Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with @alyssagregory. She is a small business collaborator. She is passionate for creating opportunities and sharing knowledge to grow small businesses. She has an online community for entrepreneurs @smallbizbonfire, the www.SmallBusinessBonfire.com, an environment for entrepreneurs in all stages of development to make connections, learn from peers and embrace new ideas.
Smallbizlady: What are the signs that it’s time for a business owner to start delegating?
Alyssa Gregory: The biggest sign that delegation is a good next step is when you consistently feel like there’s not enough time in the day to get it all done. Other signs could be feeling pulled in many different directions, being stressed on a daily basis about your workload, finding that you are turning down attractive opportunities because you just don’t have time, and being too busy managing the business to actually grow your business.
Smallbizlady: Does creating a team and delegating really help alleviate some of these problems?
Alyssa Gregory: Yes, delegation is the secret to working smarter. When you learn how to delegate effectively, you can focus on the things you do best, the things that will help you grow your business. Letting go of some of the daily to-do’s that bog you down, can also give you a new perspective about your business and alleviate stress.
Smallbizlady: How does an over-scheduled and stressed business owner even know what they should be delegating?
Alyssa Gregory: In order to figure out what to get off your plate, you need to figure out where your time is going, especially time that’s going where it shouldn’t be. What are your biggest time drains?
One of the best ways to figure this out is by tracking your time — all of your time, for all of the both billable and non-billable work you do during the day. Once you start tracking everything, you will probably be surprised to see where you spend your time. This alone can be a tremendously powerful tool for identifying potential tasks to outsource, or to-dos to cut out of your daily activities entirely. And it can help you become more aware of how you manage your time so you can work to become more productive.
When you see how your days measure up after a week or two of tracking your time, make a list of the tasks and activities that are taking you longer than you’d like, tasks you generally dislike doing, and tasks you know could be accomplished more efficiently by someone else. These are the tasks you should look to delegate first. Some of the most common areas that small business owners want to delegate include scheduling, bookkeeping, website or blog setup/maintenance, social media management, other administrative tasks.
Smallbizlady: Should a business owner look to hire employees or outsource to contractors?
Alyssa Gregory: It really depends on the business, the type of support needed and whether or not it’s a significant, long-term need or something for right now. There are pros and cons to both routes. There is a lot less of a commitment when it comes to outsourcing, so that can be a great starting point for business owners just learning how to delegate.
Smallbizlady: If a business owner decides to outsource, how can they get started building a team?
Alyssa Gregory: Building an effective support team starts with being able to identify the right person for each task. For example, if you need bookkeeping assistance, a bookkeeper is the best person to hire. If you need help developing your website, you should look for a web developer or designer. If you need help with general administrative duties, a virtual assistant should be on your list. Many times, teams fail simply because there is a mismatch in tasks and abilities.
Smallbizlady: How can a business owner tell when they’ve found the right person for each job?
Alyssa Gregory: When you start to hire out parts of your business, it is not only about ability, but also about chemistry. You need to make sure the people you bring onto your team have the experience and skills you need, but you also have to like them! If your personalities don’t jive, you’re not going to be able to maintain a long-term relationship, which should be your goal when you’re thinking of the people you hire work out to as a team.
Start by having a mental picture of your “ideal” team members. Then, take your time to search, research and explore your options before making a decision. And if your team is comprised of team members that will be working virtually, you need to be especially confident about your ability to communicate. Make sure you have a process in place to communicate well and often.
Smallbizlady: How can a business owner transfer all of the information necessary for a contractor to do the job?
Alyssa Gregory: Before you even begin delegating, you will need to start tracking all of the information, knowledge and processes that make your business run. Creating these process documents will streamline the hand-off process, especially for tasks that are administrative in nature. This may be a challenge because you probably don’t think about the in’s and out’s of your daily work very often; you just do what needs to be done. But having comprehensive and clear documentation is essential in order to delegate effectively.
