In this session, Danilo discussed:
Links and resources mentioned include:
Okay, so welcome everyone. BCC Bites are these quick chats we run every other week. We talk about a topic suggested by our members or email subscribers, and we follow this chat by a quick Q&A. And today we're going to talk about delegation. Many of you wanted me to cover this. If you have any questions, please put them in the chat and we'll go through them at the end, okay? Perfect.
Now let's start with why delegation matters, right? That's quite obvious, but no matter how high your opinion is of yourself, how confident you are in your skills, in your management skills, one person can't do it all, right? Your time and energy is limited. If your consultancy needs you to pay attention to more important things or to prioritize certain things, it's obvious that you will have to take your eyes off other tasks to accommodate them.
Still, many consultancy partners struggle with delegation. This is a statistic that you might have seen before. Only 30% of managers believe they can delegate well and only a third of them, so we're talking about 10%, are considered good delegators by their teams. Now, these numbers are not specific for boutique consultancies. But humans are humans. At least from my experience, being overconfident in our delegating skills is as true in large companies as it is in small consultancies, small consulting practices.
Now, the benefits are also quite obvious, the benefits of delegation.
First, to unlock growth. It unlocks growth. And here, the way you do that is by reducing your utilization, right? Allowing you to focus more on business development, strategy, leadership, if you already have a team. The average partner utilization, if we talk about mid-size consulting firms, it's 47%. That's the latest number I have. So almost half of the time partners are delivering work. This is the number for mid-sized consulting firms. Now it's already a consensus that this is too high. Most partners want to decrease that number. You want to spend more time selling and doing strategy.
Now, I can guarantee you that those numbers, the utilization numbers are way worse for founders of micro consultancies. So consulting practices doing less than a million a year in revenue. For several of my clients, for example... When we first started to work together, they had utilization numbers as high as 70%, 80%. So 80% of the time they were delivering client work, they were working with clients. And of course, this creates a self-fulfilling cycle because since 80% of your time goes to delivery, you don't do strategy, you don't do marketing. Lack of marketing means that you don't have a healthy pipeline of future projects. So when your projects are over or whenever a big client fires you, you suddenly have nothing else on your plate and you have to shift to the other extreme. So instead of doing 80% of your time delivering work, you shift to 80% of your time marketing your services. It's a rollercoaster, it's crazy. And I think it's safe to say that that's not the most sustainable way to grow a practice, right? So delegation will help you win back valuable time. So you can invest in strategy and business development and create a more balanced work routine.
Second advantage, second benefit. To make the business less reliant on you. Avoid dependency on one person. And a couple of months ago, we did a BCC Bites on mindset traps for consultancy founders. And we discussed the control trap, which is what happens when you believe that you must be actively involved in every task. Now, pragmatically speaking, not all centralization is bad. I think we can all agree that there are good advantages of not relying on other people to get things done. But this also does two things. It limits your growth and it increases your business risk. Because if a consultancy is highly dependent on the founder, there's a single point of failure, right? If something happens to you, the business crumbles. If you get sick, client work doesn't get done. If you don't find time to create content or engage with potential prospects, pipeline goes to zero. So sooner or later you become the bottleneck. And the consultancy pays the price.
And the third benefit: To make the work more enjoyable and fulfilling. We will talk about that. Of course, there's a huge number of tasks that are tedious, time-consuming, or you're just terrible at. And whenever you take those out of your plate, you can feel an immediate feeling of kind of relief. Of course, there will always be things that we don't like doing, but we need to do. That's what it's like to lead a business. But reducing the number of things that drain energy from you is a good way to make work more enjoyable.
Right. So before I share some learnings about how consultancy founders delegate well, I think we need to discuss when exactly you should delegate. Because it's easy to say, "you should delegate more", but it's difficult to do that with very limited resources. I see some new faces here. Most of the partners or the founders that I speak to and I work with, they are under a million a year, or they have very small teams. So you don't have the luxury to work 100% on the business.
You need to put out more fires than actually doing the important work. But if you only do the urgent, you get nowhere. So we need to create this delegation habit, right? Which is continuously kind of offloading tasks and responsibilities. And over time, slowly but surely, you realize that the investment pays off. So here in a slide, this is how I see it, okay.
