Hiring a Team

Building a Team: On Hiring for the Wrong Role

As a small business owner, you are juggling so many things - sales, marketing, operations, finance, legal, HR, health and safety …. and thats before we get into actually delivering projects for clients.

As your business grows, it will be impossible to do everything. So, as a small event production or AV rental company, what roles should you hire for first? Here’s my experience of hiring the wrong roles, then making it right.

My First Hire

I chose the wrong person because I was worried about living up to their expectations.

When I founded my AV rental company in 2008, my first hire was a technician. I really wanted someone who was at a level where they could manage events on site and look after projects to the same standard as me.

The problem was that the budget I had set, and the expectations I had didn’t match. Actually, that’s not true. My budget could have matched the most senior person that I interviewed. But I was scared of letting him down if we didn't keep brining in enough work. I was also worried about whether I could provide him with interesting work and that he wouldn't regret leaving his current position to join my team. The reality is that the business would have grown with him (and he would probably have brought a lot of work to the table). But I couldn’t make the mental leap.

So I hired someone I could comfortably afford.He was a fantastic technician but I still had to go out on all but the smallest jobs to keep things in check.

So when he left to move to a different part of the country, I was actually a little relieved - back to square one, I could learn my lesson and hire the right person next time.

My Second Hire

A vey good accident

It was Thursday. I was going on holiday on Saturday. I hadn’t booked a train to the airport, I had a VAT return to do, it was the busiest week we’d ever had in terms of delivery and clients were signing off last minute jobs for when I would be away. I put out a message on Facebook “anyone fancy helping me out with some admin on Friday”. One of my friends responded.

On Friday morning I handed her a double sided sheet of A4 paper filled with tasks. I’d prioritised the most important and asked her to get through as much as possible. I thought, perhaps, that she would get through half of the first page. By lunchtime, she’d done the whole lot.

On my way to the airport the following day I sent her an email offering her a job looking after our admin for 1 day / week and spent much of my holiday trying to find WIFI in the hope that she would reply with a yes.

When she finally said yes I literally danced round the room. She was INCREDIBLE. An absolute total legend. She took all of the bookkeeping off me, handled some travel booking, and looked after a whole range of general admin tasks. She’d solve problems before I even knew they were happening and nothing was ever too much trouble.

My Third Hire

A disaster

Things were going well, the business was growing. We were delivering the day-to-day work with freelancers but I was still on the road most of the week (and weekend) delivering the larger projects. But the organisation and client communications was failing. After all, it’s difficult and stressful trying to organise crew and respond to emails from clients about next month’s projects when you’re trying to mix sound at a festival!

My successful hire of an admin person, led me to believe that my next hire should be an office-based admin person who could deal with all of our transport logistics, crew booking, and basic client communications. I saw this work as basic admin. The reality is that it’s actually high pressure, and very involved. The smallest detail out of place can derail an entire project.

My hire of an admin person in this role was an epic failure and a complete waste of money!

In fact, a number of friends who were industry veterans told me that what I needed was someone to look after the warehouse operations and do some deliveries and driving. Had I paid attention to their advice I think I would have been in a much better place.

My Fourth Hire

The person I should have hired first

My fourth hire (an Operations Manager) ended up being my right-hand-man for the rest of my time running the business. He moved over to the new company when I sold and he is thriving there - delivering some seriously impressive projects.

He was a good sound engineer, a good lighting engineer, and picked up video quickly enough. But more importantly he care about his work, had a can-do attitude, and could make things happen under pressure.

If he was running a project, I knew I didn’t need to be involved. In fact, I knew it would run better (and the crew and client would be happier) than if I was running it myself.

And from there we grew

Having an Operations Manager on board looking after the running of the warehouse and projects, as well as an admin person looking after our finance and bookkeeping, freed me up to start focussing on sales, marketing and growing the business.

From there we grew. We brought a full time warehouse manager on board along with project managers and technicians at different stage of the business growth. But getting the fourth hire, was the game changer that freed me up to start running the business rather than running around like a headless chicken!

So who would I hire first if I was starting a rental company from scratch today?

1. A Bookkeeper

I’d hire a freelance bookkeeper to save me between 4 and 8 hours each week handling accounting, VAT and payroll. This is a low risk option as they are not a member of staff and you will expect to pay about £15 per hour for their services. Not only does hiring a bookkeeper save you time but also the mental energy of worrying whether you got your VAT return right.

Top tip: Ask your bookkeeper to send you a weekly report showing your cash balance, debtors, creditors, and a list of any missing receipts or un-reconciled transactions. That way you can ensure that they are keeping things up to date and get an early warning of any potential issues with your finances.

2. An Operations Manager

Next I’d hire an Operations Manager / Project Manager. Someone who can own projects (everything from equipment scheduling to crewing and client communications) and run the warehouse whilst you get on with growing your business. This person is key to your business.

3. A Warehoue Manager

My third hire would be a Warehouse Manager. One of the biggest time wasters, money wasters, and crew frustraters was poorly prepped or missing equipment on jobs. The right warehouse manager will take a huge amount of stress off the rest of your team (in particular your Project Manager).

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