September 06, 2007

Release, and It Will Come

By Nika Stewart

Imagine this:

Bill Gates gets up at 4:00 a.m. to drive to work. Upon arrival, he checks his e-mail and sees he has 43,224 new messages since last night. As he starts to answer the first one, the phone rings. It’s a woman from Colorado. She is having trouble with the new Vista operating system. Bill gives her a quick solution and gets back to his e-mails. One down, 43,223 more to go. He quickly checks his sales orders and sees that another 8,907 copies of Microsoft Office sold the day before. He gets out a fresh CD and starts to burn a copy of Office. While the CD is burning, Bill fields another technical support call. The call is finishing just as the CD is done burning. Bill affixes a label to the CD, places it in a box, inserts a user manual, and then prepares the package for shipping. One order down, 8,906 to go. His cell phone rings. It’s Melinda. Bring home cheese (Melinda loves cheese). Back to the phones …

Of course Bill Gates doesn’t run Microsoft all by himself (he has at least three other employees!). But my point is that it is impossible to run an ultra-successful business by yourself. And you don’t have to be as big as Microsoft.

As designers, we would prefer to spend the bulk of our time doing the things we love to do (designing, client consultations) and the things we need to do to grow our business (marketing, networking). These are the activities that require our direct involvement and should take up a vast majority of our days. Not the “other stuff.”

The Other Stuff:

Bookkeeping, vendor orders, inventory control, appointment scheduling, e-mail writing/answering, sample orders, returning phone calls for minor issues, minor troubleshooting, buying office supplies, researching telephone carriers, website maintenance, sorting mail, sending mail …

I’m exhausted just typing that list! How is it possible that we can grow our business and concentrate on our design work when we are so bogged down by the Other Stuff? The answer is: we can’t. It is essential that we learn to delegate. Why is it so difficult for us to let go of these tasks and hire someone to do it for us? From discussions with many designers, I’ve learned that it boils down to two main reasons:

  1. “It’s too expensive”

    Yes, it’s scary to pay someone to help in your business, especially if you feel you aren’t making enough to justify it. But the interesting fact is that small business owners begin to make more money when they let go of those tasks that are not only depleting their energy, but taking time away from doing the work that will really bring more money in. It is actually too expensive to NOT pay someone to take those money-sucking, energy-draining jobs from you.

If you consider how long it takes to do the Other Stuff on a weekly basis, you will see how much time is being wasted on activities that do not contribute to the growth of your business. By hiring someone, your time is free to focus upon design work and marketing your business.

  1. “I can’t give up anything / I am a control freak / I need it all done my way”

    I know, I know. I’ve been there, too! So here are a few suggestions:

    1. Take baby steps: Give up just one thing this month. Can you allow someone else to file your folders? Organize your books? Answer your phone? As time goes on, you will get more comfortable letting tasks go. Practice makes perfect.

    1. Set up systems: The next time you do any of your non-design tasks, write down all of the steps you take, one by one, as if you are writing a detailed system for someone who will be taking over this task (because that’s exactly what you are doing!). This will take you a little extra time, but within a few weeks, you will have systems documented for all of your business chores. With these procedures, you can be more assured that an assistant will perform tasks the same way you would.

I know what you’re saying: “Sure, sure, Nika. I’ll be happy to hire someone and delegate responsibility as soon as my business grows a bit.” Please don’t fall into that trap! Your business will grow if you learn to delegate – not the other way around! You absolutely can not become ultra-successful if you do everything yourself. Just think about poor, exhausted Mr. Gates. For the sake of you and your business: Release, and it will come.

Wealthy Decorator Action Assignment:

Write down all of the tasks that you can delegate, and choose one to release in the next month. Post your choices here on the blog so you can share ideas!

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