Owners should learn to embrace the ‘D-word’ (delegation)

Delegation can be a touchy subject for business owners. They often find it hard to relinquish control but failure to delegate can cause problems. Frequently overworked, they can experience severe burn-out from carrying too many responsibilities, and many of the jobs they’re handling aren’t the best or most profitable uses of their time. Too many things demand their attention so they’re unable to adequately focus on what should be priorities.

You may have avoided delegating tasks and feel your reasons are valid. Maybe you’ve been burned — you’ve tried it before, someone did a bad job that caused a lot of trouble, and you don’t want to deal with that kind of situation again. You may feel you can do a better job yourself or perhaps you don’t trust someone else to correctly handle an important project. But if you plan to grow your business, you’re going to have to learn to trust and delegate to others.

In a previous column we mentioned four areas of ability when determining whether you should be performing tasks in your office. Things you’re terrible at doing should always be delegated to others. If you’re average at doing certain tasks, it’s better to pass them to someone else. If you’re proficient at something, it’s probably okay to keep doing it. But, ideally, the vast majority of your day should be spent at things in your area of greatness (your Natural Business Abilities).

We realize our world isn’t ideal and sometimes circumstances dictate that we all do things we would prefer not to do. You might find yourself in a time crunch or shorthanded, and have to take an “all hands on deck” approach and do whatever it takes to get the job done. But those are usually temporary circumstances. If you fail to delegate on a day-to-day basis, you’re probably missing opportunities to maximize your profitability.

The most profitable use of your time is whatever you’re best at doing. Let’s say you’re not an analytical, numbers-driven person, but you’re a “rainmaker” and gifted at obtaining new customers.

You should hire a bookkeeper and spend most of your time selling or building relationships. (We actually advised a client to spend more time playing golf because that’s where he’s had the greatest success at closing sales.) Spending too much time performing tasks that others should do limits your money-making ability and robs you of the pleasure of working at your area of expertise.

Here’s another consideration. You could actually harm your business if you insist on hanging on to tasks that should be delegated to someone else. Take the business owner who was unskilled in accounting principles but insisted on handling all of his company’s QuickBooks work himself. The time he cost the company in mistakes could easily have paid for a trained bookkeeper. His business lost money, both through his errors and from the time it took away from his money-making skills.

Then there’s the attorney we know who was so excited with his firm’s upgraded computer system that he decided to “save time” by typing and editing all of his correspondence himself. His assistant was able to avert extreme embarrassment by retrieving a letter just as the mailman arrived to take it.

She had scanned the file copy and noticed that instead of demanding “attorney’s fees,” the lawyer had typed “attorney’s feces.” Lesson learned — if it’s important and not your area of expertise, it’s probably best to let someone else do it.

You may be thinking this is all fine in theory but you can’t afford to hire someone to help you. We’ve mentioned outsourcing in previous columns, but want to reiterate that it can help you get projects done while saving money.

We recently had to update materials for the course Laddie teaches to banks on financial statement fraud and needed to have cases researched. We used Elance.com to hire a woman in Texas, who did a great job, sent the finished product to us within one day and charged us $62.46.

If you really need someone on-site and can’t afford to pay much, consider hiring a college student. We’ve employed eight college students to-date for administrative services, Excel spreadsheet work, and graphic design.

They’ve been hard workers, competent, eager to please, and willing to work at very reasonable hourly rates (contact local colleges to learn about their work-study or student intern programs).

Delegation doesn’t come easily for everyone and you might need to learn to do more of it. If you spend most of your workday on activities that you do really well and hand off other responsibilities, you’ll be happier, more productive, more energized, and — most likely — more profitable.

Laddie and Judy Blaskowski are partners in several businesses, including BusinessTruths Consulting. They are authors of The Step Dynamic: A Powerful Strategy for Successfully Growing Your Business. Judy@BusinessTruths.com. Connect with them on LinkedIn.