How do you choose the right people to work with?
Hello, friend, and welcome back to episode number 22 of my 31 day challenge where every single day I'm answering your questions about creating a career or a business that you love. And in today's episode (part two), leading on from yesterday's discussion about working, hiring teams and working with freelancers versus working for yourself. This part two is about how you go about choosing the right person or the right team members to work with, so we're going to be diving into that. If you've got a question, you can reach out to me and @alexmakesvr on Instagram and Twitter. If you've got a longer question, you can email me firstname.lastname@example.org. And every single day when I put out these episodes I'm sending out a newsletter just to give you a recap of what's in the episode, and to remind you that it's live. So if you would like to sign up for that, the way you can do that is signing up at www.alexmakesvr.com.
This is a transcript of the podcast episode. Instead, listen here:
So, leading straight on from yesterday's episode! Yesterday, we dove deep- is that a phrase? We'll go with that, we dove deep into...it sounds so wrong!- we looked at the pros and cons for hiring a team or working with freelancers and also an insight into when might be a good idea to start working with other people. But then the biggest question, which is part and parcel, is how do you know? Who are the right people to work with? How do you go about choosing the right team? How do you know if they're going to be a good fit? How do you know if you're going to get on? How do you know if they're good at their job? There are so many elements that go into it and unfortunately, this is probably going to be one of those more holistic episodes rather than an exact formula? The answer is, there is no real way to know. There is no real way to go about choosing the right people to work with, because ultimately, until you work with someone, you don't know if they're going to be a good fit for you. You don't know if they're going to be good at their job. And you don't know if they're going to deliver on time. Are they trustworthy? Are they good around the client?
These are all some of the things, especially for me, that come to mind when I'm thinking about choosing a team. Now, caveat to all of that: one of the big things I'm focusing on right now, and if you've followed me for a while, outside of the podcast world, you'll know that I am very much an advocate for VR for good, but also promoting and making sure we have a real diverse and inclusive pool of talent in this industry. Because we're building it from scratch, we're essentially building this industry from the ground up, and for me, I really want to make sure that I'm contributing as a hirer, as a decision maker who gets to allocate budget and gets to give people jobs. That's on me; it's my responsibility to make sure that I am not just taking the easy route and going on a recommendation. I'll get into in a second as the main way that people do choose who to work with, but for me now, my big focus is not necessarily looking at someone's track record but absolutely going on how confident I am this person will pick things up very quickly if they don't have the most experience in the world. This is the thing that I've learned after years of working with complete assholes along the way, and not just in the VR industry, but in my previous career in TV: I would, any day of the week, deal with the headaches of needing to be a bit more on top of someone and making sure that they're delivering on time and maybe their quality of work isn't necessarily like 100%, but if they are a nice person; if they are kind; if they are someone that I really get on with; if there's someone that I think has good intention; if I think that that job is going to be more valuable and be more more of an opportunity for that person; I will 100% go with with someone who is a little bit more inexperienced. Someone who maybe isn't within my network and someone who hasn't come with a recommendation, over someone who has come with a recommendation and got loads of portfolio work, but I know from experience is a complete asshole. I can just tell from the first time meeting them they are stuck up their own ass and they might be really good at their job, but I'm just not willing to work with people like that anymore. I think that is a big mistake, especially when you first start out. The tendency is to, especially when you're hiring freelancers, is you might be like, ‘I'm going to get the best, I want the best for this project.’ And yes, absolutely, there is a place for that. I'm not saying that you should hire someone who's crap. I'm not saying that just for the sake of making sure that you're being inclusive and making sure that you're pulling from outside your network. When I say being inclusive, by the way, I'm not talking about specifically diversity. Of course that comes into it. I'm not specifically saying, you know, hire someone who's not a white man. What I'm saying is reach outside of your network. For so long, it's been a bit of a catch 22 with this industry because it is so small; everyone knows everyone. But if you're not in the inner circle, if you're not in the kind of the clique, of the who's who in the VR industry, sometimes it can be really hard to be recommended for work because you're not necessarily tapping into the same networks. There could be loads of reasons for that.
I went to the IVR PA event last year, there was an incredible 360 filmmaker who was talking about her project, her name was D. Harvey. Go follow her, she's brilliant. She does lots of really cool stuff in the VR world specifically, like filmmaking, and has a documentary background. But we go on to talking about the fact that as a working Mum it's really hard to be able to, for example, go to these events where people are networking, because obviously you've got childcare duties, and they’re priority.
