Growth is good – and for an MSP business, it means more profits, a more widespread reputation and more prestige within the industry, and the ability to benefit from the economies of scale. But along with those advantages come some challenges, especially when the company grows quickly. I’ve discussed in previous articles some of the financial ramifications of rapid growth, but this time I’m going to be focusing on what’s perhaps the most difficult consequence of growth: loss of control.
Like most entrepreneurial types, I tend to be a bit of a control freak. I long ago learned the hard lesson of “if you want it done right, you have to do it yourself.” Building a business can be a seven-day-per-week, 16 (or more) hour-per-day job – but if/when all that hard work pays off and the company becomes successful, there comes a point at which you have to make a hard decision: Do you keep it small and maintain control over every aspect, or do you allow it to expand beyond the capabilities of one (or two, if you have a partner) person to manage?
Managed services is the type of business that can, with a little luck, a bit of knowledge and an investment of time and money, catch on and grow very quickly. There are a couple of differently ways a business can grow: through acquisitions and joint ventures, or “organically” – in the case of an MSP, by developing and offering new services and/or expanding your current service offerings into new markets. The latter is lower risk and generally happens at a slower pace. That means you can let go of the reins a bit more gradually.
When a business is new and small, the business owner(s) usually don’t have a choice: they have to take a hands-on approach because they don’t have the resources to do otherwise. That becomes a habit, and it can be a difficult one to break. But if you want to take the business to the next level, that means learning to delegate tasks and responsibilities.
When you can no longer do it all, it’s time to decide which parts of your work to keep for yourself and which to delegate to others. That process starts with making a list of all the jobs you currently do. Next, analyze your list and arrange the tasks into categories. Are there tasks that only you can do? Probably not nearly as many as you think. Which tasks give you the most “bang for the buck?” (That is, which ones benefit most by your personalized touch or special expertise?)
The next question is easier in some ways, but the answer may be hard for some of us to accept: Which tasks would benefit more from someone else’s special talents or knowledge? There are likely some that you’ve been doing simply because no one wanted to do them, or you couldn’t afford to pay a specialist to do them. Nobody excels at everything – even you. Make an honest assessment of where you’re in over your head, or tasks that you genuinely hate doing. Mark those for delegation to someone who has more training or natural talent and/or enjoys the task. There’s a triple win in that: the task will most likely be done more quickly and better, it will probably get done at lower cost, and it will take a lot of stress off your shoulders.
Picking the right tasks and responsibilities to delegate is one part of the equation. Picking the right people to whom they’ll be delegated is another important part. Delegation may mean hiring some new personnel. You may have to invest some time in training them – but you also need to define what the purpose and goals of the task are. Remember that two different people can use two different routes to reach the same destination. As long as the end result is the same, the other person doesn’t always have to perform the task exactly the same way you do.
One of the most important aspects of delegation is this: If you’re going to give someone the responsibility for a job, you have to give the person the authority to get the job done. That means you have to be able to trust the person and then back off and let him/her get to work. There’s nothing more disheartening than to take on a big new responsibility and then discover that the boss is going to be standing over your shoulder, micromanaging you to death.
That doesn’t mean you should just wash your hands of the task, though. When you delegate, you still maintain some responsibility for the ultimate outcome, so it’s appropriate to check in for a progress report now and then. And be sure you communicate clearly what the desired outcome is. Be specific about required results.
As a business grows, the roles of its founders/owners/top managers change. That means getting out of the trenches, relinquishing some control over details, and focusing more on the “big picture.” Learning to delegate effectively can move your MSP into the “M” category of SMB. It can also result in a happier and more balanced lifestyle for you.