In general, all of your processes and systems should include a clear written summary so any future member of your team can jump in and pick up where you left off. These process documents and any other information needed should be located in a central location that is accessible by everyone who needs access (i.e. through a service such as Google Docs, or shared through a backup service like SugarSync or DropBox).
Smallbizlady: How often should a business owner communicate with the team? Should there be team meetings?
Alyssa Gregory: The frequency of meetings really depends on the work, your needs and the dynamic of the team. The most important thing is to have open lined of communication. Ultimately, good communication is vital for every type of team. Without it, there isn’t a team. When it comes to effective delegation, communication need to be clear, concise and consistent.
One of the ways to accomplish this is by scheduling ongoing face-to-face meetings, or team-focused teleconferences, if your team members are in different locations. These sessions should be focused on collaboration, information sharing and team building. It’s also important that you remain accessible in between team meetings to answer questions, provide guidance and help solve problems when necessary.
Smallbizlady: If a small business owner is going it be handing off important parts of their business to someone else, there needs to be a high level of
Alyssa Gregory: Trust is one of the most important factors when it comes to delegation, and it goes both ways. You need to trust that your team members will complete the work they are responsible for, and your team members need to trust that you are giving them all of the information they need to do the work and that you will be available to back them up when necessary.
You can create a team based on trust by being respectful of each other, listening and hearing what others are saying, focusing on consistent communication, saying what you’ll do and doing what you say, and being honest.
Trust doesn’t develop overnight; but with shared goals, open communication and clear expectations, it will happen over time.
Smallbizlady: What is the biggest challenge when it comes to delegating?
Alyssa Gregory: For many small business owners who are used to being independent and making things happen, the biggest challenge is giving up complete control. When a business owners feels like they need to watch their team during every step of the process and tell them exactly how to do everything, it can be difficult to build trusting and respectful relationships. This can also put the business owner right back in the overworked and stressed out category because now they’ll be spending all of their time micromanaging.
It’s important to be aware of everything going on within your team so you can ensure work is being completed satisfactorily and that assignments are made appropriately. But this should be a peripheral review, not a hands-on management process. If you continue to oversee all data and communication going in and out of your team, you will likely become the bottleneck, slowing down the process and making it difficult for your team to do what they need to do.
Smallbizlady: What are some other things a business owner should avoid doing when they get started delegating?
Alyssa Gregory: Business owners should avoid withholding information from team members. Everyone on a team needs to have enough information to do their job and do it well. Data sharing can be accomplished with a central data storage and collaboration area that standardizes information and keeps everyone on the same page.
Another delegation challenge many small business owners face is holding their team members accountable when something goes wrong. Yes, this can be uncomfortable, but it also helps your team members learn, grow and improve. And conversely, every time you are commended for a successful accomplishment that a team member contributed to, that win and recognition should be passed on to motivate and inspire your team to continue working hard.
Smallbizlady: Do you have any final tips for small business owners teaching themselves how to delegate?
Alyssa Gregory: Give up your desire to retain control and your quest for perfection. Neither of those things can exist when you delegate. Instead, embrace the process by committing to find the right people to delegate to and working to make those relationships work. It takes time and practice, but once you get the hang of delegation, you will find that you have much-needed time to focus on your biggest priorities, and you’ll wonder why you waited so long to let go.
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Melinda F. Emerson, known to many as SmallBizLady is one of America’s leading small business experts. As a seasoned entrepreneur, professional speaker, and small business coach, she develops audio, video and written content to fulfill her mission to end small business failure. As CEO of MFE Consulting LLC, Melinda educates entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 companies on subjects including small business start-up, business development and social media marketing. Forbes Magazine recently named her one of the Top 20 women for entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter. She hosts #SmallBizChat Wednesdays on Twitter 8-9pm ET for emerging entrepreneurs. She also publishes a resource blog www.succeedasyourownboss.com Melinda is also the author of the national bestseller Become Your Own Boss in 12 months; A Month-by-Month Guide to a Business That Works. (Adams Media 2010)