If you're under 100K, $100,000 a year in revenue, you would probably want to focus on automation and building a tech stack. And let me clarify this. If you have a big financial cushion and really know what you're doing, you can always hire support to grow faster. But as a general rule, if you're selling under a 100K a year, you can't afford to hire support. I mean, if you consider that after costs and taxes, you're not even paying yourself a market salary, right? So here, the biggest opportunities to offload tasks lie in automating them, or hiring specialized software tools to make your work more efficient, okay?
Now, in this second phase here, I'm putting the number between 100k and 300k a year, you start to think about hiring VA's. Virtual assistants. Probably some of you are familiar in working with them. But they are usually paid by the hour. And as for today, the cost ranges from $5 to $50 an hour, let's say. It depends on what skills you're looking for, where you hire them, if it's through a platform, through an agency or directly, etc. Now, I'm not advocating a minimum or a maximum that you should pay for a VA. But if you're selling 200, 300k a year, you will probably need to stay in the lower range. But at least from my personal experience, and that of several clients, I don't think price is directly correlated with quality. It might only require a bit more patience and dedication for you to make it work.
But you can find good people to support you.
Now, this last phase here, between 300 and 800k a year in revenue. Here you start looking at hiring full-time employees or support and more technical or experienced assistants. And let's be clear about this. Any assistant can be trained specific skills if you are willing to invest resources in that person. Right? But if your practice is a bit bigger, then you can afford to hire people who already have fluent English, good communication skills, basic project management experience, etc. So you skip a bit the process.
This is an illustration for a one-person consultancy, okay? Or a consultancy with one single partner. If your consultancy has three equity partners, for example, it's you and two others, and no employees, then $300,000 a year in revenue means you're doing 100k a person in fee billings. And that puts you in the survival phase. So I added those numbers just to give you an idea of the progression, ok? Of course, they might not apply to your practice.
It's always a good idea to run a specific, specialized assessment to your practice. By the way, if you want to do that, we can chat after this event. Drop me a line and we'll get in touch because we do that.
But with that said, let me very quickly share some learnings on how to delegate. I not only advise consultancy partners on this, but I also do it for my own practice. And in the past, I ran a marketing agency and delegated tasks for people in four or five different time zones. So I've learned a few things. A thing or two about it.
The way I see it, you can drastically reduce the risk of delegation problems if you do things in the right order. You also need to do them right, yes. But if you do them in the wrong order, if you go through the delegation process in the wrong order, I can almost guarantee that you won't be happy with the results. That's why I created this nice acronym for the delegation sequence: G.A.I.N. Let me quickly give you an overview letter by letter. A recommended process you can follow.
We start with the goal. So you decide what to delegate. And this is the fun part, really. There are many ways you can do that. My recommended process is you keep a diary for two weeks to record in a spreadsheet every single task you do in your working day, and how long it takes. You're not supposed to do this every time. You're not supposed to keep tracking time. It's stressful. It's not... Once a year. You do that once a year. Or if you're really pushing for delegation, you do this every six months. You set aside two weeks to track things to see where your time is going.
Then you categorize each task. And I recommend this three criteria here:
And then you prioritize, which is where the fun starts, really. Low discretion, recurring administrative tasks are the easiest ones to delegate. But the true value, and where I recommend you to start, is with low discretion, recurring and revenue-generating tasks, ok? Why?
Without dehumanizing people: You could argue that you only hire someone for two reasons. To make money for the business. Or to save money for the business. If you have a reasonable degree of confidence that your new hire will do one of these things, make more money or save money for the business, then you do it. Otherwise, you don't hire them. You partner. Or you stay as a friend. Or you ask for free advice. Whatever it is.
Now, in the early stages of your practice, and this not only for consultancies but any business really, making money is more important than saving money. And if you're like most micro consultancies, boutique consultancies, there's not much money to be saved anyway. So what you need to do is create more leads, create more opportunities, send more project proposals. So you know it's time to hire if you can identify a number of things, tasks, that need to be done but that will also increase revenue.
For example, take those online chats. BCC Bites that I'm doing here. They started mostly as an initiative to nurture existing clients and relationships. But over time, I saw that it also consistently attracted new leads and qualified leads to my practice. So I started to map and standardize and document all of the tasks required to do those chats. And I can tell you something: It's much more than you think. We need to pick a topic. Create descriptions and images to promote it. Set up online tools like Zoom webinar, registration page, trackable links. Promote it to people through a number of channels. Prepare the slides. Run the event. And then, there's the whole post event. So I need to edit, transcribe and upload the recording. Share the recording, follow up with attendees. The last time I checked it, it required... this thing that I'm doing now with you, it required more than 30 different tasks. It might even be more today. And we're not even investing in a big production or making it the priority now. It's just a minimum, the very minimum required to deliver decent value.
