December at Aisle Planner is all about dreaming big, and along those lines comes the notion of growing your team. As planners, we often are a one-woman (or one-man) show as we start out. But as we begin to grow, filling our team with more and more planners and interns becomes necessary in order to give large-scale events and high-budget weddings the attention they deserve.
So, how exactly do you know when you’re ready to grow your team and how do you handle the logistics of payment and non-compete agreements when you do? We reached out to some of our favorite Aisle Planners to get their take on the exciting (and challenging) task of growing your team. Pour yourself a glass of wine, read their responses below, and get ready to grow your crew in a seriously smart, savvy, and strategic way.
How do I know when I’m ready to make the jump and bring someone else on?
Kristin of Timeless Events: We plan and coordinate weddings in Wisconsin, which means we have icky, unpredictable weather six months out of the year. We have “wedding season” here, which means most of our bookings take place between May and November. For me, it was pretty easy to decide that if I wanted to grow and scale my business, I would need help so we could take multiple weddings on a weekend during wedding season.
Jonnaysa of Planned Perfection: For me, I realized I needed to bring others on when the demand for my services became higher. I hated turning away so many weddings that were coming to me that I just couldn’t handle by myself. I started off myself, one wedding a weekend, and that was it. Now we can take up to four weddings a day, and have enough staff to assist at each. Although, I would say my comfort level is having no more than three weddings a day.
Jennifer Taylor of Taylor’d Events: You’ll know it’s time when you’re starting to do more events than you want and are feeling close to burnout. If you’re having trouble keeping up with your work or if you start to feel like your personal life is taking a permanent backseat to your business, then you’ll need to consider taking on someone new. In my case, I was teaching about wedding planning, and a student asked to join the company – I thought about it and it made sense, so I said yes and the rest is history. I now have four planners on the team and we are planning to take on one or two more in 2017.
Jenn of Rosetree Events: When you can comfortably feel good financially about paying that person to take on what you physically and mentally cannot. Or, when you have too much work coming in that you do not want to turn away. Remember it takes time to train others, so it’s not a simple hire.
Jaclyn Grieger of Exchange Events & Catering: I began adding to my team when I found myself working seven days a week and not keeping up – complaints from prospective clients about not getting back to them in a timely fashion, miscommunication, etc.
Holly Patton of Perfectly Posh Events: It depends on the goals and priorities that you have set for your business. Having a team of planners is not necessarily something that fits for every company and you can be successful with or without a team! If your goals include building a team, I recommend adding someone before you actually NEED to add them – if you wait until you are completely booked and are burning the candle at both ends then you may feel pressured to hire the first person that comes along rather than waiting until you find that perfect fit. Hiring before you’re super busy will also mean that you have the time and bandwidth to train properly. Each time I’ve hired a new planner I have done so when the right person with the right personality fit for our team comes along. I try to look out to the next season and predict what our needs will be in terms of growth; do we have several prime weekends completely booked already? If so, I can easily predict that we’ll end up booking those weekends if I add another planner to the team.
How do you recommend handling compensation for new team members? Do you prefer hourly, salary, or commission-based?
Kristin of Timeless Events: My coordinators, who are classified as Independent Contractors, receive a flat rate per event. This flat rate is based on a percentage of the contracted amount, typically around 50% of the contract. I also offer a commission on new business brought in by them.
Jonnaysa of Planned Perfection: For me it was trial and error. The first consultant I ever brought on, now, kind of washes out even after I pay her and the staff that assists her during a wedding. The business really does not make any money off her events because I started her with a very high percentage. Now when deciding to bring consultants on, I make sure that after paying them and their assistants, there is enough leftover to ensure the business is making something off that event. I prefer to base their pay rate on a percentage of the total invoice, vs. an hourly rate.
Jennifer Taylor of Taylor’d Events: It will depend a lot on your annual revenue and how many events you have booked, as well as how many you plan to put your new planner on. When I made the jump, I chose to do a commission-based pay because it made the most sense. After the first year, I raised my rates quite a bit so we are in the higher price point for our market – that way, my planners can get compensation for all of their hard work without it having a major impact on the bottom line.
Our planners are all commission-based for all weddings and events. For their time working in the office, I pay them a flat hourly rate. My goal is to work up to a combination of salary and commission, but for now, I do what is feasible for the company.
Jenn of Rosetree Events: We do a percentage – it keeps it simple. We have a formula for how much the business needs to make to make it worth our while.
Jaclyn Grieger of Exchange Events & Catering: I found that having an assistant paid for itself – we were able to get back to prospective clients more quickly, which turned into more bookings. I started her on three days a week, 4-6 hours a day, at $15/hr. After the first three months, I bumped her to $18.
