How to delegate well according to your stage of business growth
When you’re a soloist, learning how to delegate is vital for your sanity. In this article, Michelle Dixon explores the three different stages of business growth and offer suggestions for how to delegate for each.
A common pitfall of soloism is, well, a stubborn adherence to soloism in all things. Is this you? Whether or not you have hero complex, are a control freak, prefer ‘things done my way,’ and even if you genuinely don’t have the spare cash to outsource, surrendering some control is vital.
I, too, have suffered from a need to be an expert at everything and manage it all, to the point of sacrificing sleep, effective parenting, and my health—not to mention depriving myself of opportunities for learning and growth!
Needless to say, doing it all yourself is both inescapable at the beginning of a business, and unhealthy thereafter. Even if you work alone, being the sole responsible human in your business environment is like reducing the ecosystem to one animal species only—it’s not going to bode terribly well for your survival, much less for your ability to evolve and thrive.
How can your business thrive if you’re not thriving?
Connection to others is a human need, without which we cannot survive psychologically; equally important to survival at a group level is, it would seem, collaboration. Thriving at any level, therefore, must involve collaboration and connection.
But whilst these facts may be easy to accept at a conceptual level, it is rather trickier deciding what to delegate, and how, when you run your own business as a solopreneur.
"Being the sole responsible human in your business environment is like reducing the ecosystem to one animal species only—it’s not going to bode terribly well for your survival."
There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all delegation.
How one delegates must match one’s individual needs, and the needs of the business. What I see again and again in my coaching work is how, when a person is in a state of extreme stress, nothing is really getting done at work. Conversely, when one has an established business with healthy cashflow, ennui can set in, along with a search for meaning that has no space to manifest in when that person is bogged down in work.
Delegation is crucial at both ends of the spectrum and everywhere in between, but delegating differently according to each stage can help you balance that fine line of being beneficial for the psyche and for your business.
In Abraham Maslow’s well-known conception of what people need to be content and thrive, human needs evolve from the basics for survival (food, warmth, shelter), towards love and connection, self-esteem, the need for self-actualisation, and even transcendence.
Want more articles like this? Check out the outsourcing section.
As a business owner, it’s worth considering where YOU sit on this spectrum (which I have simplified below), as well as where your business sits. Most often you and your business are in the same place. Armed with this understanding, you can learn how to delegate in a way that is most effective and empowering for you AND your business.
Stage 1: Survival Mode
When you are in a constant state of stress, the kind of delegation you need to do differs markedly from that you would do at another point. Whether you are just starting out, or, as the case often is, have gone through a difficult personal crisis, work understandably suffers! If you are struggling to stay on top of things, are under mental stress, and especially if your revenue is seriously suffering, you’re in survival mode.
I will talk more about the importance of ‘playing to your strengths’ in my next point, but the key here is not to worry if you are focusing on your strengths and talents if you’re in ‘survival mode! No doubt you’re managing a lot of different roles as you are just trying to get the outcome you need to survive.
More important in this stage is making sure you, as a human being, are getting to a place of coping. Stress is sometimes inevitable, so rather than ignore it, find healthy ways to cope.
In terms of delegation, this means delegating whatever you are able to delegate in order to get some mental head space.
You may not have a budget for outsourcing at this stage, or perhaps there is literally so much internal chaos you can’t get hold of what you need to do.
In this case, go straight to the thing that most stresses you out and talk to someone about it. It might be an area that you normally excel at, but just at the moment, you lack the internal resources to do it well. It’s well worth outsourcing this, even if it means asking a friend to help out with some regular Facebook posts (for example) so that you can make time for a morning swim, meditation, etc.
Moreover, consider delegation as a strategy to apply to the whole of your life, and not just your work. Consider what you can delegate to others at home to take the pressure off, from cleaning and childcare to cooking, and more.
Make time for yourself! Exercise, meditate—get yourself physically and mentally fit so that you can work your way out of survival.
Stage 2: Growth
Getting to this stage doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve gone beyond stress, because at this point of the game, you may still be struggling to some extent. The key here is that while your business is not where you ideally want it to be yet, you as the business owner are in a place of calm in which you are able to assess your business from an emotional distance and constructively make plans to grow it.
The first step for growth delegation is to write out all the tasks your business entails on a day-to-day basis. Take your time with this. Once you’ve got that list:
Play to your strengths and delegate your weaknesses and time-wasters.
Doing things we are not excellent at detracts from potential. The research is clear: when we play to our strengths, we are more effective, happier, less stressed, and our business can grow. An oft-overlooked aspect of this is eliminating activities that take up a lot of your time and thereby distract you from playing to your strengths. Time is money and sanity. Spend yours wisely.
Next, delegate some tasks to people who are more expert than you.
It’s likely that you have more than one strength, so consider focusing on one, and experiment with delegating another just to expand your horizons. It’s a great way to assess competition and learn about opportunities you have missed.
This is so crucial because delegation is not just about reducing your workload or gaining new talent. It’s also about keeping current. Having other perspectives and skills in the mix can save you when the market changes and your head is just stuck in the same old place, that comfortable spot where you excel.
This is what happened to my mother’s after-school tutoring business in the 80’s, which thrived by word of mouth until the internet arrived. She ran her entire business all by herself, and never outsourced a thing except her tax returns. She excelled in her comfort zone, refusing to consider that someone else could do some marketing for her because, after all, she was making a killing! She therefore never got a website. But over time, because her business was not searchable online, work dried up.
I definitely thought about her situation when I got a promotional assistant on board, even though I was used to doing promotion on my own and consider it one of my skills. My decision wasn’t just about managing my time better. I wanted somebody with different experience to me, to see what could be done differently, and what result I’d get. I learned a lot from him, not in the least, that Twitter (which I still don’t like) can work wonders in promotion.
Stage 3: Success but Desiring More
Be it a new and different challenge, to grow your business beyond soloism, take it in a different direction, or to just take a break from it altogether, this stage is marked, on the one hand, by your business being established and returning great profits. On the other hand, at a personal level, this stage is characterized by your boredom, restlessness and/or fantasising about what if’s.
If I were referring back to Maslow’s chart, I would call this stage self-actualisation. For some thinkers, self-actualisationis not a solo endeavour. It also involves deep collaboration and helping others achieve their goals. It’s a stage when people naturally turn to mentorship and giving back.
It’s difficult to ask the big meaningful questions about identity and direction until you are surviving and thriving. When you are, and you crave that ineffable more, it’s time to delegate differently.
Here delegation is about enabling you to have a bird’s eye view of your life and work. From this position, you will be able to see the macro potential of your business and assess your role in it going forward.
- Is it possible to take it in another direction?
- Can you incorporate additional income streams/pivot in your business plan?
- Is it time to let it go?
Delegation may mean stepping out of the business momentarily—handing someone else the reins for a bit. Or, it might mean redefining your role as vision master, and delegating freelancers to carry the rest.
So tell me now: what stage are you at? And what are your most useful experiences with delegating at that stage?