But since all of these activities, they contribute to revenue... Because I can track them. I know that they bring me leads. And they bring me brand value that converts into upselling and more good faith from existing clients, etc. Since I know these activities contribute to revenue, they were among the first things, the first tasks that I automated or delegated. So this is the process.
And also let me quickly mention the six "T"s. I think it's another useful framework to consider when you're looking at potential tasks. The more "T"s in a task, the more likely is it that you should delegate it:
But that's it. In terms of deciding what to delegate, the goal, I would start with low discretion, recurring revenue, generating tasks and keep the seven T's in mind, right? Now next, agents.
So, agents. Here you decide who to delegate to those tasks. And this is probably the most crucial part of the process. It's not just about picking someone who can do the task, but someone who can be trusted with it. Who's reliable, who's competent. And in here, I included an important reminder. This can be a virtual, non-human agent. And actually... if it can, it should be. As the saying goes, "never delegate what you can automate", right? Nothing will beat the cost and the accuracy of a machine. Repetitive tasks, recurring tasks with low discretion fall here. So if you can automate... I'm not saying everything can be automated or should be automated.
But you don't delegate what you can automate. That's a golden rule.
And I think we don't have enough time to expand on this because it's a quick chat, but it's obvious to me that AI tools and agents are making many founders delay the hiring of human virtual assistants. Technology is hitting those at the bottom of the market first. And there are of course, social implications to this. Hybrid teams are already becoming a reality. But in terms of your delegating process, I think it should continue to follow this G.A.I.N. process. So first the goal, then the agent.
And then implementation. So you need to set those agents up for success. The handover is key. So just like you need to write prompts for AI tools, people are not mind-readers. So set clear objectives, explain what you expect in terms of inputs, outputs, deadlines. Don't delegate large projects all at once. So don't make it tougher for them, basically. Break projects into tasks, break tasks down into smaller activities, and delegate them in order of priority. So make it easier for them. Plan communications beforehand. Important to create a block of time. So you will be saving a lot of time, but there's some time that you will need to invest to make it work. So create a block of time where agents or people can ask questions, can seek assistance. You can schedule regular check-ins to kind of get an update on the progress, depending on the task.
And this takes us to our last item here, which I call navigation just to make a nice acronym. But basically it's providing directional feedback to help people adjust the course. I think feedback deserves its own letter because it's disproportionately important in the delegation process.
You need to assume things won't go exactly right the first time. And when problems come up, because they will, we are tempted to think it was a mistake to delegate. "I shouldn't have done it." But 95% of the time, it's not true. It just means that it takes a little bit of learning, there's a learning curve. It takes a bit of trial and error before the agent you delegate work to gets into the full swing of things. No matter how confident you are that things will work out fine, make sure there's a buffer so you can provide feedback. It's your job to provide direction. It's your job to set priorities. We don't have time to get into detail on constructive feedback, how to provide it, best practices, etc. But I think it's a learnable skill also. You can look out for it. And if you want, we can in the next chat.
Here, just to wrap it up... By the end of the process, repeat. Delegation is not a one-time task. It's an ongoing practice. I think that every single consultancy founder and partner should always be looking for ways to create time, create space in your workday and find the tasks that deserve your attention and those that no longer make sense for you to perform. Basically, this is the process, the recommended process.
Now let's look at some questions. So I have here, from Tom:
"What is the most common reason consultancy founders struggle to delegate?"
From my experience, that will be their mental game.
So whenever partners mention that they're having trouble delegating, I say: "First ask why, and then ask why once again." The first answer is always something practical. But whatever it is - let me just stop the share here. Whatever it is, it's always a side effect. The real reason is probably emotional. For example, some solo advisors say they always operated in a lean way. And, "I'm reluctant to increase expenses." That's not an argument. Maybe it's worth asking, why do you believe, why do I believe my time is worth less than that of a virtual assistant? Right. So it's not the first reason, it's always the second.
Another example: Few weeks ago, a partner said to me, "I'm trying to delegate more, but I don't want to stop doing the things I enjoy, the tasks I enjoy." Fair enough, it's your business. But if those tasks that you're holding on to it's something that anyone can do, then you're sabotaging your own growth. And I don't remember exactly how I said it. But I said to him, you know, maybe it's worth asking why you don't like the high-value tasks or how you can make those tasks more enjoyable instead of holding on to these ones. I mean, I'm pretty sure strategy and growth are more interesting than categorizing documents, at least for most people. And he then admitted it. And then he said, "Yes, I think I still have... I think I still give more importance to doing than achieving." That's what he said.
