Your event business can only ever be as good as the people who run it--your team. They interact with your clients and colleagues, execute your carefully developed plans, and set the mood in your work environment on a daily basis. You answer for their performance, good or bad, and as a small business, that can make or break your reputation.
Building an amazing team is an extensive process that takes hard work, intuition and skill. It all starts with cultivating the right employees.
Step 1: Look for specific characteristics.
When screening candidates for your next position, focus on personality over skills. You can train the right people, as long as they have a great attitude and approach to life. Seek positivity and motivation. Candidates who are willing to step outside their comfort zones are great, especially if they are not looking ultimately to start up their own competing businesses.
If you can find people who want to grow with you, who understand that small businesses are unique, and who value being part of a team, snag them quick and hang on to them for good! Those with previous small-business experience are usually especially good candidates.
Step 2: Offer a trial period.
Once you have narrowed your list of candidates down to your top contenders, find out how they would feel about a trial period. Unlike a large corporation that can afford to train and develop new employees who might or might not work out, a small business usually has fewer resources to spare, so finding the best match the first time is critical.
A trial period is mutually beneficial. Your new employee gets paid and learns the ropes while you both decide if committing to each other over the long run will work out well on both sides. Your other team members also get a chance to weigh in on the decision, which promotes a healthier work environment. Generally a trial of three months is enough time to work out any wrinkles and sufficiently vet a new situation. [Editor's note: Wage and hour laws vary widely; check with counsel regarding probationary periods for new hires.]
Step 3: Treat them right.
There are several things you should do to ensure that you have happy, healthy employees on your team.
First, never wait to address a concern. Have a meeting. For example, I noticed one of my employees, whom I valued very much, wasn’t enjoying her role in planning, so we changed her responsibilities to managing social media. This area benefitted from her skill, was a need for us, and she both loved it and thrived in it. You shouldn’t hang on to the wrong person if it isn’t working, because it won’t serve you, your business or the new hire. Be willing to have the conversation, and don’t wait to do it.
Also, recognize that working for a small business, especially in events, can be hard, and emphasize the perks. Respect your employees’ personal time. Encourage them not to let their work overflow into their lives. Share some of the fun parts of the business--let them attend industry meetings or accompany you on trips. This business has a high rate of burn-out, but you can prevent turnover by staying connected and encouraging communication.
Finally, make sure your employees feel personal pride and a sense of ownership in your business. Hosting a retreat at least once a year where you can get away together and focus on your success, areas for growth and goals together is a highly effective way to build a team.
Encourage team check-ins on a regular basis. It’s more than simply having an open door--it’s actively seeking input from your team members and honoring how valuable they are to your success. Don’t be automatically reactive--sometimes just hearing a concern is enough to satisfy someone. Do be responsive. If you receive feedback on which you can act, do it.
Nothing is more important to your business than the people who represent it. Make hiring and nurturing your team one of your top priorities.
Emily Sullivan is the owner of Emily Sullivan Events, a full-service wedding planning company based in New Orleans and serving couples everywhere.