6 Tips to Master the Art of Delegation

Your small business won't get any bigger if you don't learn to let go some of the tasks that take up your day and prevent you from growing.
CEO and Founder, Corpnet.com
November 19, 2012

Entrepreneurs and small-business owners are used to wearing a lot of hats in their business—everything from pitching new clients to replacing ink in the printer. However, trying to take care of everything can be harmful to your well-being and your business. With only one person in charge, there’s only so far you can scale.

It’s not always easy for highly driven entrepreneurs to give up the reins, but it’s critical to avoid burnout. If you’re struggling to know where and how you should delegate in your small business, take heed of the following six tips.

1. Pick things to delegate “down.” Are you wondering what tasks to delegate? In your day-to-day operations, there are countless tasks that are easy to do and don’t require specific expertise (for example, sending out a mailing). Conduct a time audit over the course of an average week and find out what busy work is taking up a considerable amount of your time. Then, hire an assistant (either full-time, part-time, or virtual) to take them over. If you’re worried about costs, just remember how much of your valuable, revenue-generating time you’ll be freeing up; your business can’t grow when you’re focused on busy work.

2. Pick things to delegate “up.” There are also tasks that require specials knowledge and skills—ones not related to the core wheelhouse of what your business is all about. For example, Jill, who runs a boutique marketing firm, is a Do-It-Yourself pro. She prides herself on handling her taxes and all legal matters on her own. While this tactic may seem easier on the wallet, it’s typically better in the long run to hire a specialist to handle complex issues, such as an accountant for bookkeeping or taxes or an expert for handling your legal paperwork like incorporation.

3. Provide clear instructions. The key to successful delegation is being absolutely clear about what you’re expecting for the outcome. How much direction you provide to get from point A to B will depend on the level of expertise of the person doing the task.

Think about it this way: If you hire a professional moving company to transport your valuables, you probably just need to tell them which items need moved, when and to where. However, if you’re hiring your teenage son and his friends for the job, you’d be wise to also instruct them on how to wrap the items, load them on the truck, avoid pot holes during the drive, etc. The same applies to delegating at work: you can decide what kind of detailed instructions to give, but in all cases you need to absolutely clear about your expectations and goals.

4. Empower your staff and contractors. Delegating provides an opportunity for employees to develop their own skills, knowledge and abilities. By allowing your workers to make their own decisions, you’ll ultimately have employees who can work independently and deliver even more value to your organization.

Of course, in order to empower others, you need to delegate, not dump. Effective delegation is not about dumping the dirty work off your desk or asking someone to jump in and fix something that you let fall through the cracks. These tactics will ultimately lead to a breakdown in employee satisfaction.

In my company, it has been important to build a sense of connection and purpose among everyone who works with us and for us. In addition to delegating every day tasks to a growing group of contractors and employees, we also look to our staff for help with big picture and strategic matters. For example, one employee suggestion for offering a 24-hour rush upgrade has since increased our average revenue per sale by nearly 30 percent.

5. Learn to let go. Many entrepreneurs will need to let go of the “if I want something done right, I have to do it myself” mentality. If you’re the type of businessperson who still phones the office 10 times per day while on vacation, delegation is definitely going to be a challenge.

You’ll need to take a deep breath and just let go. Realize that when you delegate something, it’s now out of your hands. You’ll need to step back to avoid interfering in the process and progress. As hard as it may seem, wait until the final product before judging how the delegation is going.

If the very thought of delegation makes you uneasy, you should start by delegating a single, low priority task. As you see the job can be completed successfully without you, you’ll gain confidence in the process and can move on to delegating another task, and another.

6. Invest time for long-term success. Sam, a real estate entrepreneur, traditionally shunned hiring help, since he figured it always took more time to instruct and supervise his assistant than if he just handled the tasks himself. While that might be true in the short term, the art of delegation is a long-term investment. The more time you invest in instructing, teaching and giving clear and tangible feedback to the people you have hired, the greater the results you’ll get in the end.

Delegation doesn’t come naturally to many small-business owners. However, if we want healthy, sustainable business and personal lives, delegation is a critical art to master.

Read more posts about boosting your small business' productivity.

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CEO and Founder, Corpnet.com