So a lot of the networking, getting referred, a lot of the chumminess happens at those events, and working mums are immediately at a disadvantage because they've got their kids to consider. So they might not be able to get the chocolate and it's something that I just never thought about, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought, it makes total sense. I've been fairly single for the majority of the last kind of like few years, and I happen to think that that's been a massive advantage for me because- not that my couple friends haven't necessarily done as well, but of course, when you're in a relationship, then that takes priority. It should take priority, and you can absolutely have a great career and be in a relationship- the amount of hours that I worked and grinded, when I just worked like a dog for the first couple of years of my VR career, I would go to every event, I would spend every single penny, credit card money, on trains to London to make sure that I was going to those events. I would take opportunities to work with people abroad, and then fund my way through that. I would see everything as this opportunity. I would not say no to anything, I would be uncool; stalking calls all day and then do work on top of that. I was grinding so hard. I do think, ‘wow, yeah, I don't know if I could have done that if I was in a relationship at the time.’ If I was a bit older, maybe, because obviously when I first started in VR, I was in my mid 20s. I was at that kind of age where I'd been out in the real world enough to be able to survive, but I was still very happy to just eat crap food, not worry about burning out, not worried about pulling all nighters, all of that kind of stuff.
When you start to creep towards 30...it's only a few years difference really, but all of a sudden, now I get balance in my life. How do I be more mindful of not putting myself in lots of physical strain? But essentially, if you start to think about that, if you start to think, ‘well, actually, I was very fortunate to be in a position where I never really worried about not being able to pay rent, because I knew that worst came to worst, I could just leave my house and move back. I knew that I could borrow money from my brother. I always felt safe taking these big risks, these big gambles. Putting stuff on credit cards and not not knowing whether I was gonna end up being able to pay it off, because everything worked out great (which it did, fortunately), or whether I was gonna end up bankrupt, sleeping on my brother's sofa. I didn't know which way it was going to go, but I took the risk and did it anyway, because I was fortunate enough to be in a position to do that. Whereas there's a lot of people in the world that are not in that position. Of course, there's something to be said for ‘where there's a will there's a way,’ and if someone who looks like you has done it before, then you can do it and all that kind of great stuff. Yes, rah rah, woo! But at the same time, as a hire, as someone who employs people, that's absolutely front of mind. For me, now, I’m thinking, ‘okay, the obvious person to get in for this shoot is this person. And that's because they've been recommended by loads of people who are within that inner circle that do go to the events and do go to all of the things and do get all the projects. So they're the safe bet. But actually, there's probably some scrappy graduate who's desperate to get into the VR industry and just needs a chance, and is probably going to work three times as hard for, let's face it, probably half the pay, just to get that experience.’
I'm not saying you should exploit people, of course; pay people a fair wage, pay people their day rate, of course. But at the same time, that's really paid off. For me, it's taking a chance on someone, and they've turned out to be lifelong friends, they've turned out to be people who’ve gone on from that one opportunity- which was barely an opportunity, it was a couple of days of work- has given them the confidence to then go on and do their own thing. I remember getting an email from someone early this year, and I hadn't even worked with this person, but she'd seen a talk of mine, and she said, ‘I came up to you afterwards and you gave me some advice about getting into the industry.’ I do remember her really specifically, she was asking about becoming a DOP in 360, and I gave her some advice. And I got an email from her at the beginning of this year saying, ‘I don't know whether you remember me, but I came up to you and you gave me this advice. And just hearing you say that I could do it...I did, I did go do it. And I ended up working with X Y Z.’ They happened to be within my network because they are part of this inner clique of the VR industry, and now she's working on her own projects. And she's a camera assistant for this really big name 360 person now and I'm like, ‘Yes!’. When you're hiring someone sometimes, it is about going for someone that actually you just get a really good vibe from, and you can see the kind of hunger for it, for that opportunity. So just bear that in mind when you're thinking about choosing team members and choosing who to hire.
If you don't follow Gary Vaynerchuk who is Gary V, Mr. Marketing businessman, I really love his philosophy on hiring and firing. His thing is like, loads of people really overthink hiring. They like they think that somehow if they can just get X Y Z, right, if they can just think through blah, blah, blah, if they can ask them just the right question, they'll know whether that's the right person. He says you should spend very, very little time on hiring, just do a gut check. Do I want to work with this person? Do I think they can do the job, take a risk? Acknowledge that it might go horribly wrong. But it's not worth the brain space to be overthinking it. Hire them, and if it doesn't work out, or if something goes wrong, just trust that you will be able to fix it. I think I talked about this in yesterday's episode; there's been a couple of projects I've worked on where things haven’t gone massively wrong but there's definitely been errors happening, (and I knew that was a risk from the overstretched workload that happened to be on our slate at that particular time), but I just knew it was worth taking on more projects than we could handle so we could grow, so I could really see where that limit was for the team. To realise where the breaking points are, realise what parts of the process need to get better, and just trust in my ability that I'd be able to rectify it with the client.
