There's no question about it; delegation is difficult for most small business owners. No matter how big our business gets and how many employees we have, most of us started out as one person shops and we’re used to running all of our own show.
But there's also no question that delegation is a skill that's critical to business success and a healthy work life balance. Even a one person business can get so busy that there's no way that a single person can do all that needs to be done. And even the smallest of small businesses can take over a person's life to a degree that causes personal unhappiness and friction within the family (for information on time management see 11 Time Management Tips and 5 Ways to Get More Time).
So take a deep breath. You have to make delegation a priority if you’re going to do what you want to do and stay sane and happy. This delegation primer will help you let go and learn how to delegate successfully.
What Should I Delegate?
I recommend that people delegate the tasks that don't bring in the bucks. So a consultant, for instance, should outsource bookkeeping and accounting tasks. These aren't how she makes her money. The purpose of delegation isn't just to have someone else do something; it's to free you to focus on using your talents and skills most productively.
The big advantage, of course, is that if you delegate enough of the right things, you can be incredibly more productive. And in terms of service businesses, that translates into a lot more available billing hours.
How to Get Started Delegating
1) Decide that you're going to delegate.
You need to admit that you can't do all the things that you would like to do and stop just trying to do more yourself.
2) Decide what you’re going to delegate.
Is there a particular area where you need help or something that you don't like doing much? It could be a good candidate for delegation. Remember that you don't want to delegate the core of your business (what brings in the bucks).
You'll also want to bear in mind that what you delegate doesn't have to be a business task. Delegation is about doing less so you can achieve more and strike a better balance. A small business owner may find that hiring a maid service to clean her house gives her more time to focus on her business, for instance.
3. Find the people to delegate to.
It's fine to say that you’re going to delegate something, but if you’re not going to do it, you need to find someone else that you can trust to get it done and do it well.
Finding reliable people can take a bit of a search. Start by asking your friends, family and other business people who they recommend to do what you need done. Finding the right people at the right time is just another reason that being a member of various small business groups is so invaluable.
Don't just "grab a name" and go with it, though. Research the potential candidate and check his credentials. Ask him for names of other clients that you can talk to, and then talk to them. If you’re looking for an accountant, How to Find a Good Accountant presents an interview process to help you make the best choice.
Tips for Successful Delegation
Be as specific as possible about what you want done.
It's no good hiring someone, telling them you need some help around the office, and then complaining because they haven't done what you wanted them to do. Or expecting an accountant to give you good advice when you haven't bothered to sit down with him and talk about where your business is now and where you'd like to see it going. You have to be very clear about what you need done and how you want it done if the delegation is ever going to be successful.
Let the other person get on with it.
We smile when we hear about the business person who goes on vacation for a week but phones the shop ten times a day every day she's gone, but we’ve all been there. You have to realize that when you delegate something, it's literally out of your hands and you need to avoid interfering with the process of getting it done. As hard as it is, wait for the end product before you judge how successful the delegation has been.
Do not delegate many tasks at once.
In fact, if delegation makes you uncomfortable, you should start by delegating one thing only. Your delegation comfort level will build over time as you see the job you've assigned completed successfully. Then you'll be ready to delegate something else.
Do not give up too quickly.
My relationship with my first accountant was not a success. He was competent, but I didn’t feel that he was willing to give me enough of his attention. Rather than throw up my hands and start to do my own accounting again (or worse, putting up with a relationship I was not happy with), I went and found another accountant that I’m much happier with. When you’re trying to delegate, you’re not necessarily going to find the right person the first time. But you need to persist and find that right person if delegating that task is going to work.
Delegation goes against the grain for many small business owners. But if we want both our businesses and our personal lives to thrive, delegation is a skill we have to master.
See also: How to Delegate.