Hourly versus salary is a tough one. My assistants all work in the office, about 20 hours a week each, on overlapping shifts so we have coverage, plus have one day when everyone is in the office to meet. They are all on hourly wages. My main assistant would really prefer to have commission on the events she’s “working on,” but my feeling is that if everyone is hourly, then they don’t feel like it’s only theirs – this eliminates the territorial feelings, and everyone works on all clients. Also, none of them really have the availability to work the hours I’d expect from a salaried employee.
Holly Patton of Perfectly Posh Events: I have done both hourly and commission based. Hourly can add up really quickly so I recommend the commission based option if you are unsure if you can afford bringing on a team member. I have a team that works regularly in our planning studio and those employees are paid hourly because they have a regular schedule each week and often do administrative work in addition to wedding coordinating. For my planners on commission based, I still pay them hourly for administrative work beyond their weddings, such as writing blog posts or attending team meetings. Just because someone is on commission doesn’t mean that they can work for super cheap or free – you technically still need to make sure that they are being paid at least minimum wage for your area for the number of hours that they work.
Do you recommend bringing on new team members as employee or independent contractors? What are the pros and cons of each?
Kristin of Timeless Events: Personally, I feel independent contractors are much more affordable, given that as soon as you have employees, you have to worry about payroll, taxes, workers compensation, and more. Independent contractors can be moved to employee status later on if you would like, but (and here’s the kicker) employees can never become independent contractors.
There are some things to keep in mind with independent contractors: you can’t tell them when/where to work, how to dress, etc. You do have that control over employees – but again, going the employee route is more costly in my opinion.
Jennifer Taylor of Taylor’d Events: This is a personal choice and depends on your own preferences. I choose to have all of my planners as employees rather than contractors because it gives me the freedom to tell them what to do and where to go. I can give them a wedding or an event and I know that they will be there, no matter what. A contractor, on the other hand, is more of a freelancer so you can give them guidelines, but they dictate their working style and hours. I understand that the financial burden of employees vs. contractors may differ from company to company, but for me, it’s worth it for full-on accountability.
Jenn of Rosetree Events: We started with contractors (careful as you cannot tell them what to do)… now all of ours are employees. We wanted to have more say in how and what they do. Again, we do a percentage of the package and we negotiate with our new hires based on their experience.
Should I require that new team members sign a non-compete agreement?
Kristin of Timeless Events: Bringing on additional coordinators obviously meant protecting myself legally. In a conversation with my attorney, she told me that since my coordinators were going to be classified as independent contractors, I wasn’t allowed to require our work agreement to be exclusive. This means my coordinators are technically able to work for my competitors in the area.
Jonnaysa of Planned Perfection: This has always been a big factor in whom I bring on to assist me and become planners. When starting off with interns, I look for staff members that want to learn and grow with Planned Perfection and move up within my company. It is always pretty clear to me who wants to learn from me and then take off to start their own company vs. who wants to learn and continue to grow and work for me. I always hope I’m making good decisions so that I do not have to have anyone sign a non-compete. So far I’ve been pretty lucky.
Jennifer Taylor of Taylor’d Events: This is a definite must – at the end of the day, you need to protect your business. My employee contract includes a non-compete that lasts for one year and is limited to a certain radius of the office. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Jenn of Rosetree Events: YES! Always have an agreement or contract. We have a great lawyer.
Holly Patton of Perfectly Posh Events: I recommend that you consult with a lawyer on this. Non-compete clauses/contracts will vary from state to state and some may not be valid in your area. Also, if you are classifying as independent contractors then they most likely cannot sign a non-compete because they should be able to seek other contract work in the industry. If you are looking for a lawyer who specializes in the wedding industry I highly recommend contacting Mary Ellen Reihsen: firstname.lastname@example.org – she’s fabulous and understands our industry!
What resources are out there to help me ensure I’m on the right track when it comes to growing my team?
Jennifer Taylor of Taylor’d Events: Reach out to industry peers! I talked to other planners in my market to see what their experiences were like and to see if they had any tips to offer. I also encourage planners that hope to grow to reach out to a business advisor for advice – I did an hour-long call with the professionals over at Sage Wedding Pros and they made sure I was on the right track to success.
Jenn of Rosetree Events: We hired a business coach to help us make large decisions. They knew more about the wedding industry than we did at the time.
Holly Patton of Perfectly Posh Events: I recommend that you research the employment laws for your state. As a small business, it’s tempting to bring team members on as independent contractors in order to avoid those pesky payroll taxes. However, a large number of wedding planning business incorrectly classify their team members as independent contractors when they should actually be classified as employees. I recommend reading the wedding business blog Sage Wedding Pros for a good breakdown on what is considered an independent contractor vs employee.