Delegate and Know When to Let Go of Small Business Operations

As a business owner, you are the parent of your company. Planning for the business, getting it off the ground, and making sure it survives and thrives is taxing, time-consuming, and can be incredibly rewarding. It requires you to wear many hats, and you may find yourself serving as the head of sales, marketing, and customer support.

Once the business begins thriving on its own, you need to delegate those responsibilities to other employees so that you can focus on higher-level tasks and because, frankly, you are probably not the best person for every job.

That being said, letting go of key operations can be very difficult for a business owner. Whether you over-manage to make sure people keep doing things “your” way, or to insist on having the final say on every single project, the result will be the same.

If you cannot hand off key operations to qualified employees, you will not be able to grow your business.

Before taking a look at the best way to hand off key roles to employees, it’s important to consider managerial style. Everyone is familiar with Steve Jobs and his desire to maintain creative control over the design of Apple products, and many attribute his success to that keen scrutiny.

That does not mean this style will work for everyone. Similarly, it is not necessary to delegate away every task. If you have a background in creative design, for example, it makes sense to review final projects and offer your critique. Determining just how involved you should be takes a combination of self reflection and analysis based on hard data.

So, when it comes time to delegate to employees, how do you make sure they are going to follow through and improve upon your existing methods?

As is true with most situations in the business world, the best security is to get it in writing. Hiring or promoting an employee without providing clearly-defined goals for their new role is a recipe for disaster. Simply saying “make it better” does not provide the direction needed, and without an achievable goal to work toward, it will be difficult for both you and the employee to determine success.

When you are ready to hand off a key task, sit down with your employee and clearly state your expectations and time frame for goals.

By the way, these goals should always be SMART, and you should never assign more than one or two major milestones or they will never be achieved. If your employee believes that the goals you put forth are not feasible, allow him to explain himself and compromise as necessary.

When you are done, create a document stating what you’ve agreed upon. Of course, this does not guarantee success but it does ensure that everyone is on the same page moving forward. You can also measure productivity as a function of time spent on meeting this goal.

Once you have set expectations, you can determine the value of your input and whether that time would be better spent elsewhere. For instance, if you find that you are taking substantial time to review employees’ work but not making major changes, it’s a good indicator that you can loosen the reigns and step back.

Once an employee has proven that they can handle a process, you should move on to other tasks that make better use of your time.

As a business owner it can be difficult to let someone else take care of your baby, but it is almost always in the business’s best interest to create a team with diverse and useful skills to improve processes.

If you feel you are being marginalized and want to take a more active approach while still delegating responsibilities to qualified staff, consider joining an executive group, such as Vistage, to get ideas for future strategies and expansion planning.

As the owner of your business, only you can ultimately decide where your company goes, and that continued growth and profitability should always be your number one priority.

A boss happy with a team of employees Photo via Shutterstock


Curt Finch Curt Finch is the CEO of Journyx. Founded in 1996, Journyx automates payroll, billing and cost accounting while easing management of employee time and expenses, and provides confidence that all resources are utilized correctly and completely.

7 Reactions
  1. Delegation is hard though because in all likelihood they won’t do it as well as you would. You have to learn to be okay with 80-90%.

    • I totally agree, Robert. Whenever I delegate, I always have that little voice in my head questioning if they’ll be as effective as I would. That’s why I think it’s important to delegate the tasks that you’re not a good at to those who are more experienced than you. I would never delegate or outsource my content creation on my blog, however, I have no problem at all outsourcing my graphics for my ebook covers and so forth. I’m terrible at that.


  2. Great article, Curt! I agree that it is essential for SMB owners to delegate certain tasks – whether that’s to an employee or by outsourcing business operations to a trusted partner. For instance, by adopting a managed print services model or engaging a vendor to own similar back office work such as payroll or benefits management, you’re hiring someone who knows the technology, functionality and benefits inside and out. In the end, letting go of these operational tasks frees up your time and helps your business to grow.

    Robin Wessel, director of new business development, Xerox

  3. Delegation may be one of toughest things for small business owners. And yet, if you are spending your time trying to do everything then 1) nothing is getting done well and 2) you could be spending your time on the wrong things.

    One of the realizations a business owner may discover is that something he/she previously enjoyed doing may not bring the same level of satisfaction. Of course, you still have to provide accountability so the business goals are met but it is a sign that the individual has moved on and it is time to assign it to another talented person. Better to use your interests and talents in the interest of the business than to create stress for yourself.

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