Staff – how to find them, train them and keep them! Wise words from Isabel Smith
Operating a wedding venue on your own is tough going. Do you personally have all the skills (and all the time) needed to maintain the building and grounds, market and sell the venue, plan weddings and run the day operationally? Probably not. One way or another you are going to need a team around you, be it an ongoing contract with a gardener, a fully outsourced marketing agency or an employee or two.
What staff you need and when, depends entirely on your business model and cash flow, but as a rule of thumb, when you’re feeling the strain but starting to see some return on your investment, push on for another six to nine months until you’re absolutely at breaking point (but the money is more reliably rolling in), and that’s the time to recruit.
As a business owner, you are looking for people who will bring skills to the company that are your weak point. Not a savvy marketer? Then get yourself an apprentice who specialises in digital and social media marketing. Hate selling? Find someone who doesn’t mind playing that game. Don’t have the time to be on site for each wedding? Hire a ‘house manager’ who will do everything from getting suppliers on and off site to taking coats if that’s what it takes to look after your premises.
If you’re partnering with a decent marquee and / or catering company, a lot of the operational staffing (like cloakroom / toilet attendants, bar staff, etc) should be taken care of, but there is no harm in getting yourself a reliable bank of students or freelancers you can dip into when needed.
Finding and keeping good staff
I’ve done a fair amount of recruiting in my time, and to my mind it doesn’t matter if you are a micro business taking on your first team member or an international mega-corp taking on a whole new division; it pays to approach the process as any blue chip company would. The employer / employee relationship is 100% symbiotic – you both need each other – so the entire process should be about two way communication. The steps to follow are:
- Write a job description. Write a full, thorough job description including details of the day-to-day tasks of the new recruit as well as information about the past, present and future of the business and the working culture within the company. There are fantastic online tools to help with this.
- Advertise the role sensibly. Your immediate family and friends might well add a valuable perspective to the business, but they can also be too close to home (and you can be tempted to skip key recruitment steps when employing them). Looking further afield as well ensures that you get the best possible candidates. Recruitment agents (like any other business) vary in their effectiveness and pricing so they might not be the best way to recruit. Instead, make use of caterer.com, other job listing sites, your local job centre, any local schools, colleges or universities and above all relevant apprenticeship schemes (of which I can’t speak highly enough).
- Vet the candidates thoroughly. Times are still tough out there so you might be overwhelmed by applications. It really is worth the extra time to go through them all properly. Passion for the role / industry counts for a lot more than relevant experience, so try to focus more on the personal statement areas of the CV than the past jobs. Keeping an eye on spelling and grammar is another great way to vet candidates.
- Interview at least three people. These people are looking to work for you, which means they will be representing your business in the wider world. Rapport with your staff is absolutely essential and all the experience in the world won’t make up for a bad attitude or bad fit with the company culture. You can always train someone in the skills they need, but if they just don’t ‘get’ the business, they won’t perform or stay. Again, that passion for the industry is what you are looking for. Try to remember that they are interviewing you as much as you are them, since we’re looking for a mutually beneficial arrangement here.
- Get the paperwork right. It took me three full days to write my company handbook, but in conjunction with formal offer of work letters and standard workplace terms and conditions, it has been utterly invaluable in ensuring that my recruits know what is expected of them and what I am offering them.
- Conduct a formal induction. That first week for any new employee is tough. Make things easier on you both by sourcing a generic induction checklist on the internet and working through it. It will make your inductee welcome, let them know you are professional about your business and make sure that the whole team are on the same page about the business’s goals. That first week should also include training on the customer service standards you expect.
- Undertake regular reviews. Three months into their new role, check in with them. Make sure that you and they are both happy with their role, their work, their training, their environment and where their career is going. Repeat this review annually just like the big corporations do. It will help retain staff and help you become a better employer.
Yes, there are a lot of steps here, but taking your time to work through them means you will have done everything you possibly can to identify your staff needs, and will have them met by the best possible candidate, saving you time, money and headaches later.
Once you have taken the time to find the right team in the first place, staff retention is pretty simple. As mother used to say, “Treat people as you want to be treated”.
