How to stop doing it all without losing control of your business or your budget

elfshoes.jpgAccidental Entrepreneurs are, by nature, do-it-yourselfers. We’re self-reliant, sometimes impulsive, and often unwilling or unable to spend money on staff or contractors. But the truth is, we can’t do it all, at least not all of the time. This article can help you venture into the uncharted territory of getting help when you need it.

Don’t wait for the elves

Get support before you think you need it. If you wait until you are completely overwhelmed, you won’t have the capacity to instruct, guide, and evaluate the help you get. ย Questions will feel like interruptions, and feedback will feel like criticism. What’s more, you may find yourself hiring in haste and regretting at leisure.

Take away: Use the tips in this article to experiment with getting support before you think you really need it.

Start small

A little help can go a long way. Start a list of the little things that take time, from sweeping and recycling to going to the post office or updating a mailing list. Then hire someone to do one or more of these small tasks. Freeing up even an hour a week gives you more time to be creative.

Chunk down

As you consider tasks you could delegate, get in the habit of chunking down your work. Do you write an ezine? Consider outsourcing proofreading or formatting for email. Yes, you will need to build in time to get the work out and back, but this will encourage you to be specific and efficient about scheduling. In addition, you’ll be freeing up time to spend on high value activities like working with clients or designing new products and services.

Spread the wealth

As soon as you start bringing in money, share a portion of it by hiring help. Again, you can start small. Spreading the wealth underscores the fact that you are doing this thing and reinforces the connection between your success and the well being of others. That feels good and helps your business.

Turn concerns into standards

Are you worried that you cannot pay enough to get someone’s interest? Or that you don’t know how to delegate? Turn your concerns around and make them hiring standards. For example, my first VA needed to be able to show me what tasks I could let go of because I had a wee control problem. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Make an agreement for the amount you can afford

Don’t let a limited budget keep you from getting support. For all you know the hour or two a week that you can afford will be perfect for a busy mom or a high school student. Just be clear about your budget and make an agreement not to exceed that amount.
Ask for what you want.

Sometimes we cheat ourselves by assuming that we will have to settle for less than we want. It’s rarely true. Write down exactly what you need done and what skills are required to do it. If you hire help before you are desperate, you can take some time to get the right person.

Hire up

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you need to know more than your staff. Use your investment in support to expand your business capabilities by hiring people who know more than you do.

Attitude counts

A good attitude and willingness to learn can be much more valuable than a resume packed with experience. Again, if you hire help before you are at your wit’s end, you can take the time to train the right person. You can teach skills, but you can’t teach someone to treat you or your clients well.

Ask around

Just as most jobs are found by person-to-person contact, the best employees are found by asking for referrals and suggestions. Tell folks that you are hiring. Make it clear that you are interviewing a variety of candidates so you don’t feel obligated to hire your best friend’s cousin.

Have a no-fault probationary period

Sometimes people just don’t fit. Having a no-fault probationary period makes letting someone go less awkward. Make your probationary period long enough to get through initial learning but short enough to minimize your investment, usually 30 to 90 days.

Set clear expectations

Do you expect the person you hire to be available on short notice or to work extra hours as needed? Do you need them to be willing to learn new skills on the fly? Talking out expectations like these can save you both a lot of grief.

Hiring is a learning experience

Few of us are born experts at hiring and supervising staff. Understand that you’re on a learning adventure and leave some wiggle room for mistakes and misunderstandings. One more time, if you hire help before you really need it, you’ll negotiate the learning curve more gracefully than if you wait until you are up against the wall.

Photo credit:


  1. Meredith Eisenberg

    Great advice Molly… I think the two biggest stumbling blocks that my virtual assistance clients in general have with outsourcing are
    1. Not wanted to give up control of their baby and
    2. Communication
    If you solve #2 – you’ll end up solving #1.
    If you have a deadline — let your VA know (we love to meet deadlines) — if something isn’t quite how you want it – let us know that too… because it is easier to fix problems early.
    VAs: This goes for you too – you can’t overcommunicate – let your clients know that you’ve gotten their e-mails and that you are working on them – and when you think you’ll be done…