This is something that I talked about in another episode; when it comes to working with people, working with your own team and hiring freelancers, the key thing is, are you going to enjoy working with them? That’s absolutely number one. Are they a good person? Are they going to be a good fit for your team? Then number two, can they deliver the work on time? And number three, is the quality. People really overrate quality, but quality is so subjective. So I would way rather hire someone that is kind and delivers on time. But coming back to that, there's obviously the client side, which is working with people, choosing who to work with in terms of clients. It's the same thing. If someone is going to offer you £100,000 for a project but you know you are going to be working every single hour of your waking day for the next six months, and you're not going to make £100,000 profit- that is just the project fee, you're maybe gonna make 20,000, 30,000 off that, which is obviously amazing, but then you account for taxes, and everyone else's fees, etc, etc. all of the stuff that goes behind that- you need to think, ‘am I willing to take a call from this person at 6am, shouting at me down the phone?’ They want the 107th amendment on that project; there's seven different decision makers all disagreeing about it. You have to make those decisions about whether that's worth it for you, and in my experience when you're young and you're just starting out, you will one hundred percent take the job for the money. One hundred percent. But then as you get more established in your career, when you’ve worked with enough different kinds of clients, you'll realise when you work with a good client, ‘this is what it should feel like.’ It should feel effortless, they should feel like a friend. Obviously, they're not. They can be a friend; some of my closest clients I would consider friends, and I would talk to them about stuff not related to work and have a bit of banter back and forth on WhatsApp. But it should be easy, you should become part of their team, like the way that you interact. Again, everything's a people game; life is a people game. Business especially is a people game, so make sure that you're choosing people that you really want to work with, that you really enjoy the company of, and of course that is going to be trial and error. Of course you're going to have some bad clients and you're going to have some bad team members. That's fine. You learn and you move on. I feel like I've probably brought this up in several episodes! My favourite saying at the moment is basically the motto of Silicon Valley, which is ‘fail and fail fast.’ Because it's only when you fail fast that you can rebuild and learn from those experiences. There's so many case studies in Silicon Valley; some of the most famous companies in the world have been pivots, because they started with a particular product, and then it went horribly wrong. There was absolutely no appetite for that product, it failed miserably. And just when they were going to give up, they said, ‘Well, what have we learned from this experience?’ and they built it back up from the ground up. Slack, for example. Slack is one of those….In fact, you know what, if you're interested in that philosophy and you're curious about the big startups in the world and how they kind of made it to where they are, there's an amazing podcast series by NPR called ‘How I Built This.’ It’s one of my favourite podcasts. It's very dramatised, but it's basically interviews with some of the founders of the most wildly successful companies in the world, and they basically go into all this and they talk about the pivots, they talk about the journey, they talk about their learnings. That's, for me...I love looking at that. There's not really very tactical practical advice in there, but just inspiration. There's this common thread in all successful startup founders, which is that you've got to be willing to fail. You've got to be willing to take a risk. And when it comes to hiring a team, that is no different. You've got to be willing to take the risk.
But another thought that I was percolating in my brain whilst I was rambling about that, was the trifecta, right. You're a nice person; you deliver on time; you deliver high quality. You're probably not going to work with people very often that can deliver all three if you can. Phenomenal! Not to blow my own trumpet- I'd have to talk with my clients about this- but I think the reason why I have such a long standing relationship with my biggest client is probably because I can do all three; I'm nice to work with. I do deliver on time. And actually the work I deliver is pretty damn good. But it's rare.
So when it comes to picking your team, when it comes to picking freelancers, I would say, personally, you have to prioritise someone who is nice that you can get on with. Someone who's kind. That, for me, is non negotiable. Then it's up to you to pick whether you would rather someone who will deliver really high quality, but they might take a little bit longer, or they'll like do five different amends or it won't be a straightforward process with them necessarily to get that high quality product. And for some projects that will be suitable, but for others it won't. When it comes to client work, that is not suitable. Because ultimately, quality is subjective, and whatever the client deems to be good quality is what you have to go with. The amount of projects I've worked on when I go in and they say we want a really creative, innovative, exciting new idea, and I think, Yes! It’s so exciting that kind of a commercial piece is going to be like working on a passion project. Then two meetings in, the big boss has decided ‘No, no, we want it to be like a traditional training video, but it's got to have creative flair to it.’ So you start to tread the water of trying to make an induction video around a warehouse seem like it's a really creative project. And so that’s just an example of if you're working with someone who delivers high quality work, that's great, but often- especially in the corporate world-they don't want Disney quality. Do you know what I’m saying? You know what I'm saying.