For me, that means:
- Pay your staff fairly. Research the going rate for their role and improve upon it where you can. Where you simply can’t afford to be generous in terms of salary, be generous with benefits (e.g. extra annual leave, flexible working hours, additional training, performance related bonuses, etc)
- Pay your staff on time! They have the same monthly outgoings that you do and getting paid late can have dire consequences for their finances
- Respect their work / life balance. Events roles often mean long hours and physically demanding work so make sure that when your team clocks off, they really have clocked off. If they work a late night, pay for their taxi home so you know they got there safely. If they work extra hours one week, make sure they get them back in lieu the following week
- Invest in them. Any full time member of staff will have some sort of plan for the future. Take the time to find out what it is and how you can help them achieve it. Even the most casual of summer staff needs to show growth and professionalism on their CV and will be grateful to you for going that extra mile on their behalf. You never know, they might turn out to be your future right hand!
- Show your appreciation. Most people seek satisfaction from their work over and above their salary. This isn’t about everyone getting a ticker-tape parade in their honour every month, it is just about letting them know as often as possible that they are doing a good job and that they are valued as part of the company. More carrot, less stick!
It is your responsibility to know and obey the law. You cannot get round the following simply by having a staff member sign a waiver – these things are set in stone:
Does your new recruit have the legal right to work in the UK?
It is absolutely your responsibility to check every staff member’s right to work in the UK. If you get into hot water, saying that ‘they told me they were allowed to’ isn’t going to save you from a hefty fine. There is a nifty online tool for finding out about an individual’s eligibility at www.gov.uk/legal-right-work-uk
Are you paying the legal minimum wage?
Different wages apply under different circumstances so make sure you are in the know (see www.gov.uk/national-minimum-wage-rates). Some work experience / internship programmes are exempt from these rates, but be very careful not to overstep the bounds between work experience and employment since there has (rightly) been a big clampdown on this in recent years to prevent exploitation. See www.gov.uk/employment-rights-for-interns
Does the role involve working with children or at risk members of the public?
If so, you will need to undertake a DBS check to find out whether or not they have a criminal record. This must be done at your own expense (not that of the employee) – see www.gov.uk/disclosure-barring-service-check
Are you insured?
You must have employers liability insurance regardless of whether anyone working for you is a paid employee, a work experience student or a volunteer. It isn’t expensive and it protects you should a team member be injured on the job. See www.gov.uk/employers-liability-insurance
Does everyone know where they stand?
As a minimum, any staff must receive a written statement of employment that covers the basics of a contract between both parties. See www.gov.uk/employment-contracts-and-conditions/written-statement-of-employment-particulars
Is the tax man up to date?
HMRC needs to be informed about your new status as an employer and you need to discuss the national insurance and income tax situation in relation to your staff’s salaries. You can pay your staff in cash, but making use of the PAYE system (your accountant can help) is by far the easiest way of ensuring that you and your employee are keeping up to date and legal. If you are employing someone on a consultancy / contract basis, they will be responsible for making sure their own NI and taxes are in order. See www.gov.uk/register-employer
Do you know all about benefits?
The laws surrounding holiday, sickness and maternity / paternity leave and pay, as well as the new workplace pension, are pretty darn finite. Make sure you are 100% in the know and honouring your legal obligations on all points. See:
Are you health and safety aware?
This is possibly the most boring topic on earth, but you have a legal obligation to provide a safe working environment for your staff. There are slightly different rules for different types and sizes of organisations; larger businesses and / or higher risk roles will need more in the way of risk assessments, signage, PPE, on-site first aiders and fire marshals, etc. Spend some time getting your health and safety ducks in a row not only to prevent incidents, but also to cover your back should something go awry. See www.hse.gov.uk
About the Author
Isabel Smith has 10 years in the wedding industry behind her as one of the UK’s top wedding planners and business consultants to venues and other suppliers. Isabel’s expertise spans marketing, sales and operations as she helps new vendors launch as well as assisting established businesses should they find their sales fallings. www.isabelsmithconsulting.co.uk / www.isabelsmithweddings.co.uk