Okay, so this is sort of a click-bait title. There are hundreds of reasons why a small business can fail; poor management, a lack of funds, an inability to attract the target audience, and so on. But in my time working with small businesses and nonprofit organizations, I have noticed one major theme that seems to be recurring; the business owner keeps a tight fisted grip around all operational activities.
To be clear, I totally get it. When it comes to small business it is all about the founder’s personal vision, and they have put everything on the line to make it a reality. Unless you’ve done it yourself, you cannot fathom the risk many business owners take in launching their first business. We all love the idea of working for ourselves, but it also means being your own relentless boss. If the business fails it’s impossible not to blame yourself, and this leads to near panic when it comes to making sure every aspect of your business is running correctly.
But it can also lead to extreme micro-management and create massive and unsustainable strain on the business owner. I have seen this situation play out in every industry; from small nonprofits to well-funded tech start ups. Eventually this way of thinking leads to burn out on the part of the business owner. And with burn out comes mistakes.
In this article I outline some suggestions for being self-aware of this behavior and taking certain tasks off your plate to alleviate strain and ensure successful growth of your organization.
1. Hire People You Can Trust, and Trust the People You Hire.
For many small business owners, they are used to doing everything on their own, and when they do get to the point of hiring it can be difficult to trust those hires to handle tasks with the same passionate care you have woven into your enterprise. But there is no point in hiring help if you cannot trust them to execute their jobs effectively. They are there to make your job easier, so take your time hiring proper employees or contractors, and then trust them to do what you hired them to do.
2. Clarify Expectations, but Don’t Go Policy Crazy
I’ve done a lot of freelance and consulting work over the years, and I’ve learned the importance of a solid contract which expresses both client and vendor expectations. I highly suggest business owners do the same; be clear about your expectations for the people you work with. It will make both your job and their job easier. This being said, don’t get carried away with creating arbitrary policies. People like working with small businesses because they aren’t corporations, so avoid that punitive corporate mentality as much as possible.
3. Get the Most Out of Those Who Work With You
Whether you are a start-up with a full team of employees or a tiny nonprofit just building working partnerships, get the most out of your work relationships.
With employees this means getting to know those who work for you, and putting their talents to use. For example, if you are running a small restaurant and one of your waitresses is an Instagram guru, work out a deal to pay her a little extra to help run your Instagram. It takes this task off your plate and will likely make her a more engaged employee as well.
If you don’t have employees yet, you still must have multiple work relationships that you can leverage. For example, if you are a brand new nonprofit you might reach out to some of your connections for blog content, guest posts, and back-linking to help build your web presence.
4. Limit Communications
This might sound like a crazy one, but I swear it will make a huge difference. Because small business owners carry so much of the daily overhead on their shoulders, they can be aggressive about sending a constant stream of emails, texts, and other reminders to those they work with. Not only can this become agitating to others, it is also an added stress on the business owner because now on top of all your daily tasks you also need to respond to back-and-forth discussions about minor details. You can limit communications without letting things fall through the cracks by implementing a project management system or work calendar, and specifying deadlines in any contracts you might create.
So we want to know– what suggestions do you have for improving small business operations?