Anyway, I hope this was helpful. I'm a little less brain foggy. Hopefully this has come out a bit clearer. I think it’s a super nuanced thing, though, and like I say, you won't get it right straightaway. The sooner you can just go out and make mistakes, the better. But a great way to start would be if you've got someone you found online, or that you've seen in the groups on Facebook, or you know, people you've maybe admired from afar...Maybe just give it a shot. Maybe do a test sample of something. So for example, if I'm working on a client project which has a fairly decent budget potentially, sometimes I will designate part of my fee to work with someone in a test capacity. So I do a little test, shoot, I'll pay them their day rate, we'll get to know each other, we'll get to know how we work and it will be relevant to the client project. It might help save time down the line, but it basically gives you that confidence. But if that's not an option, if you don't have the money to or the project fee is not big enough to be able to do that and do a little test then meet up with that person. Have a coffee meet up a couple of times, get them involved, talk to them about the project. Don't necessarily just like rush in like, ‘Oh, I need someone last minute.’
I guess I should probably touch on that because I appreciate that. For me, especially when it comes to picking people to work with, often time sensitivity is a massive factor of who I will end up picking. So the last couple of projects I've worked on where I've needed someone very, very quickly and I've had no time to be able to think about who I want to work with, to look for someone who might want the right opportunity. Sometimes you just need a killer. Sometimes you just need someone that’s going to get the job done, who comes highly recommended. For me that has been going to the people who I really admire who have worked on similar enough projects, but I have worked with enough different kinds of people to be able to give me a really good recommendation. Then I will hop on the phone with that person, I will get a feel for them again. When I first talk to someone who's new to me, I just like that first chat to be about who they are as a person. I don't care. I don't want to hear about their work. I don't care about their portfolio. I don't care. I want to hear where they are in life! What are some of the things they're up to? What are they passionate about? Why they got into VR specifically is always really interesting. I find that fascinating because everyone has a different story. I can get a sense very, very quickly if that person is going to be right to work with me. Then to some extent you just take the leap, and you just deal with it if it goes horribly wrong, but for me 99.9% of the time, it doesn't go wrong. I've only had one massive catastrophe where the client project ended up falling through massively because of the wrong team working on it, but that was more because I wasn't in charge of hiring. I was part of a team being brought in to execute a creative agency's job, and it was just very poorly managed, very badly done, very last minute. They needed someone to do sound and no one I knew was available, so I ended up bringing in someone who wasn't really a sound person. It was a messy situation. There were lots of factors. But even that horror story which could make me cringe (and it does make me cringe a little bit thinking about it); I just think, you know what? A) I can walk out of that and go, ‘Yes, I did my best under the circumstances to try and get that right.’
I've just not looked back ever since. You put it to the side and you move on. So don't overthink it. Just start to work with people, just start to get to know people. Especially if you can start to build these bridges. Look at people's stuff online. In this community, we're loudmouths! We're constantly talking about stuff on social media, so it's very easy to see who's doing what, but don't be afraid to look a bit further afield and get that new blood into the industry.
It's a fine line, and you have to tread carefully, but I hope that helps. I hope that gives you a bit of an overview on how you go about choosing who's right to work with!
If you've got any follow up or you've got another question you want to ask me- and we've got less than ten episodes left now of this current incarnation- so if you've got a question, feel free to ask it to me on social media. I'm @alexmakesVR on Instagram and Twitter, and you can send me a longer question at email@example.com. Every single day, if you want to sign up for the newsletter to get those emails from me every day with a recap of the episodes then you can sign up for alexmakesvr.com.
If you're still listening, thank you so much. Genuinely, I know I keep talking about it, but I am so blown away that people are listening to these and they're not only listening, they're taking action! And you, you listening right now! Don't overthink it, just do it. You just gotta do it. I promise you, every single step that you take is going to get you closer to that dream life that you want for yourself, but it won't happen if you don't take the step. Don't have analysis paralysis. Just get on and do it.
Okay, I'll speak to you tomorrow.
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