependable and willing to go above and beyond for the Client. It’s important that I have full confidence that a new hire will be giving 100% at each and every event.
I look for a good foundation and work ethic, soft skills that can't be taught - someone who is humble, hard working, on time and organized, smart and quick on their feet, a keen sense of style, and genuinely nice. These are attributes that you either have or you don't. The work itself can be taught and trained, especially if you have a good system in place.
When hiring someone new, we look for personality, passion, and a very limited ego.
Finding people with the right experience, right skills and right education is fine, but the most important thing that we look for is personality. Personality makes all the difference! There’s definitely a lot of talent out there, however, having a personality that will (a) fit like a glove with the rest of our family here; and (b) will suit our Clients, is vital!
Part III: Building Out Your Team
Hiring, managing, and expanding your team is an ongoing process requiring a deep and sustained level of commitment.
What are some important factors to consider when building out your team?
We have a somewhat unorthodox approach to hiring. While experience is always helpful and desirable, it isn’t a guarantee that the candidate is the perfect fit.
Some factors to consider when building out your team:
- Hire the best you can afford: Unless you plan to do everything yourself (a terribly limiting prospect), hire the very best people that you can find. It is an investment in the future of your business.
- Hire for passion: We are in the service business. In our business our staff have to love what they do and they have to love our Clients. As such, we hire for personality and passion.
- Diversity: When your team is small, look for talent with diverse skills. Perhaps your receptionist can also manage your social media content. Or, perhaps your personal assistant can also reply to your separate and dedicated general inquiries inbox. Also, find someone who is super tech savvy.
- Hire as required: we have a small team and can’t justify a full-time, in-house IT professional but we need someone who understands our business and our needs so we subcontract this requirement.
- Find a way to keep your core team during your off-season: This can be challenging for small, seasonal businesses, but it can be a critical success factor to have consistent staff who know your clients.
Service is everything in today’s competitive climate. Having a strong team is critical if you plan to be an industry leader. Investing in the best talent you can afford always pays off in the long run.
The first thing I look for in a new hire is: are they passionate? Do they have a real drive for catering? Will they be a good fit once they get in the mix? We need someone who’s a good team player, but who can also work independently without needing to depend on the team all the time. We know that Food Dudes isn’t the right place for everyone. You need to be a chameleon in some ways, in the event industry, which is all about knowing your clientele and adjusting to their expectations.
What are some of the best ways to you keep your team motivated?
Keeping morale high at all times is something we take very seriously. We do a team meeting every month, plus weekly mini-team meetings to stay in touch with everyone’s state of mind. We take the whole team on a yearly trip to somewhere like Montreal or New York, so everyone feels connected and strong together. This year we’re bringing the whole team down to Mexico on vacation. We’ll send people on trips with their families as a bonus sometimes, or give other little perks. We’re very tight-knit and the happiness of our team is so important. It’s natural to want everyone to feel at ease and appreciated in their work.
We have a small team of four here and work together daily in our 999 sq. ft. studio space. It’s important to have a good mix of business and friendship. We all enjoy each other’s company but we also know when it’s important to focus on our work to keep our business moving. Time management is key, as well as helping each other when someone’s work load is heavier than others to keep us all level-headed. We also make sure we encourage each other constantly, and compliment each other on how great of a job we’re doing. It really helps motivate us all and keeps us happy during the stressful wedding season!
Our staff are our lifeline. Much of their satisfaction comes from running their own 'ship'. We do not micro manage but know when to offer up assistance. The environment here is one where all staff are supported and are involved in the success of each others’ events. We constantly challenge our team with new types of events, often more complex events, as well as the opportunity to go after new business. Our staff feel like they are contributing to the greater success of the business, which they are.
How do you use the slower seasons to your advantage?
We know that from May through October officiating weddings will require our undivided attention. After October, we can focus on other aspects of the company. That’s when we have time to review the previous 6 months, update the company’s website and fine-tune our marketing plan for the coming year. So, we really don’t experience a slowdown, we just shift focus to other aspects of our business.
How has your role shifted over the years as your business has grown?
My role has shifted quite a lot since we began back in 2005, from being on site and securing most contracts to nowadays assisting my team in securing their own contracts and supporting them on their events. These days, I am involved in my team’s successes, acting more as a sounding board, there to troubleshoot any and all problems but also there to help unwrap crates whenever they call!
As our business has grown and we’ve come to take on two reliable employees that help run and navigate the day to day operations of our business, my business partner and I have been able to focus on the 'big picture'. We have been able to implement some changes to help continue to grow our business and maintain our presence in this niche industry. We also feel it’s important to still be involved heavily in every aspect of our business, but are grateful that we can also focus on sustaining it by trusting our fantastic employees with our company.
When I started this company, my goal was to officiate weddings - lots of them. I wanted to establish a reputation within the industry as a trusted wedding officiant. Ten years later, I officiate few weddings. My responsibilities and duties now center around training new officiants that join Enduring Promises. I also spend a great deal of time speaking with couples who have used our services. We want to know how the company can make it even easier for future couples to personalize their ceremony through our online console. In short, I now work on the business rather than in the business.