As your business starts to take off, you’ll hit a time when you have more work than you can do, but not so much that you are ready (or can afford) to hire an employee. How can you handle the crunch? Here are ten ways to delegate some of the work, without hiring any employees.
Seems like every small business starts with this, but it can get you out of a crunch. Your spouse is probably your biggest supporter. I know that you already asked for him or her to take on extra stuff around the house, not to mention three jobs in the business, but if this is serious, it’s serious. Set a time limit, and reevaluate these extra duties again soon. This is the one relationship you can’t afford to mess up.
If you have children, you probably also have some tasks appropriate to their age. Look around at your extended family. Brothers, sisters, parents, cousins. Got any young computer wizards in the family? Who could pitch in for a short time? Make sure you are clear about what, if any, payment they can expect. And do set that time limit. You aren’t looking to borrow them indefinitely.
Unless your clients absolutely insist on you personally doing every bit of a job, look to your network of potential subcontractors. Let them know what payment terms from the client will be, and move entire jobs or parts of jobs off to other professionals.
If you think clients wouldn’t like it, or you just don’t know whether your clients would approve, ask them. Start with the most reasonable, friendly clients. Ask them permission to move a specific task or job to a carefully selected sub. If the client refuses, reassure them that you’ll stick with the job personally for now. And start training your clients to work with you and your associates in the future.
(I’m working on a follow-up post on how to get clients to accept working with your associates and subs. I’ll link here when I get it finished.)
3. Local professionals
OK, if it’s crunch time, let go of your basic bookkeeping. Drop the idea of handling your own design, photocopying, computer maintenance or anything else you can get done locally. Think for a moment about the local professionals you already work with, like your accountant, office supply store, or computer repair pro. Ask them to take on a bigger role for you. See what other services they can provide or recommend a provider, to get tasks off your plate. (Yes, I know you are a nerd that likes to work on your own stuff, but get over it. You don’t get paid to track down driver conflicts or a camera that won’t mount as a drive.)
Once you are through the crunch, reevaluate these tasks. Is there a reason to take them back on yourself? Probably not!
4. Virtual assistants
You already know that virtual assistants can make a difference in your work. The problem is that if you are already in a crunch situation, you may not be able to invest the cash in paying a new assistant, or you may not be able to dedicate time to effectively delegating to a new VA. The way to use a new VA effectively in a crunch is to focus on delegating tasks that require very little training to get going. Start with travel arrangements, basic research, typing or editing.
When you are really crunched, it’s time to find out who your friends really are. All of us hesitate to ask friends to help, but you’d be surprised how eager folks are.
When I broke my leg in 2006, several good friends stepped up and helped in my businesses. I know these folks would do the same thing right now if I called and said, “I really need help” whether I had any injury or not. What’s more, if any one of them called me today, I would jump at the chance to help them out. That’s friendship.
6. Delivery and pickup
Don’t even consider driving errands around town at a time like this. Find out who does pickup and delivery, and use them. Can’t find a vendor that delivers? Well, have you got a teen driver in the extended family? Bribe them with gas money to do the driving for you.
7. Household help
Working from home can multiply a tight work situation, especially if you are already leaning on your spouse for more help with the business. Call in some reinforcements for cleaning or babysitting. It doesn’t take too long to get someone started in those roles. Take the kids to day care (outside your home) for some additional time. Of course, these choices take money, but it may be less cash outlay than trying to hire in your business. And, by the way, this may be the easiest place to bring in some family help, to get you more time to focus on business.
8. Drop it.
Seriously. Drop some things. If you can’t do it, and you can’t delegate it, can you drop it? Ask yourself, “what will happen if I don’t do this?” Think through the consequences, and decide if you can live with that answer.
9. Delay it.
Well, if you can’t drop it, can you postpone it? Some tasks are feasible to put off for a month or two, if you can see that you’ll work your way out of the crunch. You might be able to stack up entering expense receipts, put off upgrades, or hold on to regular maintenance. Use this approach with caution. Make sure you aren’t turning a crunch into an excuse for a bad habit.
Looking over your list of projects, decide which clients you can call to talk about delaying their work. You never know; they may be just as glad to put off a project because of a delay or issue on their end. You won’t know until you ask.
10. Learn from it.
If you are going through hell, keep going. Start now with making notes of what tasks you plan to delegate in the future and how you’ll accomplish that. Begin the savings account for paying an assistant, subcontractors, or service providers. It’s easy to say, “I won’t let this happen again.” But if you are not setting the solution in motion, you are asking for a repeat.
How do you deal with crunch times in your business?
UPDATE: 11. Voice Mail
Seriously. Send all your calls to voice mail during designated times. You don’t realize how much time the phone is eating up, until you block out time away from it.
I had thought of this one, but forgot to put it in! What other ideas do you have?
This article is part of the Small Biz 100, a series of 100 practical hands-on posts for small business people and solo entrepreneurs, whether in a small town, the big city, or in between. If you have questions you’d like us to address in this series, leave a comment or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is a community project!
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