Entrepreneurs often try to do it all, believing they must handle many tasks themselves or that they can’t afford help. But that impulse can be self-defeating, both personally and professionally.
To develop the deep well of energy and the perspective and creativity needed to build a business for the the long haul, you can’t run yourself ragged forever. To build a business that provides steady personal, professional and financial fulfillment, you must find a balance. Indeed, all business owners — even solo entrepreneurs — need support to get the essentials done, build for the future and have time for a life.
So for this fourth column in our ongoing summer “Get a Life” series, we asked our panel to weigh in on the following question:
What key tasks can — or should — business owners delegate or outsource to make personal time?
Failure to delegate is a chronically bad habit for far too many entrepreneurs. They too often think being hands-on in every aspect of their business is the only way to grow their company — but it’s not. The secret to scaling is letting go — and concentrating on what you do best.
Of course, you need to be aware of what’s going on in your own company, but being aware of something is not the same as being active doing something. Understand the difference.
If you want to start delegating, first you need to look at everything you do every day, how long each task takes you and what the outcomes of those tasks are. What activities do you enjoy? Which do you detest? What are you good or bad at? (It’s like keeping a food diary.)
You’ll likely notice you’re spending precious time on task that are better suited to employees, freelancers or even interns. And if you don’t have employees, it doesn’t mean you have to shoulder it all. Outsource what you can, hire a virtual assistant or some part-time employees.
Once you do delegate some tasks, back off. Of course, you want to be available to answer questions, but don’t micromanage the people you gave assignments to. And be open to the possibility that the person you delegated the assignment to may do a better job at it than you did.
This is one of the biggest mental blocks among women, in my experience. We have been born and bred to take on everything ourselves. We believe nobody can do a better job than us, especially when it’s something we’re emotionally tied to. Yet this attitude is a common recipe for stifled business expansion and a revenue ceiling. If you believe you cannot afford help, then the reality is you will be limited by the capacity that you alone can handle.
The entrepreneur with a growth mindset understands that the optimal way to get to the next level is to leverage time, which requires outsourcing or delegating. A common personal challenge is accepting that someone else can take on your key tasks and do a good job. Granted, he or she may fall short of your standards of perfection, but what you get is bigger. More importantly, there is an aspect of “letting go” that all business owners need to become more comfortable with.
In our business, we drafted a “Love/Hate” list. The essence of it was listing out “What do we love about our business?” and “What do we hate or wish we could get rid of doing altogether?” We have worked to get items off the hate list by finding the right people to delegate them to who enjoy and excel at performing those tasks. We as business owners can be intentional in focusing on doing what we love to do and, as a byproduct, create and enjoy personal time.
I’ve definitely experienced that feeling. As you build a company from the ground up, you want to do everything. I love being involved in every aspect of my company, and it’s difficult to know when and where to draw the line and ask for help from others.
As my team got bigger, I evaluated if there were opportunities to proactively delegate either temporarily or more permanently. Throughout the growth of FlexJobs, fairly often someone hired for a specific role has been able to evolve and grow into another that’s larger or different. People have taken on tasks and responsibilities as they arise, and, in doing so, taken things off my plate.
When delegating, entrepreneurs need to sit down and talk with their team member specifically about how, when and why they want the task done. But they also need to give that person enough freedom to question the logic and do what works well for them, as long as it doesn’t sacrifice quality. The more explanation and background you can give someone, the better they’ll be at handling the responsibility of their new task.
As far as delegating specific tasks, I’d start by looking at things that you don’t truly enjoy or that could fairly easily be taught or transitioned to someone else. Quite simply, if there is not a good reason why you have to be the person doing it, then it’s something you could delegate.
Getting good at delegating is part of being a great leader. As Lazlo Bock, who leads Google’s people function, says in his book, Work Rules!, to build a great culture, you need to “give people slightly more trust, freedom, and authority than you are comfortable giving them. If you’re not nervous, you haven’t given them enough.”
Delegating not only frees up time for you as the owner, but it’s also the way to get your employees to become invested in the success of the enterprise. I use two guidelines to determine what to delegate to whom:
- What are the person’s strengths? For example, if her strength is writing, delegate that to her. If he’s very organized and detail oriented, delegate managing the database to him.
- What are the person’s developmental needs and desires? For example, if someone wants to learn social media, delegate handling your Facebook postings to him.
If your team is small enough, another way to delegate is to make it a team sport! Write down all the things you feel you would like help doing, and then share the list with your team and let them decide who does what. As Bock says, there is no better way to build a great culture than to involve the team in all the decision making.
As a small business owner, I had a fear of delegating tasks, both inside and outside of my business, and an “I’ll-do-it-myself mindset.” After sharing with other small business owners my fear of delegating, I had an “aha moment” when I realized it was seriously hampering me from making personal time with family and friends.
There are four tasks that small business owners should delegate or outsource to make personal time:
- Relinquish control by giving yourself permission to delegate authority to the appropriate key in-house personnel. This will allow them to take the initiative to make decisions to get the work done, so things will keep going during your absence.
- Outsource payroll and bookkeeping and focus on day-to-day operations.
- Outsource your business’s market-research tasks. These are critical tasks — businesses must stay relevant and determine what others in the industry are doing — but very time consuming for business owners.
- Outsource your CFO. A CFO consultant can bring the skill set and experience to assist small business owners with high-level financial tasks and strategies when there is a need for the business change.
A large part of finding a good work-life balance is recognizing that you don’t have to do everything yourself. Focus on your strengths and what you love, and outsource the rest. Delegating certain responsibilities has helped me to free up time, which I can now dedicate to family, friends and going that extra mile for our clients and team members.
At home, I outsource laundry and house cleaning, preparing meals on Sunday for the week, and the delivery of groceries to my home. Here are some of the things I like to outsource in the office:
- An administrative assistant manages my travel arrangements, emails, calendar and booking appointments.
- A marketing team plans and executes all events for clients, referral partners and various breakfast groups. All I have to do is show up.
- All aspects of PR are also managed by my marketing team. From speaking engagements to press interviews, my team is in charge of coordinating and preparing all necessary materials.
- I love sending handwritten notes. Cards are prepped for me to write and sign and then sent out for me.
Essentially, I like to outsource these tasks so I can focus on clients, potential clients, my team and my family.