Delegation as an Art in a Small Business

Susan Fennema
Jun 17 · 7 min read

Delegation is a challenge for all small business owners. As one myself, I get it. But, without it, we run the risk of preventing growth in our businesses.

“I can do it faster myself than I can explain it.” I’ve said it too. But, if it is something you will ever have to do again, that statement is inaccurate. Being able to get something off your plate, especially if it is something that you don’t like to do, is a big win for all small business owners.

Here’s an example. A few months back, I switched from Highrise to HubSpot for my CRM. We exported our contacts and imported them into HubSpot, but not everything transferred cleanly. Plus, there were all these notes and history surrounding the contacts in the previous system. I swore I was going to take care of it myself because there were things I knew about the contacts that no one else did.

Well, here we are. It still isn’t done. I’m flipping between two systems because I just didn’t practice a bit of delegation! But, finally, I found a detail-oriented person and she is going to complete this task for me in a couple of weeks.

The Benefits of Delegation

Freedom

What have I gained? First, freedom! That meticulous and time-consuming task is off my list. Sure, I now have to pay someone to do it. But, I am thinking of all the things that I can now do, instead of cleaning up data. I can work on some marketing tasks. I can focus on my clients. Writing. Planning. In summary, I can engage in money-making activities.

Time Savings

Second, time savings. As a very detail-oriented person with perfectionist tendencies, I would dwell on pieces of the task that didn’t matter. As an example, I would reformat every phone number to be in the same format. I’d change 555–867–5309 to be (555) 867–5309. Now, who has time for that when we all know we’re calling Jenny, regardless of the format? That type of thing just isn’t important. But, I would feel obligated — almost addicted — to perfecting my data. Whereas, an assistant wouldn’t have the personal attachment to those types of details, and, can be directed to do it differently.

Efficiency

Third, efficiency when actually using my CRM. Currently, I’m switching between the two systems when I reach out to someone in order to see what we had previously discussed. That isn’t efficient. Worse, what if I don’t look because I’m in a hurry and I forget or miss something that causes a miscommunication? Loss of effectiveness, productivity, and efficiency is just not something I can tolerate in my business.

Forward Progress

Fourth, we can move forward. Beyond the Chaos has a process for updating our CRM at the end of every month. This is also a task for delegation and has been delegated for two years. But, since we are in the middle of two different CRMs, it is not being done. Plus, it really can’t be done until the clean-up is complete. So, we are not getting all the details set up properly, which has the possibility of either causing urgent work in the future (when we need what we don’t have), or a mistake.

Tips for Delegation

When I first started my business, I had a part-time virtual assistant. She didn’t last long, as she was offered her dream job and she took it. In the meantime, Laura took on those tasks as part of her job. But, just last week, we hired a new virtual assistant. So, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to make sure those tasks are clearly transferred to Kim.

1. Create a list of what to give away.

Way back when I started this business, I created a list of tasks that needed to be done. I either didn’t have time to do them, or my time could be spent more wisely. In some cases, they were things that needed to be done, but, things that I didn’t really didn’t like to do. For many owners, that is the accounting part of the job. (Hire a bookkeeper!) For me, it was social media. I understand the need to remain present in all of the various forums, but ugh! Interacting with people on the various platforms is fine, but trying to figure out what to post every week was another perfectionist challenge for me. The result was that we established this list for delegation:

  • Blog images
  • Proofreading blogs
  • Proofreading proposals
  • MailChimp emails
  • Buffer (social media tool) posts
  • Sharing blogs on various forums
  • Getting any recorded materials (podcasts/video) shared to blog and our YouTube
  • Monthly clean-up for CRM

2. Show the person how to do it.

If you just provide a list of tasks, no one will ever be able to figure out how to meet your expectations on those tasks. You need to demo how to do each thing.

