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Maggie Harlow

Delegating Should Be a Dream, Not a Nightmare

It’s both the least and most powerful way an owner can grow a sign business.




SUCCESS IN MY first few years in business mostly boiled down to my own effort and investment. I was CEO, sales manager, sales person and lead developer! I personally won some key clients and maintained those clients with an unmatched intensity and devotion.
As my business and my team grew, it became harder to continue in the same role. Spending time as CEO, sales manager and project manager meant I was being pulled in a thousand directions. Each day was a puzzle of tasks important (hiring that new designer) and urgent (I didn’t call my client back yesterday). It felt impossible. How do I grow this company and still do the things that I must do? I thought, “No one can take care of my client like I do. They want to deal with me. I have to do it.”

Delegation to others is, I think, the single least popular way to solve growth issues, but also the most powerful way to solve them! It’s common to say, “No one else can do this as well as I can, and I’ll be so angry if someone else does it badly.”

I’m going to break this argument down:

1. “No one else can do this as well as I can.”

  • Let’s use an analogy. If the US President is a world champion floor sweeper, does that mean the President should be sweeping floors?
  • Being busy doing something others could do means you aren’t really doing what only you can do. If you’re busy taking care of a customer, you aren’t doing what only the ceo can actually do: lead change and growth.
  • I found that I was getting so busy, I was only doing a so-so job. Once I turned the task over to someone dedicated to it, they often did a better job!

2. “I’ll be so angry if someone else does it badly.” It’s true that an employee can screw up and even cost you a customer. But if you are doing a good job of leading and preparing that employee, the risk of failure is low. Take these steps to prepare an employee to take something over:

  • Explain fully why the task or customer is important. Don’t assume the employee understands. Be patient and as thorough as you can, including the high cost of losing the client — like losing employees.
  • Take the employee with you when you are doing the work; explain why you did what you did. Set clear standards for what you expect.
  • Talk to your client or others who will be impacted by the delegation. Let them know you are taking on other work, but check in regularly during training and after. I set calendar reminders to pop up for certain clients or situations.
  • Repeat. You may have to train or retrain someone else. Create some support documents to facilitate the process.

Here are some benefits delegating brings:

  • Your employees feel trusted and empowered.
  • You have time to focus on things like profitability!
  • You start building training programs employees can continue to use in the future.
  • Your newfound time and focus can be used to transform your business or personal life: lunch breaks, increased sales, less turnover and happier families.
  • Your customers will use you as a “second chance” in times of trouble. If things go badly, the customers contact you for support instead of leaving for a competitor.
  • You have time to take customers to lunch and thank them for their business.
  • Your employees will start to see “development paths” in your company where important roles aren’t all held by you.
  • You might develop employees into manager roles, giving you yet even more freedom.
  • Your business becomes more attractive to buyers when you’re ready to sell!

Are you ready to delegate?




Introducing the Sign Industry Podcast

The Sign Industry Podcast is a platform for every sign person out there — from the old-timers who bent neon and hand-lettered boats to those venturing into new technologies — we want to get their stories out for everyone to hear. Come join us and listen to stories, learn tricks or techniques, and get insights of what’s to come. We are the world’s second oldest profession. The folks who started the world’s oldest profession needed a sign.

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