So before you start delegating, you're going to have to address any feelings or fears that you may have subconsciously associated with delegation, right?
Let me take a look at another question here. Yes, and thank you for your comments. I see Jim mentioning something I forgot in my answer. Trust. So he said:
"This year I hired two assistants (by hour) but I simply don't trust them enough to delegate more."
Now, this might actually be the most common excuse among consultancy founders. What has been helpful for me and my clients in the past, whenever this situation happens, is to remember the three "P"s. Three "P"s: Process, patience, and pruning.
So you start with process, we start with process. So remember the acronym G.A.I.N.? The goals or the tasks, they come before the agents. So when you say, "this year I hired two assistants maybe I don't, maybe I simply don't trust them enough to delegate more." What I'll ask you is simple. Why did you hire those assistants for? Now, maybe you took on people that are good, that excel at the tasks that you already delegated and everything indicates that they're not a good fit for the next tasks on your delegation list. But before anything else, stick to the process, right? So make it ultra clear what exactly are the tasks you want to delegate. So when you do that, you automatically increase your confidence. This is the first "P", process.
Now, if you're following the process but trust is low, the next thing you need to practice is patience. Trust takes time to build. You cannot hire someone from the street and two seconds later, you trust that they're honest and competent and reliable. The more time you spend with someone, the more you trust them, right? If I work with someone for 10 years, I will trust that person much more than someone I hired four weeks ago. I don't trust them based on their CV. I don't trust them based on where they worked in the past or what their job title was. I think that, and I heard that somewhere actually, "people get the chance of winning my trust and winning your trust based on their past experience. But they earn the trust on the job, day after day." So it might be the case that you simply need more patience with your assistants.
So you follow the process and you give them more time. And, usually, trust will follow. Now, there are three "P"s, right?
So if you follow the process, you are patient with people, and you still don't trust them... then you need to remove them. And this is pruning, the last "P". If we want strong and healthy trees, we need to prune them, meaning cutting away dead branches. And one of the biggest advantages that we as micro consultancies have over mid-size or even large firms is speed and lack of internal bureaucracy. So yes, you need to give people time. But if they continue underperforming or repeating mistakes, even after feedback... Because you have to make sure that you're following the process, giving feedback. Or if they engage in unethical activities... I mean, you don't have any obligation to hold on to them. Let them go, don't think twice about it.
And from the way you put here, because you said, "I don't trust them enough to delegate more." So it sounds like their current tasks are being taken care of. We can chat about it after, but it might simply be the case of bringing in a third assistant. Someone who's better fit for this new set of tasks. This might also be an opportunity by the way to build some redundancy in your processes. So if you have three people supporting you, you train one of the assistants to be a backup for the most critical tasks you already delegated. In case an assistant gets sick or decides to leave you, right?
Here's a message from Chris:
"Surely delegation is situation dependent. It doesn't matter if you're a bigger business or a micro business, there are situations in which you should be giving as much delegation as possible, with other situations (loss of client, product failure) where a more dynamic and involved leadership approach is needed."
Absolutely agree. Absolutely agree, Chris. This, I think, it fits in the process. It goes right back to the process that we mentioned. When you're prioritizing, when you're categorizing and prioritizing tasks, these situations, loss of clients, product failure... these are tasks with high discretion. These are complex tasks, require specialized expertise, experience. Probably not the first things that you want to delegate.
OK, right. I think we'll wrap it up to end up in time. That was it. It's a very quick chat. Thank you for joining. Just hope there was something that makes you think, thought-provoking here.
The next BCC Bites will be in two weeks time. So on the 28th of September. And we're going to talk about "doing retainers right." This is a great topic. We'll discuss some common challenges of selling retainers, how to avoid those challenges. So if you sell retainers, or you're considering adding them to your offering mix, this should be very useful. I'll send the link with the recording, Thanks again, stay safe. Wish you all a great end of the week. Ciao.
Thanks for watching or reading. You can get more specialized and actionable growth insights for micro consultancies in our newsletter. Every Tuesday, you get one idea from Danilo, one quote from other experts, one number you need to hear, and one question for you to level up your consulting practice.
You can unsubsribe anytime