Who: 37, Event Planner
What: When one woman’s events business was hit by social distancing measures she was forced to make difficult decisions
Running my own events team has always been a dream for me. I spent years working for other companies, but organising mostly corporate events meant that I had less opportunity to be creative. I longed to work on a wider range of events, and to be able to put my stamp on making people’s day special.
When my husband and I decided to move to Manchester to be closer to our families five years ago I finally had the chance to make my dream a reality. It took a long time to grow my client base – at first I worked on a freelance basis for one venue, organising mostly conferences. But as my confidence and network grew, I was able to gain a wider range of clients. I began arranging high-end private parties, and even a few weddings. I offered a highly bespoke service, working with clients on mood boards to channel inspiration before turning their ideas into beautiful events.
Before the pandemic hit, my business was thriving. About a year and a half ago I found that I had more work than I was able to handle on my own, and took on an administrative assistant to help out with tasks like scheduling and invoicing and to free up more of my time to focus on offering the tailored and personal experience that I want to achieve. Soon after that I also decided to hire an events assistant. I know how hard it can be to get a break in the industry, and wanted to offer my expertise to give somebody else the experience that they would need to build a career.
At the start of the pandemic I was extremely busy. The phone was constantly ringing with couples worrying about rescheduling a wedding, or companies wondering whether to postpone events yet. Because everything was so up in the air it was difficult to know how to advise people. I was aware that Covid-19 could be devastating for the events business, but my time was so taken up by contacting venues and suppliers to rearrange things and negotiate cancellations that I didn’t have too much time to worry.
The impact of Covid-19
But as the pandemic continued, things went very quiet. Understandably people were wary of planning things, even well into next year, and new bookings completely dropped off. I took advantage of the furlough scheme, and was desperate not to have to make redundancies so soon after growing my team. I was still working long hours trying to figure out how to adapt my business to a post-pandemic world. I looked into offering virtual events, but found that this wasn’t really a service that was in much demand. I also focused on growing my social media presence, as it felt like something constructive that I could do at a time when it was really difficult to be productive.
When the government announced a date for the end of the full furlough scheme, with employers having to top up their contribution, I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to keep both of my employees on. This was a devastating decision as we are such a small and tight-knit team.
Announcing a redundancy over the phone
I spent a long time considering how I could do this sensitively, but unfortunately social distancing meant that I had to tell her over the phone, which felt quite impersonal. I’ve never had to make anyone redundant before, so I spent a lot of time researching how I could do this as sensitively as possible, and sat down beforehand to map out what I wanted to cover in the call. I even did a run through with my husband to check that I was setting the right tone.
I kept the phone call relatively brief in case it was a shock and my assistant needed some time alone to process, but arranged a lengthier consultation call there and then so that she had had a chance to think of any questions that she might have. She was understandably upset, but said that she understood – I think that she had known that redundancy was likely.
Future-proofing the business
I’m still hoping that I might be able to keep my administrative assistant on – I feel that being able to delegate out office tasks will be a massive help as soon as things pick up, whereas I just can’t see us having enough work to be able to keep my events assistant busy for a long time. However with social distancing measures making events incredibly difficult, and less money coming in, I’m not sure that this will be sustainable.
I’m doing all that I can to help my former employee to secure new work. Now that we’re able to safely do so we’ve had socially-distanced catch-ups, and I’ve offered to review her CV and help to prepare for any job interviews that she manages to secure. At the same time, I’m aware that it is an extremely tough job market out there at the moment, and I feel terrible letting her go at a time like this.
Making a redundancy has been difficult, but sadly it’s been the only way to secure the future of my business. There’s no way of knowing when the events industry will be fully back on its feet, and until then I have to cut costs as much as possible and hope for the best. I’d love to take my assistant back on in the future if I’m able to do so, but I also hope that by then she will have found a fulfilling new role elsewhere and won’t need me. In the meantime, I’m focusing on future-proofing my business and figuring out how to coordinate events in a socially distanced world. I hope that this will be enough to keep me going.
Advice from Victoria McLean, CEO of City CV.
When you rush the redundancy process you risk it coming across as overly harsh and uncaring. This can be damaging to your brand and leave your retained employees with low morale. Consider setting up outplacement services before you need to make redundancies to soften the blow and provide valuable support.
Set The Right Tone
These are life-changing moments for people, and employees need to communicate these changes with empathy and sensitivity. Your employees need to be left in no doubt that the effort and time that they’ve put into the company has been valued, and that you regret having to make the decision.
Set Up An Alumni Network
Setting up an alumni network on LinkedIn or Facebook is a great way to keep in touch with all of the talented people that you reluctantly have to let go. Everyone can use it to offer support and share opportunities, and it will help others to feel less abandoned and alone. This also means that when your business bounces back and you’re ready to hire again you’ll have a ready-made network of brilliant people to call on.
We have launched the Digital Sisterhood to provide women everywhere with the community and support they need at the moment. Be that a safe space to ask questions – and receive honest answers – or somewhere to find a digital event that will offer you the information, or perhaps the encouragement, you need to get you through the coming days and weeks. We’re here for you, so please do head to digital.allbrightcollective.com to claim your 14 day free trial and join our community.