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Staffing Up

It takes a village to plan a meeting — that’s what many planners discover when they start their own businesses. That’s also what experienced planning companies have been reminded of in recent years, thanks to pared-down budgets.

Building that village by adding staff lets companies handle more business and makes life easier. But planners often wonder when it’s really time to hire more help — and what kind of help would be most beneficial. They may wonder what jobs they should outsource or if hiring permanent employees is the better choice.

Whether they’re a one-man shop in need of administrative help or an established company considering adding more employees to the mix, planners should hear what industry experts have to say about scaling up.

When to Expand

With the demanding nature of the meetings and events industry, it can be difficult to determine when it’s time to expand. After all, when executing a large event, it’s normal for planners to work long hours and have a milelong to-do list. But pinpointing when it’s time to expand your team can keep you from facing burnout, or worse, disappointing clients.

“I can only speak from personal experience,” said Trish Simitakos, owner of Trish Star Events. “For me, it was once I started seeing that my work-life balance was in jeopardy.”

Work-life balance being out of whack leads to job dissatisfaction, so avoiding it is critical. This is often a problem for solopreneurs who want to shoulder every aspect of their businesses, but it can also be a problem at larger event-planning companies.

“Burnout is severe,” said Michael Schaumann, director of business development at Cadre, a company that specializes in helping companies hire independent contractors in the meetings and events industry. “What’s happening is meeting and event teams aren’t as big as they used to be. People are being asked to wear two, three, four more hats.”

Another potential problem for too-small teams is the inability to handle a growing workload. If a great opportunity comes around and a planner doesn’t have the hands to deliver an excellent event, that’s bad for business.

“Usually, I’ll find they’re scaling up when they start to get proposals from different companies for work, and all the sudden they realize they need the extra hands,” said Dawn Penfold, president of Meetingjobs, a company owned by Cadre that specializes in permanent job placement in the meeting and events industry.

So if burnout is running rampant and a meeting planner is  struggling to meet client expectations, it’s probably time to consider a new addition to the team.

Sourcing Your Help

Because of all the hats meeting planners wear, it can be hard for them to decide what kind of help they need most. Is it an administrative assistant or someone specific to help managing catering? Would they benefit from another planner to help them tackle a particularly packed event calendar, or do they need an audiovisual specialist to consult with tech-forward events?

“I think they should look at it strategically,” Penfold said. “Why do they need this person; what will they contribute?” Penfold added that factors like timelines, budgets and the size of a company are important considerations in hiring a planner. They must ask themselves if they’re looking to bring someone on board long-term or short-term, full-time or part-time, and what benefits they can offer.

Simitakos started expanding her business by adding administrative help, then slowly began giving the tasks she didn’t enjoy to the admin. She said, “It’s finding within yourself what components do you enjoy doing. You hold onto those, and you hire for everything else.”

If a planner loathes spending time on the phone with vendors, hiring an administrative assistant might lighten the load and make day-to-day work more enjoyable.

Once they have an idea of what areas of the business they need help with, sourcing them is the next step. Like many other aspects of the planning industry, planners can source additions to their team through networking. There are also other ways of seeking help, such as job sites and staffing agencies.

“For me, a lot of my staffing solutions have come from working through agencies and through individual relationships,” Simitakos said.

Traditional job sites and staffing agencies may be an especially good fit for administrative assistants or site management because these positions don’t always require an extensive knowledge of the industry, and they involve a lot of transferable skills.

Platforms like Cadre and Meetingjobs are unmatched in their ability to pair planning companies with contractors and permanent employees in the meetings and events industry. Whether they’re looking for someone who speaks a certain language or has experience with a particular event type or software, these companies can match them with someone who meets their requirements.

Hiring Employees

Perhaps one of the biggest decisions for a planner to make is whether they’ll be hiring permanent employees or independent contractors. Each type of help has pros and cons and can play an important role in growing a business.

A permanent employee, whether they’re being brought in on a full- or part-time basis and no matter how small their role, can be a big commitment. It comes with a discussion of benefits, salary and training, which can be time-consuming and expensive. But if they fit a company’s needs, they can be an invaluable addition.

“Right now, my team is a 50-50 mix of permanent and freelancers,” Simitakos said. “The permanent are the people who are deeply involved with the business: strategists, people you’re relying on for future growth.”

This means they’re people who share the company’s vision and deliver work that’s up to its brand standards. Finding someone who meets these criteria often involves using a more rigorous hiring and training process, because they need to know the ins and outs of the business to deliver the best results.

“A full-time employee you have to look at more strategically,” Penfold said, adding that they should be “someone who can understand the idiosyncrasies of your clients.”

In addition to knowing the clients and the industry, they should also fit in well with the current team and feel at home in the business.

“A big thing that people neglect to acknowledge is cultural fit,” Schaumann said. “When hiring the right person, you need someone who can swim with your team.”

Hiring Contractors

Independent contractors or freelancers are a popular choice because they’re immediate solutions to a crisis. If a planner finds herself in need of an immediate expert on catering for an upcoming event, she can hire a freelance catering consultant.

“You want them to put a fire out,” Penfold said. “You want them to come in and solve the problem.”

Planners can also bulk up an event team in times of high demand. If there’s a season that’s particularly packed, extra planners, consultants and on-site help will help them meet this demand and client expectations. In this instance, a freelancer may be the right choice if there’s no guarantee that high demand will be sustained.

“Leveraging a freelancer, you bring them on and let them go with the ebb and flow of your workload,” Schaumann said.

Freelancers are also beneficial because they’re not stagnant; they’re constantly moving around in the industry and seeing new things. They’re the experts, and when it comes to expanding your team’s horizons, they may do just that.

“It’s beneficial to have a percentage of freelancers because it’s fresh, new ideas,” Simitakos said.

There’s also the budget question; while freelancers often have a more expensive hourly rate, they’re usually hired for less time, meaning hiring them could save a company money in the long run. They also won’t have to worry about salary and benefits for a temporary member of the team.

But with all the benefits of hiring contract workers, there are some things planners must be cognizant of.

“You have to be mindful of how you bring in freelancers,” Schaumann said. He pointed out there are special considerations planners must take when hiring independent contractors to ensure everything is done legally and by the book to avoid headaches during tax season. This includes a 20-point IRS checklist to ensure freelancers are being hired correctly and legally.

Building a staff of mainly freelancers can also be a little too transient for some, as there’s less of a guarantee they will be available for future events.