Why is it so hard to delegate when you run a small business?

One of the issues my clients face is just how hard it is to fully delegate work when you run your own business - often people end up feeling that they have to micro-manage a team member's work and that bringing more people on board hasn't really freed up any time or energy. 

The consultant Breanne Dyck has a concept that all businesses, however small or big, have just five virtual 'hats' that need to be worn by someone in the business. Here are the areas:

  1. Operations - actually delivering the product or service to the customer/client
  2. Sales and marketing
  3. Finance and admin
  4. CEO - setting the vision and making long term plans
  5. Integrator - not strictly needed in a one person operation, but this hat is responsible for knowing what is happening in the other 4 areas and making sure it's all working together towards the same end goal.

In a small business, even if there's a small team, it may well be the case that the business owner actually wears all of these hats, in the sense that they retain ultimate ownership of all the issues and ideas that relate to that hat.

And what I realised as I thought about how this idea applies in microbusinesses is that this is why it's so hard to delegate properly. Typically people try to expand their team at a point when they can't afford to pay a salary for someone who would be working at the 'hat ownership' level.

So instead, people buy in help at a basic administrative level and then spend far too much time chasing and managing the team member who's covering those areas.

In my experience, it can be more efficient and freeing to set up really clear systems (sometimes using automated or semi-automated tools - for instance I use Acuity Scheduling and 17Hats, both synced to my Google Calendar, in this way to take care of appointment-setting, invoicing and contracts). I choose to use those tools directly myself, but if I did work with an assistant, I wouldn't feel a constant need for oversight, since the systems come so close to running themselves.

However, at some point down the line, I might choose to employ a Finance and Admin manager who would completely take over responsibility for everything to do with bookkeeping, invoicing, contracts, checking whether clients are on track with their sessions, making sure notes are updated and setting up new systems in these areas. This is a different role from the kind of admin assistants that solo business owners tend to employ, and that's why so many people get so frustrated with their experience of delegation.

So, if you're thinking of bringing someone new on board, give some thought to whether the role is at 'hat ownership' level or not.

I think that all businesses can benefit hugely from streamlining what they do and setting up systems to make repeatable tasks as efficient as possible - but depending on your stage of business, it doesn't necessarily make sense to hire another person to carry out the tasks in those systems (though it might well make sense to employ a coach or consultant for short term help to work out what to systematise and how to do it - you can book a chat with me here if that's something you'd like to do). 

It's also well worth having a think about which of the five hats you'd most love to delegate, which is the one you'd most want to hang on to and whether you want to start building up a war chest (via focusing on profitability) to be able to start hiring a team member to work at that level. My own two favourite hats are Operations and CEO, but yours may be different.

Finally, it's worth looking at your schedule at the moment - how do you balance the time you spend wearing each of the five hats each week? Is there one hat (or more than one) that never gets much time allocated to it? Making time for each hat will pay dividends - and the one that solo entrepreneurs ignore at their peril is the CEO hat. Do you make time for visioning and long term planning every week at the moment? If not, that may be why you're stuck in a feast and famine cycle, whether it's with marketing, client work or cash flow.