Holly Howard is our go-to business consultant. She’s helped countless small businesses in Brooklyn and beyond (including us here at Brooklyn Based) with her expertise and know-how. This summer, in an unprecedented program, 10 small businesses in Red Hook, Brooklyn have come together to work as a community to grow their businesses through Holly’s From Artisan to Entrepreneur® Business Growth Program. This program was made possible through the generous support from ReStore Red Hook, New York Business Development Corporation, and Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation. Over the next 10 weeks, Holly will dedicate her weekly advice column to a specific business in Red Hook that is participating in her in hopes that their journeys will bring enlightenment and inspiration to your business as well.
As we have described to you, Kevin and I knew this summer was going to be our busiest
season with two restaurants open simultaneously and parties being booked and planned. In addition to the Red Hook schedule, we’ve added Thursdays and Fridays to Little Eva’s Governors Island’s weekend schedule.
Honestly, there are improvements we want to make to our business. We recognize the need to articulate a solid vision statement for the future. Kevin and I agree on where we want to take it, but we haven’t always been good at sharing with our customers and staff a picture of who we are and where we’re going. Also, we’ve talked about clarifying the scope of the catering, perhaps hire a manager for just that piece. We thought these fixes could be tackled after Little Eva’s closes for the winter season, the wedding season ends, and we’re tucked into Red Hook for the holidays.
We feel confident that we can hold off on our long-term planning until January, but we recognize that there are day-to-day, operational needs that we cannot delay. It’s so hard to focus on our hiring process and team building when we are in our busiest time of year, but it’s something that has shown to be a priority that we feel needs to be addressed now.
It seems a daunting, even impossible task, like changing the tire on a moving car–yikes! Any advice you can share about how to make changes to this process during our busiest time
without overwhelming ourselves?
Thank you for any light you can shed.
Kevin & Caroline
Dear Kevin and Caroline,
Thanks for bringing such a relevant concern of so many small business owners to the table. You’re so right that when it comes to long-term planning, we have the benefit of waiting until our business slows down. That’s why it’s valuable to know your seasonality so that you can plan your year accordingly and carve out time during those slower months to address the long-term vision for your company.
However, when it comes to pressing, day-to-day needs, you don’t get that luxury. In fact, it can be detrimental if you don’t improve your procedures no matter how busy the daily operations become.
Hiring is a particularly tricky one to really get a grip on in the restaurant industry. As restaurant owners, you’re dependent on a staff who likely doesn’t see this as their main priority (you’ve got actors, musicians, writers, etc.) and so their level of investment and commitment can wane. Not only that, these jobs are typically seen as short-term experiences, and so you’re likely spending more time than other small business in the hiring process.
I like your analogy of trying to fix a tire on a moving car, because that’s exactly what’s happening when you’re trying to build a team in an already busy restaurant. A fact I see small business owners overlook, is that they don’t recognize that they are responsible for developing the talent in their business. Now I’m not saying you don’t want to hire someone with a particular skill set, but we often think if we find experienced workers, they’ll just slide right into place with minimal effort on our part. This is not true. We have to recognize that we as owners are teachers, and we must invest in each staff member’s development.
Here’s how I would advise you to improve your hiring practices to mitigate this situation.
First, know that there’s no time like the present to get started, so don’t spend any more time stressing over the fact that it’s busy. Sometimes our perspective on the situation has greater influence than the reality of it. So start by reassuring yourself that team building during busy season is possible and can be successful.
Second, get organized. If you haven’t already, take a brief amount of time to write out the expectations for the positions that you’re hiring for. I promise even if you can just carve out one hour to do this, it can have a big impact on your team building. Crystal clear expectations mean less miscommunication and stress.
Not only that, when you present someone with a clear job description, their perception of you changes. With these types of tools, you’re already seen as a more competent leader and there will be more trust and respect from the team member, which makes the process smoother.
I would recommend that you write out a job description with a clear schedule, a list of training expectations and a schedule for their training period. Because you’re in the midst of your busy season, don’t put pressure on yourself to get these documents perfect. It’s more important to get them going, and you can adjust them as you see what works and what doesn’t.
Third, get everyone on the same page. Don’t think of shouldering this burden on your own. If you’re working to bring on new team members, communicate to other staff that you’re going through this process. It’s a priority for you and may consume your time and focus. Let them know so that they can be aware of what’s happening within the business. Even if they’re not involved in the process, they should be aware of what your focus is and any changes within the business.
Finally, as I mentioned in the beginning, brush up on your leadership skills and teaching abilities. One problem I see with small business owners when it comes to team building is lack of accountability. When you bring new staff on board, those first few weeks are crucial to setting the tone and building successful work habits. Even if you can’t physically always be present with them because you are so busy, when you are there, make that time count.
Address what you see even if you feel like it would be easier to not do so. I see owners who feel overwhelmed and let things slide, but that will only make the process more taxing in the long run. So if you feel yourself resistant to holding team members accountable during training, work on your communicating and accountability skills now.
Good luck! These types of situations present a unique opportunity to force ourselves to grow and make changes quickly. I’m sure that with these few changes, you can successfully put a team in place while juggling everything else.