Get the wrong people off the bus, get the right people in the right seats

"Firstly, decide what seats on the bus you need to fill"

Domenica Di Lieto | Founder | Emerging Communications

How would you explain what “get the wrong people off the bus, get the right people into the right seats” means?


When you start an agency, usually by accident, the founder does it all. The BD, the finances, managing freelancers, and so on… Put simply, that’s a freelance business, not an agency.

To scale a business and be ‘on it’ and not ‘in it’, you need a team. And not just any team, the right ‘team’!

For the purposes of simplicity, I count the team as staff, but in reality your team should include partners, freelancers and even clients.

Domenica Di Lieto's top tips for getting the right people on the bus and more importantly, knowing when you need to get people off the bus.


1. Where is your bus going?
Have a clear plan.
Where are you headed and in what time frame?
If you don’t have a clear vision, and targets, you will just be spinning plates and going around in circles.
Your plans will change. However, you have to start somewhere.

2. What’s your secret sauce?
Know what you are and what you aren’t!
Be clear in your positioning, what services you offer and to whom.
Only then do you know where you are now, where you are heading, and what people you need in your team. Eg if you are a branding agency, you will need a creative director in your senior leadership team. If you are a development agency, you’ll need a development lead, and so on..

3. Do the ‘post it’ exercise
To see what ‘functional heads’ you need, list all the ‘output’ of your business, now and in the future. Everything. In as much detail as you can. Write each output on a ‘post it’ note. Then group each output by function or commonality. You should end up with no more than 6 columns.

4. Set priorities
You can’t hire everyone at once. You’ll go bust.
So, mark the columns by priorities, 1,2,3,4 and so on, with 1 being the outputs you hate the most or the business needs the most.
DON’T hire staff to do the things you love. HIRE staff to take away the things you hate, and are undoubtedly bad at!

5. Merging functions
In the early days, staff can take on a number of roles e.g. ops and HR go well together, sales and marketing, and so on. In time, as you grow, you’ll need directors ‘owning’ each division. Every agency is different, but this is ours...

6. Have a plan
We failed to have targets - for years. Once we put these in place, we started to make money. Amazing what happens when you clearly have tangible goals. These should be shared ‘companywide’ and staff rewarded when you meet them.

7. Motivate your teams
Put staff first, always. Without exception.
Hire on your values, fire on your values- and that means clients too! We let go of rude clients. Who wants to work with them?

Have a plan to motivate staff, develop them, and most importantly retain them. Place them in roles that play to their strengths. Ideally promote from within.

8. Know when to quit!
Not quit the agency, but know when to say goodbye to staff that don’t fit your vision, or meet your values. You will NEVER regret it.

9. Trust your gut
When all else fails, trust your gut. If something is ‘off’ it usually is!

10. Be transparent- always
Be honest and transparent with staff, even when things aren’t going well. This builds trust and avoids miscommunications and ‘hearsay’.

Getting started


If you intend to be an agency and not a freelance business, at the very least, there needs to be two
of you.

One running the business and one doing the business.
It’s impossible to do both.

Work out who you are, and be honest with yourself. If you love ‘doing the doing’, you will be miserable not delivering work.
All too often I meet founders who are miserable running their business, and secretly they want to be at the coal face!



As you grow, and provided you deliver excellent work and look after your clients, you will then need a long-term plan to build out your senior leadership team.

This won’t happen overnight.
In fact, I spent 4 years building mine.
It was expensive, painful and I learnt things a lot along the way.
Had I known then, what I now, I would have done things differently.

Think of your business much like a bus. A bus goes from A to B, and has passengers. Those passengers are staff, and other stakeholders.

Firstly, decide what seats on the bus you need to fill...

This is pretty simple.

1. Have a vision
Where are you heading and by when? Otherwise your bus will never arrive at the destination. It will go around in circles.

2. List out all the roles of YOUR business, the priorities and what needs to be done and how often. You will then have a clear list of tasks by division.

3. What do you want to do?
How involved in the business do you want to be, long term and what is your forte? Mine is networking and BD (nurturing relationships).

So where possible, I have held onto these bits I love...
However, I hate detail, admin, contracts and so on.
I looked to fill these roles very early on.

4. Have a roadmap- short, medium and long term.
Prioritise what needs to be done 1st, and what can wait.
Set priorities. When I started, I hired an ‘all-rounder ‘to do office admin and finance. As time has gone on, I have filled each role with senior specialists.

Domenica Di Lieto's bio

Domenica Di Lieto is the founder of Emerging Communications a marketing agency helping British brands succeed in China.


Humble promo of Domenica Di Lieto and Emerging Communications

Domenica Di Lieto is an incredible human being. She's fiercely loyal in every sense of that definition. You can always rely on her for support. Personally I am humbled to have her part of our Polymensa troop and her commitment to helping the other agencies in our community means she is loved by everyone. Domenica has also built an exceptional agency that has a team that can solve the most complex marketing challenges for British based brands who want to succeed in China. Very excited about the future for Domenica and her agency Emerging Comms.

Daniel (Polymensa founder)

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