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Tales of a Bottleneck Business Owner – Pete’s Story

As many of you know my career background is in Health, or emergency care to be exact. One of the most important things in emergency care was to get to a working diagnosis fast. In the absence of complete information there are usually enough symptoms or clinical indicators to suggest a likely cause.

This is also true of the bottleneck business owner. One of the classic symptoms is ‘everywhere I look something needs doing’. There are a few reasons why this may happen: genuine overwork – although you might like this one, it is not the most common; prioritising the wrong stuff – it’s surprisingly easy to get busy for the sake of being busy; not delegating what others can do for you – they might even be better at it than you are; and finally distraction – and I include in here procrastination, excuses, errands, anything that takes you away from your priority jobs.

This pattern is often followed by overwhelm, this reduces productivity and can create general dissatisfaction with your lot.

Say hi to Pete, he is a trainer, he works with larger organisations looking at teams and communication, he’s been in business a while and worked with the same handful of large organisations for a while, they know him well and love his work. Unsurprisingly, when one of them developed a new internal ‘micro university’ they wanted Pete to be heavily involved.

For Pete, this is where his challenges started. He needed new course material, stuff branded for the micro university, different evaluation and impact systems and nearly double the amount of training hours he had been contributing. Pete quickly ran into trouble – behind on the creation of new material, juggling training dates with his other long-term clients, and his own business admin didn’t get a look in. Two things happened in close succession: one client didn’t renew Pete’s longstanding training programme; and he finished up staying up most of the night to sort paperwork for his VAT return which was due the next day.

Pete was completely overwhelmed, working all the time not really seeing his family, and still everywhere he looked something needed doing. His view – he was overworked, didn’t have enough time, and he was worried he was letting clients down and others might not re book him either.  Pete had a VA who worked a few hours a month, a couple of trainers he worked with occasionally, yet he felt most of the work that needed doing only he could do.

Now it’s easy to look at someone else’s business and see what could be done differently – not so much when you are in the middle of it – or the bottleneck. As far as client’s were concerned Pete had two challenges, creating training materials and availability to deliver training.

Creating training materials: Pete was great at writing content, but found it hard making it into training packs, his VA on the other hand, used to create workbooks and PowerPoint for her previous boss before she started her VA business. Pete didn’t know she could do this and was worried about handing it over as it was quite time sensitive.

Delivering training: In Pete’s view people love him, they are buying him and sending another trainer – even one who has worked with him before – will be a disadvantage. The micro university is new work – it might be the same client, but the content and the audience are different – so Pete may not be the only one who can deliver the work.

Pete’s attitude to delegating / outsourcing is actually the bottleneck here, he has the contract and the funds to get support with the work, but he sees delegating as a huge risk – if the training pack’s not right he may not have time to sort it, if the client doesn’t like his associate he might lose the work. However, what he is doing is not sustainable, personally or for the business. If you are in a time for money business – which Pete is, the only way you grow is to free up your time focussing on the things that only you can do. For Pete this is the relationship with his clients (not just the one expanding into the micro university), the actual content creation for the new work (not the design of the assets) and delivery of key training activities for all clients (not all training delivery).

Pete discovered his VA actually made the training materials much more quickly then he would have done himself, he needed to make minimal changes and she has taken responsibility for production and delivery to clients once they are signed off by Pete. He also works with a small team of associate trainers, all trained by him delivering the micro university courses. As soon as he freed up a little capacity Pete went through all of the things he did in the business and decided if he should be the person doing them or not. If not, he then looked at what the possibility of delegating / outsourcing was. This process gave Pete most of his evenings and weekends back, a more sustainable business – less reliant on him for everything.

If you are a bit like Pete – whatever your industry, think about this – the bottleneck you create by controlling or doing everything yourself is hurting your business, your team (or those around you), potentially your clients and probably your bottom line.

I hear three common excuses for not delegating / outsourcing:

  1. I can’t afford it.
  2. It’s too specialised or other people don’t know enough to do this.
  3. It’s quicker to do it myself.

Let’s debunk these excuses:

I can’t afford it – think about how much your time is worth. If you are getting to the stage you are juggling client commitments around business activities – whether this be product development, accounts, following up leads, then it is probably financially beneficial to get help – this also applies if you are spending your evenings or weekends ‘catching up’ when you prefer to be spending your time elsewhere. If you don’t have enough client work, then you might still want to spend your time on business development rather than admin – you just have to decide where your cash works hardest for you. Outsourcing some stuff might still be appropriate, but make sure it is a business essential – an all singing all dancing website or swanky office might not be, on a smaller scale neither is another therapeutic trip to the stationary shop!

It’s too specialised or other people don’t know enough to do this – get over yourself, there is very little in this world that only you can do. This is your ego, your vulnerability and your fear talking. Other’s might need a period of training, it might take them a while to get into flow, and they might just bring their own creative ways or doing your stuff better. I’m not saying everything can be done by someone else – although this is a very freeing place to be in your business, I’m saying make sure that you are not hanging on to stuff for the wrong reasons.

It’s quicker to do it myself – I love this one and have been guilty of it myself more times than I care to recall. Yes, it may well be quicker to do it yourself in that moment, but when you are still doing it yourself for the tenth time because you’ve never delegated or shown anyone else how to do it, think about how much time you have used and consider your choices.

Finally have a think about where you spend your time and consider doing the following: make a list of all the things you do, categorise them as client work, business admin, business development, then decide if you need to do them or whether they might be better delegated or outsourced. How much of your time are you spending on things that really need you to do them?

I do this exercise regularly – I also find it quite sobering, even with the excellent team I have around me it’s still very easy to fall back into bad ‘control freakish’ habits.

If you’d like to share what you find, we would love to see you in the Brave Virtual CoWork group – or if you are not a Facebook lover join the conversation in comments below.