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Why it’s time to stop doing everything yourself

2012-11-14 11:38 - 3,433 reads

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What’s the one thing holding your business back, preventing it from realising its full potential? It’s sad to say, but the answer may well be you.

Entrepreneurs are brilliant at starting businesses. They’re brilliant at imagining where those businesses could go in the future. But they’re not always so brilliant at getting there – and the most common failure of all is they find it very difficult to delegate.

That’s understandable. Anyone who starts a business has a very personal relationship with it – much more so than you would with an employer. So ceding any control at all can be a painful step.

It’s a crucial one though. When you start a small business, you have to be versatile – to be able to turn your hand to everything from accounts to marketing. But as the business grows, it becomes harder to do everything yourself. You’ll rapidly reach a point where there simply isn’t enough time in the day to do everything necessary and you’ll have to put things off.

That’s the moment at which your versatility is no longer an asset. It’s a potential inflexion point for your business because unless you’re prepared to change the way you work, it will not continue to grow as quickly as it should. It’s time, in short, to start delegating.

Getting started

But which tasks should you delegate – and to who? You can’t answer those questions until you have a better idea of the work you’re currently doing yourself – and in the rush of the day-to-day running of a business, most people don’t have a good overview.

Start by conducting an audit of your work over a sample period – let’s say a week. Itemise your workdays by breaking them down into short slots – half-hour periods, for example. Then make a record of what you do in each of these slots over the course of the week. It’s important to do this as you go along, rather than trying to remember at the end of the day.

The results may surprise you – most people spend far more time on the mundane, routine elements of running a business than they realise, typically at the expense of improving service to clients, or spending time finding new customers.

Prioritise your work

Having analysed how you spend your working hours, start thinking about how to share the workload. With each of the activities you’ve identified, think about whether your involvement adds value. Could they be done by someone else without your business suffering?

There are some activities you will want to keep total control over – client relationships, for example. But others could clearly be done by someone other than you – the routine stuff, like maintaining company accounts, or activities that require specialist skill, such as website design – with no loss of quality. In fact, getting someone else to do this work may actually improve results.

This process should enable you to come up with a list of tasks you feel comfortable with delegating. But try to be honest with yourself – it’s easy to allow yourself to assume no-one else could do things the way you want them doing, but you’re almost certainly wrong.

Design your job specs

Once you’ve identified a task that might be better delegated, you’ll need to design a job spec for it – a complete list of everything it involves. This is the blueprint you’ll be handing over to whoever you delegate the work to, so make it as comprehensive as you can – many of the processes that you follow by instinct will be completely new to someone else, so don’t skimp on the description.

The idea is to create a description of your processes and systems, including key contact information, so that anyone can pick up the work from you. This will be useful when you’re delegating, but also valuable in the event anyone else suddenly needs to pick up the work.

Find the right person

Who will you delegate to? It may be that your business already has a team of people and that it is possible to delegate to one of them. If not, you’ve got a decision to make: is it time to hire someone for the first time, or would you be better off hiring a freelancer or contractor of some kind?

The answer depends on the nature of the work you need doing. Hiring employees does have certain advantages – workflow tends to be smoother, you’ll probably get more loyalty and you can expand the role as new work challenges crop up. On the other hand, it’s likely to be more expensive and it’s a long-term commitment. A freelancer is more straightforward, particularly if you want only very specific tasks completed.

Technology can help

Either way, modern technology can make hiring workers much simpler. You won’t necessarily need an office for staff to work from – virtual work technology such as file sharing, video conferencing (or even the humble phone) means you may be able to delegate to workers based in completely different parts of the country (or even the world).

There are also an increasing number of crowd sourcing sites such as Freelancer.com that enable you to find people to do specific projects without paying expensive fees to recruitment agencies or other middlemen. Look for personal recommendations from people they’ve worked with before – and check these out.

Communication is the key

Once you’ve hired someone to help with your workload, you need to manage the relationship. But this doesn’t mean micro-managing their every move – once they’ve shown they can do the work you need to the standard required, try to leave them to get on with it. You’ll build a stronger relationship that way.

Be honest, however. Set out your wishes as clearly as you can and give considered feedback on all work produced.

Once you start, don’t stop

Delegation isn’t a one-off thing. As your business expands, you’ll find less and less time to focus on anything but generating and servicing that growth. Delegation will become even more important. Get it working well right from the start and you’ll be in a much better position to turn thinking big into reality.

David Prosser

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