One of the leading reasons that small businesses stay small – or fail – is that the small business owner is unwilling or doesn't know how to delegate, according to many business coaches.
Why should this be surprising? Many first-time small business owners don't know how to do a lot of what they have to do in a small business. Those who learn new skills quickly have a much better chance to succeed than those who don't. Delegating is a skill like any other, and can be learned.
The first step to learning any skill is to recognize it as a skill that can be learned. So what is delegating, and how is it a skill, rather than an intuitive action?
People who are very capable in several or many areas understand this saying: "I can do anything, but I can't do everything." Beginning small business owners have to do everything at first, until they can hire help. So the question really becomes, how do you hire, and what does the hiree do?
Most people would agree that hiring is a skill which can be learned. The trick is to learn the skill before you hire, not by trial and error. Understanding the following principles of hiring will start you on learning the skill.
1) Hire in order to reduce your workload. After an initial training period, the new employee should be able to do some of what you are doing now, with minimal oversight. The point is that the new employee should not just do more of what you are doing, while you keep on doing the same amount. Example: hiring someone to handle accounts receivable does not mean the collection actions increase because you continue making collection calls also. It means the new guy handles all of that, and you don't.
2) Know in advance what qualities are needed in a new employee, and test for them. If they will be on the phone, put them on the phone and see how they do. If they will be on a computer, give him a computer problem and watch as he solves it. If they have to schmooze, bring in a client and see how well the prospect schmoozes him.
3) Hire by reason, not emotion. You never "give a guy a chance" to see if he can cut it. You have to have good reason to think he can cut it before you hire. Can he really reduce your workload, or are you going to have to babysit him?
4) Hire with a very specific probationary period. If your new hire turns out not to be able to do what he says he can, and even more important, if he cannot learn to do what you are training him to do, let him go by the end of the probationary period and start over.
Example: you are an experienced auto mechanic with a small shop, and you are an expert. You can hire another mechanic who can do many of your routine tasks. Occasionally, a job will come along that requires your expertise. Do not do it. Tell your mechanic how to do it, advise him, teach him, but let him do the work. If he cannot learn how, get someone who can. The same principle applies for any function.
The major thing a small business owner must understand when delegating (hiring): the new person is not going to be as good as he is, not at first, and maybe not ever. Yet you don't want the quality of your business to slip. Therefore, as soon as you start hiring, institute quality controls in that area.
The two most important quality controls are regular reports of activity and results, and final approval. These quality controls should take you minimal time but be comprehensive enough to keep you on top of the area.
Reports are a weekly list of what was done, what problems came up that were handled or still need attention, and predictions about the following week (known jobs, upcoming expenses, etc.).
Final approval means that when a job is reported as done, don't take his word for it, but give it a look. A second set of eyes is critical for quality assurance. As your confidence in him grows, only the larger jobs may need this look, but never drop this action out entirely.
Delegating does not mean abandoning. Delegating means letting other people help your business succeed. If you don't let them, it won't.
Don Dewsnap is the author of Small Business Magic: Survive and Succeed In Any Economy, published by Oak Wand Publishing. Small Business Magic details the Principles of Quality necessary to business success, applying to all aspects of business from production to sales.