It’s Lonely at the Top – and at the Start

A beginner’s guide to delegating
by Amber Miller 

According to Richard Branson, the billionaire CEO and founder of Virgin Group, “If you really want to grow as an entrepreneur, you’ve got to learn to delegate.” 

Starting a business — managing clients, networking, trying to balance long work hours with family life — can be a daunting task. But more and more people in Arizona are doing it — and many of them are doing it alone. According to Gaebler.com, an independent resource for entrepreneurs, there are approximately 396,318 small businesses in Arizona (bit.ly/gaebler-sbaz). Of that number, 107,018 have employees while the remaining 289,300 are businesses whose owners have no employees. 

Launching and running a small business can be fulfilling and rewarding, but it can also be lonely at times and stressful. When does so much become too much — and when do business owners need to get help?

For many years, I was in a corporate position overseeing sophisticated marketing and technology projects. While I was comfortable in my “cushy job,” my dream, like so many other entrepreneurs, was to make a bigger difference not only professionally but also for my family. 

In 2004, I discovered the relatively new field of virtual assisting. I knew immediately that this was a viable business opportunity. It was clear to me, from speaking with area small-business owners, just how overwhelmed they were with daily tasks. I was also learning this first-hand, having just founded my own company. I quickly realized that, unless I operated my business more efficiently, my earnings would be forever tied to a finite number of billable hours per day. 

Why Many Entrepreneurs Have a Difficult Time Delegating

For some business owners, especially in startups, the decision to not delegate is a financial one. They may not have the consistent revenue stream needed to offset the costs of hiring employees. 

Even more often, however, an entrepreneur may not know exactly what needs to be done, or may feel that no one has the expertise to execute a task as well as he or she can. This fear of “loss of control” can be debilitating and often prevents business owners from getting support. 

In this case, the “take charge” attitude that can make a business owner successful can get in the entrepreneur’s own way, resulting in lost sales and stifled growth!

The Warning Signs 

What typically happens when an entrepreneur is overextended is, “balls are dropped” in terms of day-to-day operations. When tasks that used to be handled promptly are not getting done, calls are not being returned, once-happy clients are not so happy — these are all clues that processes are beginning to go awry. While a missed call may, at first seem inconsequential, this easily leads to bigger things getting lost in an ever-growing shuffle. 

Watch out for: 

Customer complaints. Are clients suddenly complaining about work quality or responsiveness? 

Missed deadlines. Are important deadlines being missed, resulting in loss of business and/or other opportunities?

Reputation. Are customers not calling as frequently? Are referrals beginning to dwindle? 

Losing the passion or feeling burned out. Is the business that once inspired such enthusiasm now becoming a chore?

Feeling isolated. Have attending family functions and professional events become a thing of the past?

Health. Are there such problems as loss of sleep, inability to concentrate or weight gain? 

A “yes” to any of the above signals it’s time to make a shift. 

A Delegation Intervention: Beginning the Process of ‘Letting Go’ 

In order to begin to delegate , every business owner needs to identify the tasks that are consuming the majority of his or her time. This starts with making a list of all activities being done each day. Write it all down. 

Second is to make the conscious effort to let go of items on that list that others can do more easily and cost-effectively. There are many resources more than happy to take calls, balance books, respond to emails and perform other menial and even complex tasks. The task list will help in zeroing in on what is distracting from the main objective of creating a sustainable business, and from that the business owner can focus research on available services. 

This is not a one-and-done procedure. Delegation needs to be a habit. A good practice is to set-aside 10 minutes each morning to determine what can be outsourced for that day. By changing focus from a “to do” list to a “what others can do list,” the process will become second nature. Making delegation a priority each day can help any business thrive.   

Amber Miller is the founder and chief delegation diva of Smart to Finish Office Solutions, a full-service business solutions company based in Mesa that provides virtual assistance with operations management, product launches, online marketing, webinar management and Infusionsoft and Simpero application support to companies internationally.

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