  2. Naomi Niles

    This is great, Molly! I, um, have a bit of a problem with the control stuff too.
    Lately, I’ve been trying to outsource some of the tasks I don’t enjoy doing very much. It helps free up time, but mostly helps my morale since I don’t have to spend as much time doing the drudge work stuff that drains me.
    I also admit that finances are a major obstacle for me here too. For example, one thing I’d really love to outsource is proposal preparation. It takes a lot of time and research. But, the problem is that we may or may not get the project, so I don’t know if the investment is worthwhile. I suppose it would be if I paid someone less than I pay myself and then work on something else in that same time frame.
    Anyhow, really really good things to think about. I have the feeling I’ll be moving in this direction more and more as time goes by.

  3. Molly Gordon

    @meredithe Thank you for stopping by. I can testify that you are one of the folks who proves investing in help is a good idea.
    @naominiles You are another person I’ve been so glad to have on my team. I love that you shared your views about hiring, and I wonder if you have advice for us from the contractor point of view.

  4. Naomi Niles

    Thanks, Molly. I’ve enjoyed so much working with you too. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Hmm, from the contractor point of view, what I think I like the most that you mentioned is set clear expectations. That’s really important when you have someone doing stuff for you.
    I think most people really need clear goals in order to do a good job. I’ve been on both sides of the coin when the expectations were not clear enough and it almost always turns out badly.
    Another thing maybe I’d mention is to have those clear expectations and goals, but then let the contractor find the best way to achieve them for you. In short, try to get out of the way and tell them the “what” and let them do their job and take care of the “how”. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Marissa Bracke

    Great tips, Molly. I’m bookmarking this post for easy reference to folks who mention to me that they’re thinking about starting to build their support team!
    Your point about hiring being a learning process is huge–with many of my clients (and non-client colleagues), there’s a big fear of “doing it wrong.” There seems to be some idea that there is a right way and a wrong way to hire someone or make use of a support team, and the truth is, the only “right” way that exists is the one that lets you feel supported and work in a more effective manner. Beyond that, there is no right or wrong. The way someone else builds her support team or outsources work doesn’t need to define or limit someone else’s experience with a VA or support team.
    The other thing you mention that I really like is starting small. There’s also this notion that once you hire someone, you’ve got to be ready to outsource many hours of work right off the bat. But that’s only true if that’s what works for you and your business–if what works for you is hiring out one task, or hiring out for one hour a week, that’s great. No need to go from zero to Tim Ferris in one fell swoop!
    Thanks for a thoughtful, useful article on this.

  6. Jennifer Louden

    Oh yes, darling, spot on! I’m learning how to do more of this in the new year as i watch how I hold myself back by not getting the support I need and want. Just the advice I needed this morning!

  7. Molly Gordon

    @naominiles: Wow! Thanks for popping back in. Your perspective is so helpful.
    Marissa: Your suggestions are spot-on. Thank you.
    @jenlouden: Oh, my friend, you know how we teach what we need to learn. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Jerilyn Willin

    You really made me thing. There are times when my whole day is spent doing “administrivia”. I’m going to give this “start small” thing some real thought. I live in a ‘hood with many vital retirees. I could have a treasure right under my nose. Thanks for tweaking my brain.
    Jerilyn Willin

  9. Molly Gordon

    Jerilyn: Wow, a neighborhood of retirees. You could be in support nirvana! Thank you for stopping by.

  10. Mark Silver

    I love this, Molly! You so totally rock. The two that jumped out at me were “turn concerns into standards” and “spread the wealth.” Two things that kept me paralyzed, and that by accepting those two it’s made a HUGE difference in getting help.
    Not that all the others didn’t paralyze me, too. I spent years paralyed by this stuff. Years. If only I could have used all that time for naps, as long as I wasn’t going anywhere… sigh…

  11. Molly Gordon

    Mmmm… thank you for stopping by, my friend. I second the motion that naps are better than spinning our wheels. As are walks, tea with friends, and gardening. ๐Ÿ˜‰ When we learn to hire and delegate even a little, we experience more ease on many levels.

  12. Leif Hansen

    Hi Molly,
    Such a great set of tips, and very timely for me right now. Found the article through the Heart of Business Oasis Forum. It was great getting to know you this weekend sista!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This