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Let it Go: Learn to Delegate

Posted By Jess Cook,, Monday, August 08, 2016

One of the biggest things small business owners do to get in the way of their own success is to micro-manage everything. Let’s face it: most of us are in business for ourselves because we don’t want to work for other people, and in many cases we’d prefer not to work with other people, either (at least not every day). We’re the boss, and that’s the way we like it.

Back in my days as an indie yarn dyer, I was the same way:

  1. I dyed all the yarn and fiber. (Who else would give it my special touch? Why would I trust my secret dye formulas to an outsider?!?)
  2. I ran my own Ravelry group. (Sure, I had other people moderate but they never got any actual responsibility - that was MY logo up at the top, after all!)
  3. I packaged and shipped every order. (My customers really needed that hand-signed thank you note from me!)
  4. I did all my own social media posting, all my own marketing, all my own ad designing, … you get the picture. It was all me.

Sound familiar? The problem with this attitude is that it means everything falls on your shoulders. You carry all the burdens, all the To Dos have your name on them, and it often leaves you with very little free time. (If you’re reading this and laughing at the notion that a small business owner has any free time at all, then keep reading - this one’s especially for you.)

If you’re so busy running your business that you can’t picture taking time away from it, that’s a problem. Maybe you aren’t trying to take a 3-week vacation to Maui every year, but wouldn’t it be nice to take just a few days off from work (and I mean entirely OFF) at the holidays? Or the next time your kid comes down with the flu? What about for a family emergency, or a funeral?

If you think any of those scenarios might one day apply to you - and guess what, they will - it’s time to start learning to delegate. Share the burden, lighten the load, get some help already! It’s hard to let go when you own a small business, because you’re the one who built it. It starts to feel like letting go of your own child, but most of us know that feeling of refreshment and rejuvenation when we hire a babysitter once in awhile. So think of it like that - I’m not asking you to give your business away permanently; I’m asking you to consider hiring an occasional babysitter. And just like a babysitter doesn’t necessarily do everything the same way you do, your business might run slightly differently when you step away from it. But that’s okay! Everyone will survive the experience - even you.

You’ve got several options available to you, so it’s important to try out a few ideas and see what feels right.

Option 1: Hire Permanent Help
If you regularly feel overwhelmed by all the To Dos on your list, it might be time to consider hiring some help. If you have a brick-and-mortar shop then the obvious answer is to hire an employee to come in anywhere from a few hours a week to 8 hours a day. If you have an online-only business, you’ve still got options: you can hire an actual employee, or an independent contractor. A virtual assistant is a great choice for many small business owners, and it’s surprisingly affordable to hire one (more on that on my blog, here).

Once you’ve hired someone, you can train them to do regular tasks for you (things you aren’t going to be doing any more), but then you can also show them how to do YOUR regular tasks, so that every so often they can do those for you and you can take a day off.

Option 2: Hire Temporary Help
Like the babysitter analogy, sometimes you only need help from time to time. Maybe you can get enough relief by hiring a temporary person via a service like TaskRabbit or Fiverr. Maybe you’ve got a friend or neighbor who’d be willing to jump in and help for an afternoon, or a weekend. You might even be able to find a student from a local college or university who would be willing to trade free (or cheap) labor for the experience of getting a sneak-peek into how a small business works.

In this scenario, you want to think about the most important tasks that absolutely must be done for your business to function on a basic level. Train this person to do those tasks, and then they can keep it running while you’re away.

Option 3: Prepare for Emergency Help
If you take a few hours to show your spouse, best friend, or another trusted person how to run the basic operations of your business, then that person can step in in an emergency situation. Think about this - if you had an emergency, you would want someone else to be able to notify your customers to expect shipping delays, to cancel live events for the day, or to let your employees know that you wouldn’t be coming in, right? Take some down time to explain these procedures, and that’s one less worry if you find yourself in an emergency situation.

Whatever you choose, understand that there will be a transition period when you work with a new person, and the process won’t always run smoothly, especially at first. Keep these tips in mind for successful delegation:

  1. Take a deep breath and keep your cool. Nobody benefits from an emotionally heated situation!
  2. Take it slowly, understanding that it takes more time to learn a new task, but once your helper gets going he will be able to work more quickly and efficiently.
  3. Remember that the goal here is not to get someone else to work exactly like you would do it - instead, it’s to get someone else to do it well enough that you can step away temporarily.
  4. Try to keep it in perspective: the more help you get with some of your regular tasks, the more free time that gives you to take a vacation, or even focus on pursuing new work-related goals!

Do you have an emergency plan, or a vacation plan, to get some extra help in your business? Tell us about it in the comments! We’d love to hear how you “let it go.”

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