In our Get to Know You Feature for the WeddingDates team this week, we spoke to Sarah O’Farrell, our Head of Operations. A born organiser, Sarah loves nothing better than to get stuck into organising something – be it a full blown event, or a drawer in the kitchen – she’s on your team.
WHAT IS YOUR TITLE and POSITION?
I’m Head of Operations at WeddingDates, and I oversee the Operational Strategy and Administrative Processes for the company. I also have overall responsibility for the culture and wellbeing of the team. I work very closely with our CEO, Ciara Crossan on the strategic direction of the firm.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WITH WEDDINGDATES?
I joined the team in March 2020, just two days before it was announced that schools were to be shut down due to a thing called the Corona Virus! That meant that the job I joined to do at WeddingDates was completely different in those initial weeks and the ensuing months and years. It really was a baptism of fire joining a business that was a player in one of industries hardest hit by the pandemic – hospitality.
I had known Ciara as a business associate for about 10 years, and I contacted her when I moved to Cork, knowing how well connected she was. We had a couple of chats and figured that she had a gap and a role would be a good fit for my skill set. I’m grateful for the opportunity and immensely proud of the contribution I’ve made and the incredible progress the company has made since then.
WHAT’S THE BIGGEST LESSON YOU’VE CARRIED OVER TO YOUR CURRENT ROLE FROM YOUR PREVIOUS JOBS?
Three things really:
Firstly, keep people at the heart of everything. Team is important, but only as good as the individuals on it. It’s imperative that each person has a sense of purpose and a degree of pride in their work. Happy individuals means a better team and better results.
Secondly, communication is key. Communicate and then communicate again. I believe that most issues that occur in a team or company happen because something wasn’t understood and the communication broke down in some way. The primary responsibility lies with the communicator, although I would encourage the listener to reflect and demonstrate that they have understood.
Thirdly, keep perspective. If something goes wrong, ask yourself two questions – 1. Has anyone died? 2. Has anyone been hurt? If the answer is no, there are solutions, and really, there are no problems.
WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT WITHIN THIS ROLE TO DATE? (WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?)
There have been lots of little wins, but especially proud of the fact that a small business serving one of the hardest hit industries not only survived, but thrived the pandemic. Through pure grit, and ruthless determination, WeddingDates is still going strong. If I could pick one thing, it would be the decision to introduce a subscription model at the start of the pandemic. This was implemented quickly in an effort to not lose customers who were renewing. It helped us retain clients we may otherwise have lost, by helping them with their cash flow. It had the knock on effect that it helped ending up helping us with our cash flow too.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE PART OF YOUR JOB AND WHY?
I love the fact that I, and everyone else on the team, have sight of everything going on in the company. We have a daily team meeting at 9:30am where each person gives an update of what they are currently working on. We have a weekly town hall where we celebrate wins of the week and communicate any news. It keeps everyone in the loop and is a huge motivating factor when you hear about other people’s wins. It gives each an understanding of the value of their contribution within the team.
WHAT IS THE MOST FRUSTRATING PART OF YOUR JOB AND WHY?
Not having enough hours in the day (or people on the team!) to execute on all the ideas we have. The pandemic gave us a chance to really examine everything we do at WeddingDates and in many ways we went back to the drawing board. It allowed time for blue sky thinking and critical planning and subsequently we have great plans for the next couple of years and beyond.
WHEN YOU WERE A KID, WHAT DID YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GREW UP?
Much like Carys mentioned in her previous interview, I loved Christmas. My most favourite thing was (and is) decorating the Christmas tree. I’ve always loved parties and events and in particular. I love the decor, music and food – and often enjoy the preparation more than the event itself! I love to see people having a good time.
The other thing I loved was organising physical spaces and things, so operations is in many ways right up my street – it allows me to say – “How can we do this better?”
IF YOU COULD WAVE A MAGIC WAND, WHAT WOULD BE YOUR DREAM FOR THIS JOB?
Hire several marketers with different specialisations to get the word out there to global venues that we can really make a difference to their events team and their bottom line.
WHAT IS THE COOLEST THING YOU’VE SEEN AT A WEDDING?
The very first time I saw sky lanterns at a wedding. They were really beautiful and they brought a romantic and exciting energy to proceedings. They made for stunning and fun photos although it wasn’t quite so funny when one got caught in a 400 year old tree, and we worried it would go on fire. Thankfully it didn’t and it’s not really the done thing now that people have realised it’s not kind to the environment.
Any kind of sparkly lights, sparklers or candlelight make everything extra romantic, and make for beautiful photos.
WHAT IS THE CRAZIEST/WORST THING YOU’VE SEEN OR HEARD OF AT A WEDDING?
I’ve definitely heard some awful speeches where the speaker has slagged off the bride or groom inappropriately. The worst thing I saw was a family member rearranging the place setting of the seating at the top table.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE WAYS TO SPEND A WEEKEND?
I have a one year old grandson, so it’s great to hang out with him. I love the seaside, any time of year. It’s great to get some fresh air into the lungs. A brisk walk followed by a hot drink in a nice cafe or even better a pint in a cosy pub beside the fire. I love listening to music, especially live music, so I try to get to a gig when I can.
HAVE YOU ANY PARTICULAR HOBBIES/INTERESTS OUTSIDE OF WORK?
In summer I love trying to grow things in the garden. This year I had potatoes, onions and tomatoes. Also, I recently started crocheting again, I do it while I’m watching tv. Otherwise just meeting up with family and friends.
HAVE YOU ANY GUILTY PLEASURES?
I have lots! Watching weight loss programmes with a glass of wine and some snacks! I also enjoy watching people cleaning things on Instagram – like power-hosing patios or restoring headstones.
IF MONEY WAS NO OBJECT, WHAT WOULD BE THE FIRST THING YOU WOULD BUY?
A house for sure, and invest the rest so that I didn’t have to work. I’d probably still work as an advisor to WeddingDates though.