Since our group is virtual, we meet via Zoom meetings. Furthermore, Zoom lets you record. So, we did! I painstakingly walked the VA through all the tasks, showing her exactly what to do. Afterward, I sent that recording off to rev.com to be transcribed. Practicing what I preach, I provided the recording and the transcription to Laura to formalize the process as a Notebook in our Operations project in Teamwork Projects. (Ah! Delegation at work!) Then, I went back and reviewed it to confirm it was what I was expecting.

3. Set the person free to do the work.

Part of delegation is making sure the person understands the intention behind the task. For example, I can say, “Post the URL of the blog to this list of forums.” However, if I don’t explain the purpose of each forum and why we are sharing in those forums, the delegatee can’t perform the task perfectly and it will not at all meet expectations. You need to be clear about the whys so that the delegatee is free to think. You are not handing off tasks to a monkey. Let that person think!

4. Put in checkpoints.

Nothing should go out publicly without your review. For example, when our emails are set up, they are scheduled and I get a test email — both in advance. I have the opportunity to change it before it goes out, or to just approve it, which can be done by saying nothing. When our social media posts are scheduled in Buffer, I review them on Fridays before they are posted the next week.

If there is a large project you ask someone to help you with, you should review it early on to make sure your delegatee is on the right track. For example, when I hand off my CRM cleanup, I will show and tell. I will then set the person free to do the work. After that first round of cleanup, though, I will take a look to make sure it is going as I expect.

4. Don’t fix it.

If the delegatee doesn’t reach the desired outcome, don’t just jump in and fix it yourself. This is the “I have to do everything myself” martyrdom that will take you down a bottomless pit. Be a manager. Explain what you had hoped to see. And then… let that person fix it. By allowing your delegatee the grace to correct her own mistakes, you are also ensuring it will be completed properly the next time.

5. Encourage questions and make time to answer them.

No one is going to “get it” the first time. If they have questions, you cannot be angry or feel they are wasting your time. You have to stop and answer the questions. Delegation doesn’t mean that you never pay attention again. It requires leadership skills and guidance. One of those skills is to be present for your team. Plus, if they are asking questions because you failed to mention it in the first place, you know you need to update your processes.

6. Establish a method to be able to repeat the tasks.

After our VA left, Laura was able to take a look at those processes, pick them up and perform them with no additional training. If she changed anything, I asked her to please update the process accordingly. If she came across a question, I asked her to please include that answer in the process.

In fact, there are some things that I don’t know anything about. For example, there was a time when we were taking PayPal on our website for our FileMaker Project Management Templates. I asked Laura to research how to do it and then write it up. I can go back to that process if I need to because having it written — at the time it is happening — is invaluable.

7. Review processes regularly.

Now we come to where I am today. Laura worked the processes for almost two years. She updated them regularly. But, as I am about to onboard Kim this week, it is time that I take a look at them just to make sure that they are where they should be. I trust Laura explicitly. But, every now and then, it is good to make sure you know what you’re asking people to do for you. A transition is always a good opportunity for that. But, you can also schedule reviews of your processes every six months or so, just to make sure. You also can delegate this task to a project manager, an office manager, or any process-oriented team member. Just make sure that person has a working knowledge of the task.

The Power of Delegation

Delegating can be addictive. Make sure you are calculating the cost of what you are delegating. Furthermore, make sure you are delegating the right things. For example, managing the qualification process for your sales might be worth delegating. Handing off the sales call itself is probably a bad idea. That doesn’t mean you can’t hire for that position and train someone for it. But, it is not just something you delegate.

The more precise you can be in handing off your work, the less likely it will need to be done over. So, taking that time is well worth it. Don’t scrimp on the education part of it.

And, always be a good leader to your team members. Be there for them. Answer their questions. Don’t act like they are burdening you by asking. Teach where you can, especially if it is about how to find out answers for themselves. Finally, never blame a team member publicly for something you delegated. In the end, it is still your responsibility.


    Susan Fennema

    Written by

    Susan’s business, Beyond the Chaos, partners with other small businesses to control their chaos through project management and process development.